Indigenous Referendum

News Flash: Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces Indigenous referendum!

  • “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 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.

18 comments on “Indigenous Referendum

  1. Joni..probably my ‘least favorite’ is the writer who states that by acknowledging the first Australians that we are setting indigenous above all others. My bet is that this same author/those of this type would be the first to call refugees queue jumpers including 3rd generation Vietnamese.

    Our Constitution is a piece of paper as dry as dust and at least by acknowledging the first Australians it might add a bit of passion.

  2. Migs, excellent summary. That’s the whole thing isn’t it, because the white invaders could not ‘see’ animal husbandry or cultivation due to the fact that there were not straight lines, nor animals corralled in stables it was concluded that Aboriginals were too ‘primitive’ to be called people.

    Just from memory, but wasn’t this the only reason that Mabo was successful..that there were stones demarking fishing territories..and territories fitted into the white man’s imagining of proof of civilization and continuous occupation.

    Of interest is from

    The discovery is significant as it predates by at least 5000 years the oldest known examples of other ground-edge implements from Japan and Australia, which have been dated at 22,000 to 30,000 years old. By comparison, the earliest ground-edge axes from Europe, West Asia and Africa are about 8,500 years old.

  3. OMG, in a surprising revelation this is one that Abbott is not going to object to.

    Ms Gillard said there was bipartisan support in Parliament for the constitutional change.

  4. You know what. Those people who are bound to do the screamy-heebee-jeebie thing about changing our Constitution..I wonder how many of them have actually read it?

  5. Patricia, I suspect that this is one that Abbott will go along with…but he will let his far right wing supporters do his work for him.

    I’m honestly not certain how this debate will progress. I cannot see any side of politics prepared to stand up and say, No Aboriginals should not be acknowledged in our Constitution..but there will be those on the MSM and right wing blogs who will say ‘why should we’.

  6. “More can be found at the link provided, including the nasty comments from readers.”

    I’m not interested in reading comments from scum who need therapy.

    “a referendum on recognising indigenous people in the Australian Constitution.”

    It’s about time.

    I’m not surprised it hasn’t been done earlier tho considerin’ how many dumb, mean-spirited, white supremacist, bigoted, ocker racists vote in this country and are catered to & fed sometimes, when power & moolah calls, by the likes of One Nation and a number of coalition members, Christian fundies, shock jocks & Murdoch empire & current affairs’ types. Add racists in Labor that go back to the White Australia policy…and migrants who are as racist as them…and fearful as them…or who think they should hop on the bandwagon & act ocker & stupid just to fit in w/ the bullies.

    And if they tell ya any diff ya know they are full of crap.

    If this wasn’t the case, then why hasn’t this happened before?

    Shame Australia.


  7. One thing that you can always count on Nas’’s adjectives! Love it Nas’..nobody can write with the passion that you do.

  8. It was probably silly of me to mention the comments from the readers, but we can’t escape the fact that there are a lot of bigots out there. True, I gain nothing from them other than shake my head in disbelief.

    I once asked an Aboriginal friend whether the racism and lies spread about Aborigines hurt him. Strangely, he said no, preferring to suggest that those people were just plain ignorant and they’ll never change. There’s nothing he could do about it, so he ignores them.

  9. Much sooner see a Referendum for a Republic – that would bring about a reconstruction of the Constitution (a document that is not terribly foresighted nor well constructed) …

    … include the recognition of Aboriginals as traditional custodians by all means …

    … but a Republic would cater for the needs of the majority of Australians in a modern 2010 …

    … and the way I feel about power, rates and water bills at the moment we should include the Yankee Clause on the Right to Bear Arms …

  10. TB, I can just see you walking in here wearing a six shooter and demanding I hand over all the WT or you’ll fill me full of lead.

    Mmmmmm …

    Seriously, the Republic reminded me why I use the Eureka Flag as my gravatar …

    … one of the reasons I looked for a new one is that it wasn’t a “person” like other poster’s and does “stand out” …

    … I might revert to Republican roots!

  11. “It was probably silly of me to mention the comments from the readers”

    Nah Migs, it helped me get down to their level. Nuthin’ like swimmin’ in the stankin’ & putrid sewers of Obnoxious Town…takin’ in the noxious scent of redneck farts that blurp from the secondary anuses their delusional mothers tell ’em are mouths.

    At least you give a damn about the Aboriginal people…First People…Migs…unlike those who are more interested in spreadin’ their fecal matter of hate across the land.

    We need to send them butt plugs for their facial orifices…and scoops & bags…so they can clean up their own mess.


  12. Thinking practically, a referendum is not an easy thing to get up: the proportion of the Australian population holding patent or latent ‘racist’ attitudes, and the territorial distribution of those persons, with or without sensitive political treatment of the ‘concerns’ of strong objectors and some deft salespersonship of the initiative to those for whom the justice(-as-fairness?) reasons underpinning the holding of such a referendum either are non-apparent or are lacking salience, is likely to be determinative. (And, I vaguely recall reading a study not too long ago suggesting that about 10% of the Australian population remains intractably and actively racist, and a further 30% harbour some racist attitudes; and that total figure of 40%, if true and still operative, could prove telling against any such referendum. Incidentally, one suspects, but cannot be sure, that ‘active racists’, when provided with a vaguely race-related topic like the proposed referendum, are more likely than the average, reflective Australian to find the proposed referendum of salience, even if negatively so, and to express their opinions in the media available; so, perhaps, the deluge of instant newspaper ‘commentary’ is more polarised than representative at present; and further consensus-building, as proposed, can still work its magic despite the interesting opposition to the idea of recognition of Indigenous Australians in a core document of nationhood.)

  13. Good post, First Fleeter.

    I’m aware too that Referendums don’t go down well with the electorate, with a long string of No votes since the first one was ever held. One that did go against the play was the 1967 Referendum recognising Aborigines as Australians.

    Let’s see how this one goes, should it first get support from the opposiiton.

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