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Referendum Essay

3040 words - 13 pages

The 1967 Referendum question on Aborigines arose in a time of growing awareness for indigenous issues both in Australia and worldwide. Debate in parliament was legalistic under the Menzies Government, whilst pro-Aboriginal pressure groups presented daily petitions to try and influence members of the house that there was a great public outcry for reform. It was not until Menzies' retirement that the Commonwealth Parliament was convinced to include the removal of all discriminatory clauses from the constitution in the referendum. The public was easier to win over, already aware of the humanitarian issues that the Aboriginal people faced, however pressure groups still worked to achieve a ...view middle of the document...

"[3] Section 51 had provided that "The Parliament shall, subject to the constitution, have power to make laws for peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to… (xxvi) the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws". The common perception of the 1967 referendum is that it changed the position of the Aboriginal people in Australian society.[4] Although the referendum did establish a new structure of more equal law-making by including the Aboriginal people in general legislation like all other Australian citizens, it was changes to acts and political institutions that were made both before and after the referendum that did the most to alter the Aborigines' position in society.[5] In addition to the discrimination against Australia's indigenous population in the constitution, just three years after Federation, the Commonwealth Parliament voted that there should be universal suffrage for men and women, however not for the indigenous population in a bid for uniformity amongst the states. Voting rights for Aborigines had been strongly opposed by some members, especially those representing Queensland and Western Australian seats. [6] These states would later be in the bottom three states as a percentage of electors in favour of the 1967 referendum question[7] and at the time had the largest aboriginal population of any state, however each smaller than that of the Northern Territory.[8] There was resentment from the Northern Territory as its people were unable to vote in referenda at the time.[9] Constitutional alteration bills for a referendum on section 127 and 51 were presented to the House twice before its successful passage, once in 1964 by Labor Opposition leader Arthur Calwell, and as a private member's bill from Liberal MHR William Wentworth in 1966.[10]A referendum on removing all exclusions of the Aborigines in the Commonwealth Constitution was hotly debated in Parliament, with strong views of prominent parliamentarians being shown and many submissions from pressure groups. The Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA), later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders (FCAATSI), was established in 1958 and lobbied the states for the removal of restrictive laws for the Aborigines.[11] In 1961 the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, persuaded all mainland states to work toward the assimilation of the Aboriginal people into Australian culture so as to "[enjoy] the same rights and privileges, …the same responsibilities, …the same customs and… the same beliefs and loyalties as other Australians."[12] This achieved bipartisan support in the Commonwealth Parliament,[13] however was rejected by the FCAA, which saw the potential of Aboriginal contribution to Australian society and argued instead for "integration". A year later the FCAA began its fight for constitutional...

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