A visibly emotional Anthony Albanese has called for unity after the Voice to parliament referendum suffered a spectacular wipe-out.
Speaking in Canberra on Saturday night nearly two hours after the vote was called for No, the Prime Minister said he accepted the outcome, and took “responsibility” for the decision to hold the referendum.
“While tonight’s result is not one that I had hoped for, I absolutely respect the decision of the Australian people and the democratic process that has delivered it, he said.
“When we reflect on everything happening in the world today, we can all give thanks that here in Australia we make the big decisions peacefully and as equals, with one vote, one value.”
He conceded at no point could he have “guaranteed the referendum would succeed”.
“What I could promise was that we would go all in, that we would try, and we have,” he said.
“Of course, when you do the hard things, when you aim high, sometimes you fall short. And tonight we acknowledge, understand and respect that we have.”
Mr Albanese said the campaign would be a “heavy weight to carry,” especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“So many remarkable Indigenous Australians have put their heart and soul into this cause, not just over the past few weeks and months but through decades, indeed lifetimes, of advocacy,” he said.
Despite the painful loss, Mr Albanese said he stood by his decision, saying: “I believed it was the right thing to do, and I will always stand up for my beliefs.”
“It’s now up to all of us to come together and find a different way … I’m optimistic that we can win and indeed that we must.
“That there is a new national awareness of these questions. Let us channel that into a new sense of national purpose to find the answers.”
The Prime Minister said the referendum result was “not the end of the road”.
“The issues we sought to address have not gone away, and neither have the people of goodwill and good heart who want to address them,” he said.
Appearing alongside him, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney appeared to be taking deep breaths and holding back tears.
Speaking about Ms Burney, he credited her as an inspiration.
“You continue to inspire me and make me prouder than ever to be Australian. I have never been as proud to be Australian as when I sat in the red dirt at Uluru with those wonderful women,” he said.
“I have made lifetime friends, and for that I am grateful.”
Ms Burney said it was a “day of sadness”.
“This result is not what we hoped for. The Australian people have had their say, and a clear majority have voted against the proposed change to the constitution,” she said.
“We, of course, except the decision of the Australian people.”
She also thanked the Prime Minister, her parliamentary colleagues and those who worked on the Yes23 campaign, and said it was not the end of reconciliation.
“I know this outcome will be hard for some, but achieving progress is never easy, and progress doesn’t always move in a straight line,” she said.
“There are breakthroughs and heartbreaks, but I am confident that because of this campaign and the millions of conversations it has sparked, the renewed generation of Indigenous leaders will emerge.”
Ms Burney said she would have “more to say” in the months ahead about the government’s “renewed commitment” to close the gap.