Pressure is growing on the federal government to explain the Voice referendum “wipe-out” and the $400 million poured “down the drain” on the vote during a cost-of-living crisis.
Tanya Plibersek appeared on Seven’s Sunrise on Monday morning where host Natalie Barr grilled the federal Environment Minister over the “dismal” result.
“How did the government get this so wrong?” Barr asked.
“Well I think we need to take a bit of time to consider what happened here,” Ms Plibersek said.
“We need to take a little bit of time to examine the fallout here and think about a constructive way forward. I don’t think Saturday night’s result was a vote against progress to close the gap, I think it was against the particular proposition. Most Australians agree that we need to do better.”
But Barr said it “doesn’t take long to look at that map” to see that something the Labor government was “hiking its hat on failed so dismally across the country”.
“It was a wipe-out,” she said. “So what do you learn from that, $400 million down the drain on something people said No?”
Ms Plibersek agreed it was a “very disappointing result and there’s no two ways about it”.
“But like I say, it was a rejection of this question and I think there is still a lot of goodwill in the Australian people to close the gap,” she said.
“It is important to take a little bit of time and just let the dust settle, to really think through out next steps to make sure we are working in a way that brings Australians together to reduce disadvantage in this country.”
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce slammed the government for a $400 million “divisive debacle”. He said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had “read perfectly his inner suburban seat of Grayndler” but failed to read the rest of the country.
Inner-city seats and the ACT voted Yes while the rest of Australia “thought about the price of power, the price of their food and groceries”, Mr Joyce said, adding the PM should have “done the statesmanlike thing” earlier and called off the referendum when the writing was on the wall.
“It wasn’t a surprise, it was given to him by polls,” he said. “He was listening to his own echo chamber, he wasn’t listening to the Australian people.”
Ms Plibersek defended the decision not to pull the vote.
“We made a number of commitments to the Australian people at the time of the last election, one of them was to hold a referendum,” she said. “Governments can do more than one thing at a time and the Prime Minister made a commitment, he kept the commitment, I think Australians respect [him when] he keeps his word.”
Barr also grilled Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles on the program, demanding Labor explain why it made Australians go to the polls and questioning who was to blame for “one of the worst run campaigns in Australian history”.
“I don’t think it is a question of blame,” he said.
“I don’t accept those assertions, obviously. The weekend’s result is obviously not the one I hoped for but ultimately, this is the Voice of the Australian people and we need to respect that and as a government. We do, we won’t be moving forward with constitutional reform now, that’s clearly what has been expressed by the Australian people.”
Mr Marles reiterated Labor’s position that “moving forward, our focus needs to be on really putting an even greater effort on closing the gap and on reconciliation”.
But Barr questioned “how can you say that this is anything but a massive failure of your government”. “You hung your hat on it,” she said.
“You failed to explain it, you didn’t allay people’s fears over land seizures, over payouts, you didn’t even explain what it would do to Aboriginal people in this country.”
Mr Marles insisted “we made that explanation” that it was “about listening to Indigenous people on issues which affected them”. “We respect the choice that has been made, we gave it our best shot in terms of making the arguments,” he said.
The Prime Minister has faced called to resign over the failed referendum after Australia overwhelmingly rejected the Voice, with 61 per cent voting No.
No campaigners have already begun to call for the Mr Albanese’s head in the wake of the vote, including Sky News Host Andrew Bolt.
“I just wonder now how he can continue as Prime Minister,” Bolt said on Saturday night.
“He’s put us through this nightmare and wasted nearly $400 million of taxpayers money, putting Australians at each other’s throats. And unfortunately the poison from all this will survive.”
South Australian Opposition Leader David Speirs said that Labor needed to “make a call”. “Some people are saying he should resign,” Mr Speirs said.
“He should resign because the damage he has done to our country and to the very fabric of what it means to be Australian is, quite frankly, heartbreaking. The Prime Minister should think about his future. I don’t think he will resign but there are international precedents there.”
In South Australia, where the Yes campaign held its official launch, every single electorate voted No.
It took less than 90 minutes after the first polls closed on the east coast for election watchers to make the call, after Tasmania, NSW and South Australia voted No — eliminating the path to the required double majority of at least four out of six states.
The proposal, to formally recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution and to create an advisory body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to make representations to the federal government, was also overwhelmingly defeated in the national total with just 39 per cent voting Yes.
Indigenous Australians from across the country devastated by Saturday night’s referendum result have called a “week of silence” to grieve the outcome and “reflect on its meaning and significance”.
Nationals leader David Littleproud, whose rural Queensland seat of Maranoa returned the highest No vote in the country of 84 per cent, said he appreciated the “pain” Indigenous Australians were feeling.
“But we’ve got to work on the great stuff that we’ve already been able to achieve,” he told the ABC on Monday.
“There is disadvantage in some parts of the country, but not all. We have done a lot of the heavy lifting. But where it hasn’t, we’ve got to make sure that we empower them at a local level.”
Mr Littleproud said the “message that came out of this” was Australians did not want more centralised bureaucracy in Canberra but that “we get on with the job where that disadvantage is, and really get granular in running those local programs”.
“They want us to focus on that,” he said.
“This has been a distraction for the Prime Minister for the last 16 months. And I think they want that sorted and they want their cost of living sorted.”