The best laid plans



Canberra spent millions encouraging voter enrolment for the Referendum but the splurge failed to increase the usual poor numbers at the ballot box in Lingiari.

Barely half of the 80,061 people enrolled in the huge electorate turned up to vote in the Voice poll, just 44,476 of them.

Voter turnout thus fell way short of enrolment, which, at 91.7% the Australian Electoral Commission boasted was a record, up from 89.8% at the 2022 Federal election.

But more people voted in 2022 than on October 14 and via post, notwithstanding that the Referendum, seeking support for an advantage for Indigenous people in terms of recognition and a Voice to Parliament, was particularly relevant to Lingiari which has an Indigenous population of some 25%.

Yes voter and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, with Opposition support, funded “a comprehensive communication campaign for the referendum – as we do for every electoral event we conduct,” according to Geoff Bloom, Territory Manager of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

“It is a multi-million dollar campaign in total with all Australian voters as the target audience but segmented of course into focus areas like youth, Indigenous Australians, Australians in remote communities, culturally and linguistically diverse Australians etc.”

Mr Bloom did not disclose the amount spent, despite a request from the News.

The urban centres in Lingiari have a significant proportion of Indigenous residents, while voters served by the remote polling teams would have been overwhelmingly Indigenous, and certainly in the remote areas the Yes vote was in a clear majority.

The AEC did not provide details by community of remote area enrolments, nor for the votes recorded by 22 Remote Mobile Teams which provided polling places in 23 locations. The News is seeking further information.

All we could work out so far was that 12,177 people voted at Remote Mobile Teams locations, 8948 (73%) Yes and 3229 (26%) No – virtually the reverse of the national figure.

Yes campaigners claim Aboriginal voting was high.

Why Lingiari enrolments overall didn’t translate into corresponding number of votes being cast remains a question still looking for answers.

“Part of our communication included community visits and education sessions run out of our Indigenous Electoral Participation Program,” says Mr Bloom.

“This is an ongoing body of work as part of a program that has been around for 10 plus years, rather than event-specific.

“In addition to communication, we also looked at our direct enrolment processes to see how this could be expanded further into remote communities, and it was.

“Forms of identification were also expanded to include Medicare to make online enrolment more accessible to people without a driver’s license or passport.

“All this work has been very successful with estimated enrolment of Indigenous Australians being more than 90% for the first time in Australia’s history.”

These were the votes in Alice Springs (Yes and No, respectively, so far):- Town Council 687/765), Mbantua Building (2746/3414), Braitling (274/402), Gillen(378/679), Ilparpa (58/105), Larapinta (172/272), Sadadeen (297/302).

PHOTO AT TOP: The Yes campaign in Alice Springs bombed. Yes23 online promotion.

UPDATE 7am October 28

While in the burbs the voting behaviour from polling station to polling station dominates BBQ chats, the situation out bush is much less clear.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) does not have access to how people vote (yes/no) at a community level, according to Geoff Bloom, the commission’s Territory Manager.

“This comes as a result of Remote Mobile Teams using the same ballot boxes as they travel between communities. There is no way to verify where each yes or no vote originated from.

“The most detailed level of information on yes/no numbers is at the ‘team’ level, and this information is available via the Tally Room.”

There were 20 Remote Mobile Teams (RMTs) in Lingiari taking votes in more than 200 locations.

Remote Mobile Team 10, for example, visited nine locations, including Lajamanu, Kalkiringi, Dagaragu, collecting 388 votes (266 Yes, 119 No and 3 informal).

Team 12 visited 13 locations, including Yuendumu, Papunya and Hermannsburg, collecting just 408 votes (299 Yes, 108 No and 1 informal).


  1. I can’t be sure, but I suspect “promises fatigue” might be a factor.
    The dog whistling cacophony did much to prevent the two major parties from enthusing the electorate.

  2. Interesting. The remote areas are by and large the real deal when it comes to actually being remote. Access is very restricted and travel out is also hindered by poverty.
    Thus, those communities would be uniquely susceptible to whatever media and political opportunists come their way. Grass is greener so to speak, or it would be if you had grass to start with instead of dust and spinifex.
    What is not said here in this veiled tilt is the rest of Lingiari. Let’s put that detail here. The AEC site states there are 48,533 voters in this electorate, of which 56.28% voted NO, ie the majority. There were only 357 informal votes. Enrolment is 80,061 and if correct then 31,528 or 39.37% either did not vote or for the few left, their votes are yet to be counted.
    What is unusual is that practically ALL “remote teams” tallies are in the opposite direction, being largely YES.
    A question – what was the percentage of voter turnout from the remote team areas, 22 in all? Would the resultant knowledge be taken into account by the editor of this article in interpreting the result?
    [ED – I’m working on it, as mentioned in the story. I sent the following email to Mr Bloom:
    Hi Geoff, I will need the respective locations of the Remote Mobile Teams for my analysis of the referendum in Lingiari. Can you please supply them, or where can I find them? The locations of other polling booths are disclosed – why not those of the RMTs?
    Any justification on privacy would fail: Some RMTs had more votes than named suburban ones (eg RMT 5 had 1069 votes; Ilparpa 165).
    The AEC obviously has the addresses of each enrolled voter. Are there location-specific enrolment data linked to locations of polling booths, suburbs, towns, regions and RMT locations?
    Kind regards, Erwin Chlanda, Editor, Alice Springs News.

