Australia has overwhelmingly rejected a plan to give greater political rights to Indigenous people in a referendum.
All six states voted No to a proposal to amend the constitution to recognise First Nations people and create a body for them to advise the government.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said defeat was hard: “When you aim high, sometimes you fall short. We understand and respect that we have.”
Opposition leader Peter Dutton said the result was “good for our country”.
The referendum, dubbed “The Voice”, was Australia’s first in almost a quarter of a century. With the majority of ballots counted, the “No” vote led “Yes” 60% to 40%.
Its rejection followed a fraught and often acrid campaign.
Supporters said that entrenching the Indigenous peoples into the constitution would unite Australia and usher in a new era.
No leaders said that the idea was divisive, would create special “classes” of citizens where some were more equal than others, and the new advisory body would slow government decision-making.
They were criticised over their appeal to undecided voters with a “Don’t know? Vote no” message, and accused of running a campaign based on misinformation about the effects of the plan.
The result leaves Albanese searching for a way forward with his vision for the country, and a resurgent opposition keen to capitalise on its victory.
Addressing the nation, the prime minister said he respected the vote and “the democratic process that has delivered it”.
“This moment of disagreement does not define us, and it will not divide us, we are not Yes voters or No voters, we are all Australians. And it is as Australians together, that we must take our country beyond this debate, without forgetting why we had it in the first place.
“Too often in the life of our nation, the disadvantage confronting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been relegated to the margins, this referendum and my government has put it right at the centre.”
Dutton said after the result that Australia “did not need to have” such a vote. “What we’ve seen tonight is Australians in their millions reject the prime minister’s divisive referendum.”
Leading No advocate and Bundjalung man Warren Mundine said: “This is a referendum that we should have never had had because it was built on the lie that Aboriginal people do not have a voice.” (BBC)