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Indigenous communities overwhelmingly voted yes to Australia’s voice to parliament

Handout photograph released by Central Land Council shows the elected grass-roots representatives of remote communities in Central Australia posing in front of the iconic landmark the Uluru with large yellow letters forming the word yes

Regions with a high proportion of Indigenous Australians overwhelmingly voted yes in the referendum – including the community where prominent no campaigner Jacinta Nampijinpa Price’s family is from.

The yes vote in polling catchments where Indigenous Australians formed more than 50% of the population was, on average, 63% in favour of enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament, according to political analyst Simon Jackman, who estimated the proportion of Indigenous Australians at each polling area based on data from the 2022 election.

But the referendum was defeated under the weight of much of the rest of the country voting no. Nationally, only 39.6% of the population voted in favour, while 60.4% ruled it out.

Five insights from the referendum: Liberals win the battle but lose the warRead more

“This was so important for Indigenous people,” said Yanyuwa woman and Labor senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, on the ABC on Saturday night, as the reality of the defeat sunk in.

“I want to emphasise the point of that to all Australians, that this was always going to be about the 3% of the population who are asking for an advisory body to the constitution.”

In the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari, which takes in Alice Springs and where 40% of the population is Indigenous, 58% voted against the voice and 42% voted in favour.

00:02:28’We never meant you harm’: Australian Indigenous leaders lament referendum loss – video

But 74% of the 11,000 people that live in Lingiari’s remote areas voted yes, according to figures provided by Labor MP for Lingiari, Marion Scrymgour.

The highest vote in support of yes was in Wadeye, at 92.1%. The Tiwi Islands voted 84% in favour, and Maningrida recorded an 88% yes vote.

Only one of the 20 mobile remote polling booths in the seat recorded a majority no vote.

In Yuendemu, the community home to the family of Price, shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, three in four people voted yes.

“If only people down south had seen what Aboriginal people in the bush were voting for, then maybe we would have had a different result,” said Scrymgour.

“We can’t change last night, but we can change what happens going forward.”

Some regions in Queensland, where only 31.3% of the state’s population voted yes, showed a similar break away trend for communities with a high Indigenous population.

McCarthy pointed out early polling results from Queensland showed on Palm Island, where the population is 93% Indigenous, three in four voted yes.

On Mornington Island, where 77% of the population is Indigenous, McCarthy said 79% voted yes. And in Lockhart River, where almost 80% of people are Indigenous, 66% voted in favour.

The overall result was at odds with claims made by Price on Saturday night during her speech celebrating the no camp’s win, in which she said a vast group of Indigenous Australians did not support the proposal.

It was suggested that 80% of Indigenous Australians supported this proposal, when we knew that that was not the case,” Price said of the figure often quoted by the yes camp to prove to Australians Indigenous Australians backed the proposal that came from Indigenous leaders.

“When I knew, having spoken to people throughout the Northern Territory, to Indigenous people from the Northern Territory and right across the country, particularly in my role as the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, that a vast group of Indigenous Australians did not support the proposal.”

Price also questioned the impartiality of the commission’s delivery of remote polling, saying “remote communities are exploited for someone’s else’s agenda”.

Voice referendum live results: votes count and map by state in the Australian Indigenous voice to parliament 2023 pollRead more

An AEC spokesperson rejected suggestions of interference at remote polling, telling Guardian Australia “the ability to campaign at any polling place, including in remote communities, was of course the same for everyone”.

“We were pleased to have delivered the largest remote voting offering ever with a 25% increase in the number of votes taken in remote communities,” the spokesperson said.

“This was off the back of record rate of enrolment overall, as well as for Indigenous Australians.”

Scrymgour said the number of young Indigenous Australaians voting in the referendum was greater than recent government elections.

“I don’t want them to feel depressed or to feel alienated or to feel that their vote went nowhere,” she said. “So we just need to make sure we continue to give them hope. And that tomorrow things will get better.

“This is a setback, but we’ve had many setbacks over many years, and we’ll continue to fight.”

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