- “Once in 50 year” chance, says Julia Gillard
- Expert panel to be set up before referendum
- Bipartisan political support needed for success
PRIME Minister Julia Gillard says an expert panel will be set up to lead a national discussion on a referendum on recognising indigenous people in the Australian Constitution.
“The first peoples of our nation have a unique and special place in our nation,” Ms Gillard said.
Ms Gillard said there was bipartisan support in the Parliament for the Constitutional change.
“We have a once-in-50-year opportunity for our country,” she said.
The panel will report to Government by the end of 2011.
“I’m certain that if this referendum is not successful, there will not be another like it,” Ms Gillard said.
She said the expert panel would include indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, community leaders, constitutional experts and members of Parliament.
More can be found at the link provided, including the nasty comments from news.com readers.
I commented in an earlier post that the practical exclusion of Aboriginal people in the Constitution deserves a mention. In the late 19th century, particularly, considerations by white Australians of Aboriginal welfare were dominated by the ‘doomed race’ theory. Since colonisation, observations of declining Aboriginal numbers, combined with the evolutionary theory, led white Australians to the conclusion that nothing could be done to save the Aborigines from extinction. Furthermore, their demise was merely in accordance with the unchallengeable laws of nature. Such ideas, supported as they were by scientific certainties, found ready acceptance in a society founded upon the dispossession of the Aborigines and loudly proclaimed the dedication to a white Australia.
Accordingly, the Australian Constitution was drawn up at a high point of racism when there was mounting pressure for the adoption of a policy that would exclude Aborigines (and non-Europeans). In this environment, it is hardly surprising that Aboriginal people were paid very little attention by the drafters of the Constitution and in fact were effectively excluded from the merging nation. The Constitution had only two minor exclusionary references to Aboriginal people. These references were at section 51 (xxvi) and section 127. Section 51 listed the powers of the Commonwealth and, at subsection xxvi, included a power with respect to the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. The second reference to Aboriginal people was at section 127 and stated that: In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted.
Of course, that all changed with the 1967 Referendum.
Hopefully we’ll see more changes in 2011.