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Mid West and Gascoyne communities vote No to the Voice but the fight is not over for First Nations activists

Anna CoxMidwest Times
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Tony Ferguson and Pauline Wright.
Camera IconTony Ferguson and Pauline Wright. Credit: Anna Cox

The divisive Voice referendum is over, but the fight to close the gap is far from finished, with both Yes and No supporters saying they want to push for better outcomes for Indigenous people.

Durack, the nation’s biggest electorate which envelopes the Mid West and Gascoyne, recorded the State’s third highest No vote on Saturday at 72.18 per cent.

Melissa Price, the Durack MP, was a vocal critic of the Voice and why it would not serve Indigenous Australians due to the “one size fits all” approach.

Ms Price said wanted “the lives of Indigenous Australians to be better. Kids to go to school, the home to be a safe place, kids to stop having kids and parents to have skills and a job. And the Voice was not the way to achieve this”.

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The polling stations in Moonyoonooka on Geraldton’s outskirts and Cervantes recorded the highest No result in the Mid West and Gascoyne, at 92.7 per cent and 90.4 per cent, respectively.

Cervantes lies within the Shire of Dandaragan, and Shire president Leslee Holmes said the result would have been much more different had the referendum been held 12 months earlier.

“The cultural heritage laws had a huge impact, if it was held before that it would’ve been very different. It was just very poor timing and people lost their confidence,” she said.

Cr Holmes added it was instinctual for Australians to want to see each other thrive, and hopefully a bipartisan agreement in the future would bring a more fruitful outcome.

The Leeman polling station was third highest No vote in the region, at 89.6 per cent, followed by Carnamah at 88.5 per cent.

Coorow Shire president Moira Girando said she believed the opposition was due to the agricultural region seeing the Voice as “potentially another nail in the coffin after the heritage laws”.

Cr Girando said the outcome would’ve been vastly different if it was split into two questions: “Should we recognise Indigenous people in the Constitution?” and “Should we elect a Voice to Parliament?”.

Across the Greater Geraldton region, almost 75 per cent of people voted No, with only one of 14 polling booths delivering a majority Yes result.

In Carnarvon, the opposition to the Voice was almost as strong, with 73.2 per cent of people rejecting it at the town’s pre-poll centre and 67.8 per cent voting No on poll day.

Many Mid West and Gascoyne towns with high Indigenous populations recorded strong No votes.

Across WA, 63.78 per cent voted No, third most behind Queensland and South Australia. The national No vote sits at 60.69 per cent.

Voters in Geraldton on Saturday agreed the timing of the WA Government’s heritage law bungle had almost made the referendum redundant.

Daniel, a farmer, said: “The heritage laws were reason for concern, what’s to say this will be any different.

“The amount of money wasted on this already is another issue”.

Daniel expressed his worry for where the Voice would be taken if voted in.

“Who knows where it’ll go. We didn’t know where the heritage laws would go and look what happened to them,” he said.

A lack of detail about the Voice and how it would work was also cited as a main reason by No supporters to reject it, while those in the Yes camp blamed a misinformation and scare campaign blurring the lines.

Ian Black, deputy president of the Shire of Mt Magnet, said the town’s 81.4 per cent of No votes could be attributed to the belief that “if you’re a competent member of the community, you can be successful in life — regardless of colour”.

Neighbouring Meekatharra had the third highest percentage of Yes voters in the region, but Shire president Harvey Nichols said it could have been vastly different had more residents cast their vote.

The town has a population of 708, but only 179 votes were recorded at the polling station.

Cr Nichols said the reason the vote did not get over the line was because of a lack of answers from the Federal Government, and the associated costs of electing a Voice to Parliament.

“There’s the Voice and then there’s the invoice,” he said.

Emma Garlett, a legal academic and a Nyiyaparli Yamatji-Nyungar woman from Geraldton, said the outcome was “extremely disheartening, disappointing and debilitating to know the majority of the nation preferred to accept the status quo”.

Ms Garlett said the fight was not over and that the fact 40 per cent of Australians supported the Voice meant “all was not lost”. She is calling for an audit “of what funds are being allocated to service providers to Indigenous people and communities and what outcomes they are achieving”.

“If this data isn’t already being recorded, we must know why,” she said.

Some Indigenous leaders involved in the Yes campaign have called for week of silence across the country, mourning the outcome of the referendum.

Moore MP and Opposition Leader Shane Love acknowledged the end of the referendum road, but said issues affecting First Nations Australians still needed to be addressed.

“Whether it is closing the gap on health, housing, education, or high levels of incarceration. These challenges are complex and require our ongoing attention,” he said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the loss did not symbolise defeat.

“The issues that we sought to address have not gone away, nor have the people of goodwill and good heart who want to address them,” he said.

“No one can say that just keep on doing the same thing is good enough for Australia, I will continue to listen to people and communities and consult on Indigenous Australians about a way forward.”

REFERENDUM RESULTS (YES/NO)

GREATER GERALDTON

Bluff Point: 67.42 per cent/32.58 per cent

Bluff Point South: 30.3 per cent/69.7 per cent

Cape Burney: 26.8 per cent/73.2 per cent

Drummond Cove: 32.4 per cent/67.6 per cent

Geraldton Pre-Polling Voting Centre: 20.2 per cent/79.8 per cent

Geraldton: 35.5 per cent/64.5 per cent

Moonyoonooka: 7.3 per cent/92.7 per cent

Mt Tarcoola: 28.5 per cent/71.5 per cent

Mullewa: 21.3 per cent/78.7 per cent

Rangeway: 32.8 per cent/67.2 per cent

Waggrakine: 27.6 per cent/72.3 per cent

Walkaway: 12.7 per cent/87.3 per cent

Wandina: 26.3 per cent/73.7 per cent

Wonthella: 25.2 per cent/74.8 per cent

TOTAL: 25.2 per cent/74.8 per cent

MID WEST AND GASCOYNE

Carnamah: 11.5 per cent/88.5 per cent

Carnarvon: 32.2 per cent/67.8 per cent

Carnarvon pre-poll centre: 26.8 per cent/73.2 per cent

Cervantes: 9.6 per cent/90.4 per cent

Coorow: 11.9 per cent/88.1 per cent

Coral Bay: 45 per cent/55 per cent

Cue: 18.5 per cent/81.5 per cent

Dandaragan: 18.4 per cent/81.6 per cent

Denham: 44.1 per cent/55.9 per cent

Dongara: 16.85 per cent/83.15 per cent

Eneabba: 15.5 per cent/84.5 per cent

Exmouth: 35 per cent/65 per cent

Jurien Bay: 14.9 per cent/85.1 per cent

Kalbarri: 23.6 per cent/76.4 per cent

Leeman: 10.4 per cent/89.6 per cent

Meekatharra: 41 per cent/59 per cent

Mingenew: 13.8 per cent/86.2 per cent

Morawa: 27.4 per cent/72.6 per cent

Mt Magnet: 18.6 per cent/81.4 per cent

Nabawa: 14 per cent/86 per cent

Northampton: 18.5 per cent/81.5 per cent

Perenjori: 17.5 per cent/82.5 per cent

Three Springs: 17.2 per cent/82.8 per cent

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