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An Australian referendum to create an Indigenous Voice to Parliament has failed

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Three leading advocates for constitutional change in Australia conceded defeat on Saturday in a referendum that would have created an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. said based on early vote counting that the states of New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia have rejected the amendment that would have created an Indigenous committee to advise Parliament and the government on issues that affect Australia’s most disadvantaged ethnic minority.

The Voice needs majorities in each of at least four of the six states as well as a national majority for the referendum to pass.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

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A polling place volunteer, left, assists a woman at a polling place in Redfern as Australians cast their final votes in Sydney, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in their first referendum in a generation that aims to tackle Indigenous disadvantage by enshrining in the constitution a new advocacy committee. The prospect of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament has bitterly divided Australia's Indigenous minority as well as the wider community. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)Australians decide if Indigenous Voice is needed to advise Parliament on minority issuesIn this photo provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Chinese Australian journalist Cheng Lei, right, poses with Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne, on Wednesday Oct. 11, 2023. Cheng, who was convicted on murky espionage charges and detained in China for three years has returned to Australia. (Sarah Hodges/DFAT via AP)Chinese-born journalist thanks Australia for her freedom after 3 years in detention for spyingIn this photo provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Chinese Australian journalist Cheng Lei, right, poses with Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne, on Wednesday Oct. 11, 2023. Cheng, who was convicted on murky espionage charges and detained in China for three years has returned to Australia. (Sarah Hodges/DFAT via AP)A Chinese Australian journalist detained for 3 years in China returns to Australia

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Polling closed in all but one Australian state Saturday with the “no” vote dominating early counting in the country’s first referendum in a generation, deciding whether to tackle Indigenous disadvantages by enshrining in the constitution a new advocacy committee.

The proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament bitterly divided Australia’s Indigenous minority as well as the wider community.

The polls closed in a fifth state, Queensland, at 6 p.m. (08:00 GMT). Voting will close in Western Australia two hours later due to its unique time zone.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. said that based on an early vote count, the states of New South Wales and Tasmania will reject constitutional change. The Voice would need majorities in each of the four remaining states plus a national majority to survive.

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Opinion polls in recent months have indicated a strong majority of Australians oppose the proposal. Earlier in the year, a majority supported the Voice before the “no” campaign gathered intensity.

The Voice would be a committee comprised of and chosen by Indigenous Australians that would advise the Parliament and government on issues that affect the nation’s most disadvantaged ethnic minority.

Voice advocates hope that listening to Indigenous views would lead to more effective delivery of government services and better outcomes for Indigenous lives.

Accounting for only 3.8% of the population, Indigenous Australians die on average eight years younger than the wider population, have a suicide rate twice that of the national average and suffer from diseases in the remote Outback that have been eradicated from other wealthy countries.

Almost 18 million people were enrolled to vote in the referendum, Australia’s first since 1999. Around 6 million cast ballots in early voting over the last three weeks.

Around 2 million postal votes will be counted for up to 13 days after the polls close Saturday.

The result could be known late Saturday unless the vote is close.

If the proposal passes, it will be the first successful constitutional amendment since 1977. It also would be the first ever to pass without the bipartisan support of the major political parties.