  3. You would think that voters in Lingiari, having witnessed Aboriginal disadvantage for so long, would have embraced a solution that was put forth by the Aboriginal people themselves, and which asked so little of them. Mystifying.

  4. @ John: In my experience Aboriginal people vote for the person rather than the politics.
    Personal relationships far outweigh the issues.
    Allison Anderson was a very successful politician and her campaigning was based on connecting with people in her electorate. She only talked political issues on communities when specifically asked, for the most part she talked about family members.
    It’s the same in every aspect of the interface between the two cultures.
    In education, the personal relationship between the teacher and student is far more important than the curriculum which is why a high teacher turnover (eg Yirara College) will always produce low retention and poor grades.
    Advocates of the Voice generally were not personally connected to the voters.

  5. John, There’s a whole range of reasons, suggestions and analyses.
    Here are a few thoughts.
    Alice Springs, the whitefella heart of Lingiari, is a very conservative town, albeit very divided, with a large minority of progressive, and active whitefellas.
    With one exception, when Adam Giles lost his seat, Alice has always elected CLP (or ex CLP) members.
    The disengaged, or otherwise engaged voters probably thought that as the CLP Senator was leading the NO campaign they would just vote CLP.
    The NO campaign was following the Trump / Bannon strategy “flood the zone with shit”. Throw around as much dis/mis-information as possible.
    The YES campaign, and the more responsible sections of the Media, simply couldn’t keep up with it. It was even harder for the average voter. Many must have come to the conclusion that “there must be some truth to it”.
    Churchill is credited with the quote: “A lie is half way around the world while the truth is still pulling its boots on.”
    Then there are the deeper, behind the scenes, plotting and funding issues.
    Both Mundine and Price have very close connections with the Centre for Independent Studies which is a right wing propaganda outfit, funded by fossil fuel and neo-liberal interests, and linked to the world wide Atlas Network.
    They regard any increase in Indigenous rights as a threat to their industry, with Traditional Owners opposing fracking, coal mines etc.
    They also regard the Labor Government as a threat, and support anything that may help get their beloved Lib/Nat climate deniers back in office.
    This is documented in a paper published in UTS e Press on Sep 30, 2023 by Jeremy Walker: Silencing the Voice: the fossil-fuelled Atlas Network’s Campaign against Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australia.

  6. @ John: The “solution was put forth” by well-paid, politically-connected, part-Aboriginal urbanites who prioritised financial reparations through a process of Voice, Treaty and Truth-telling.
    But Lingiari voters have “witnessed” for generations how many of our problems have never been fixed simply with more and more money, so “you would think” the Voice lawyers would “embrace a solution” that addressed real “Aboriginal disadvantage” but they did not:(

  7. @ Ralph: I was referring to the (apparently) high “No” vote from the (apparently) non-Indigenous population in Lingiari.
    The conventional narrative is that Alice Springs residents are desperate for action on crime, alcoholism and so on. If this is the case, then surely they should be open to trying new approaches?
    Or are they unable to connect the dots between the nihilistic attitudes of some Aboriginal youth in town, with the fact that these youth grow up learning that their land was stolen from them, and furthermore, that formal recognition of this fact has never been made?

  8. Ralph, my understanding of John’s comment “having witnessed Aboriginal disadvantage” is that he was referring to the non-Aboriginal population.
    Clearly the Aboriginal population in the remote communities overwhelmingly voted Yes (over 75%).
    Central Land Council members (not staff) were very much part of the dialogues, and the Uluru process, were advocates for the Voice who were personally connected to the bush voters.
    They appear not to have been connected to the No advocates.
    You say: “In my experience Aboriginal people vote for the person rather than the politics.”
    It is hard to see how that applies here, it was not voting for a person.
    And it is unequivocally clear that Aboriginal people do vote for the politics.
    When Price stood for the CLP in Lingiari she got less than 10% of the bush vote.
    It is hard to get figures from the town Aboriginal voters, but my observation at the pre-poll booth almost every day was that they were also majority Yes voters.
    The whitefella Lingiari voters I have dealt with above.

  9. @ Michael: The referendum question comes directly from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It specifically says: “We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”
    That was the question put.
    Truth and Treaty and any consideration of reparations may or may not follow, and were not part of the referendum.
    If they do follow, it will be from Parliamentary process in the usual manner, as has been happening in various other jurisdictions. The only outcome of a Yes vote would have been an advisory body to feed into these processes.
    There is something subtly racist in the “well-paid, politically-connected, part-Aboriginal urbanites” comment.
    The delegates to the Uluru meeting included some highly qualified legal people and it is logical that when considering a change to the Constitution their expertise would be called upon to help formulate wording.
    White politicians and business people have “advisors” with expertise in various areas, but it is somehow considered illegitimate for Aboriginal people to avail themselves of similar advice.
    And the eventual statement was approved, and signed off on by the 250 delegates.
    You say “problems have never been fixed simply with more and more money”.
    The point of the proposed Voice was to help design better programs with Aboriginal input that would thus be more effective and save money.


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