First Nations people face racism surge after voice vote

Keira Jenkins and Kat Wong |

Marjorie Anderson of 13YARN says calls relating to racism have increased since the 2023 referendum.
Marjorie Anderson of 13YARN says calls relating to racism have increased since the 2023 referendum.

First Nations people have experienced more racism since the voice referendum, with a support service recording a major jump in calls.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crisis line 13YARN says there has been an almost 50 per cent increase in demand after Australians voted against an Indigenous voice in the constitution. 

The support service said calls jumped from 17,000 in 2022 to 25,000 just one year later.

The number of callers who cited racism as their reason for distress rose from 16 per cent in 2022 to 19 per cent in 2023.

And in 2024, 26 per cent of calls so far have been driven by racism.

Marjorie Anderson, national program manager of 13YARN, said calls to the service often spiked during political moments and events, including during October’s voice referendum defeat.

“It was a quiet day on the Saturday (of the referendum) until the announcement of the outcome, then our phones got smashed,” she told AAP.

The following day, the service received triple number of the calls they would usually expect on a Sunday.

Ms Anderson said there had also been a steady increase in calls relating to racism in the months leading up to the vote.

“The referendum had a big impact on the community and the fact that the argument was so nasty, I think it gave people who have racist thoughts permission to speak those racist thoughts out in the community,” she said.

The proportion of calls to 13YARN relating to racism had also increased each month after the referendum, peaking in March at 28 per cent.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Katie Kiss said the referendum defeat in October had been a devastating blow for many in the community. 

“Our people are trying to recover from that blow and the racism that they’re experiencing is making it all the more difficult to actually heal,” she told ABC Radio.

Calls to 13YARN relating to racism dropped to 18 per cent in April, which Ms Anderson said could be an anomaly, but hoped it was a turning point. 

She said 13YARN marked 50,000 received calls since the service began in 2022, and encouraged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to keep reaching out when they need.

“If you’re feeling not okay or no good, if you’re feeling anxious or got that terrible feeling in your stomach that comes from anxiety, please give us a ring,” Ms Anderson said.

13YARN 13 92 76

Lifeline 13 11 14