The Voice to Parliament

AEGN statement

Mourning a loss

On 14 October, Australians voted against altering the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.

This is a profoundly disappointing outcome both for the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who wanted a “Voice” to be heard, and for everyone who regarded this as an opportunity to come together as a nation and move forward.

On Saturday we had the chance to take a major step along the path to reconciliation and accept an invitation from Australia’s First Nations people to walk alongside them. As a country we failed to make this progress. We mourn this lost opportunity, but we don’t accept it as the final destination. First Nations communities deserve better. And so, the journey towards greater equity, justice and self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continues. We will achieve this aspiration; a “no” vote simply means we must take a different, albeit longer, path.

What that path looks like will take some time to discern. We acknowledge that the referendum campaign has taken a huge toll on First Nations people, and many First Nations leaders say they need to take some time to quietly reflect, grieve and consider what this result means. For now, let us simply reach out to the First Nations leaders in our networks and express our remorse and continuing solidarity. Let them know that, when they’re ready, we will follow their lead.

If we can offer some hope, it would be to note the fervour of “yes” supporters and the movement of volunteers the yes campaign built.

We recognise and give thanks to the many AEGN members who worked on and backed this campaign. Australia’s philanthropic community made a hugely significant contribution to the yes campaign, and if this result has shown us anything, it’s that this level of support must continue, because we’re even further from recognition and justice for First Nations people than many of us thought.

For the AEGN, achieving justice for First Nations people in Australia goes hand-in-hand with achieving our vision of a future where people and nature thrive. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have managed their lands for tens of thousands of years to protect Country and culture. Today, they own and manage Country that covers more than half of Australia, representing some of the most diverse and intact landscapes on Earth. Cultural land management also plays a critical role in sequestering carbon and addressing climate change.

In this light, we encourage AEGN members to double down on their support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their organisations and their work in caring for Country (and to be flexible and considerate of First Nations grantees at this time). To invest in and grow the capacity of First Nations advocates so that solutions are driven by First Nations voices. And above all, to listen with open hearts and minds to the advice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about matters that affect their lives.

Online forum for AEGN members

If you would like a space to reflect on and process this loss with fellow AEGN members, we invite you to join an online member forum from 1pm to 2pm this Wednesday 18 October. Please let Ione McLean ( know if you will join the forum.

Be a Voice for Generations

Fund this year’s First Nations Showcase projects