A disappointed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed that the defeat of the referendum will not be the “end of the road” for closing the gap or for reconciliation.
With all of Australia’s six states on track to officially reject the proposal to change the constitution, and as Indigenous leaders lamented the loss of hope for reconciliation, Mr Albanese on Saturday night has recommitted to “engagement, consultation, listening and closing the gap”.
Invoking Winston Churchill, Mr Albanese said “success is not final, failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts”.
“We intend, as a government, to do what we can to close the gap,” he said.
“To do what we can to advance reconciliation, to do what we can to listen to the First Australians.”
When Mr Albanese accepted the prime ministership last May, the first words he said were an “in full” commitment the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The one page document, compiled in 2017 after input from Indigenous people across the country, called for a constitutionally enshrined Voice, treaty, and truth.
But after Australians overwhelmingly voted against changing the constitution to include a Voice and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, what comes next remains to be seen.
Mr Albanese had already ruled out legislating a Voice, refusing to do so because it was not what Indigenous people wanted.
In accepting the result on Saturday night, he said he “respected” the decision Australia had taken.
Mr Albanese said the country “must seek a new way forward”, and that in doing so, his government would “continue to listen and engage” with Indigenous Australians, particularly those disappointed by the result.
He said there would be a next chapter, and that reconciliation “must be a part of that chapter”.
“Tonight isn’t a night to say, ‘we will move on, and here is the next agenda’. The agenda will be guided by the principles that I put forward consistently – engagement, consultation, listening, progress to close the gap,” he said.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said Saturday night’s result was “not the end of reconciliation”.
“And in the months ahead, I will have more to say about our government's renewed commitment to closing the gap, because we all agree we need better outcomes for First Nations people,” she said.
“We need to keep listening to Indigenous Australians about what works and what can make practical differences for the next generation, because we all want what's best for our children stop we all want our children and grandchildren to have a better future.”