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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Türk regrets Australia No vote as missed opportunity, urges inclusion & participation

24 October 2023

People rally during the 'Walk for Yes', hosted by the Yes23 campaign Australia's upcoming referendum on Indigenous issues, at the Todd River in Alice Springs, Australia, September 17, 2023. © REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

GENEVA (24 October 2023) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Tuesday said he was deeply disappointed that a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the First Peoples of Australia did not pass, and expressed confidence that there remains a strong desire to create a new compact with the Indigenous Peoples.

“I am deeply disappointed at the missed opportunity to officially recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia’s Constitution and give them a greater voice alongside the country’s Parliament,” said Türk, after expiry of the ‘week of silence’ called for by Indigenous leaders after the vote.

“However, I am encouraged that Australia is having a deeply important debate on the significant levels of exclusion and disadvantage suffered by Indigenous Peoples. And it is heartening that polling data indicates that younger Australians widely supported this constitutional change, which is encouraging for progress to be made in the future.”

Türk urged all Australians to embrace and reinvigorate the spirit of The Uluru Statement from the Heart, which offers a comprehensive roadmap towards reconciliation for all Australians, and to do so in a positive climate grounded in human rights and devoid of hate, racism and fear-mongering.

The UN Human Rights Chief said he had been shocked by the negative voices of scaremongering, misinformation and disinformation which became increasingly prominent in the campaign against the vote.

Over 60 percent of Australian voters and a majority in all six states voted ‘No’ to proposals to amend the constitution to recognize Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and to create a body for them to advise the parliament.

“While this particular referendum may have failed, the issues that it sought to address will not fade. Realizing rights to equality, to self-determination and to participation of Indigenous Peoples in decisions that affect them, including through their self-governing bodies, remains central to Australia’s future – and is reinforced by Australia’s international human rights obligations,” the High Commissioner said.

“Political leaders must work to unite rather than divide Australians on this issue and intensify efforts to reach out to the First Peoples of Australia, on a basis of full equality and mutual respect, to find alternative ways of addressing their continued exclusion and disadvantage.”

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Geneva
Jeremy Laurence +  +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

In Nairobi
Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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