Labor sets deadline for vote on enshrining Aborigines in Australian constitution


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used the 50th anniversary of the indigenous land rights movement Wednesday to pledge a referendum on recognizing the country’s Aborigines in the constitution if his Labor Party is re-elected.

His predecessor, Julia Gillard, shelved a plan to hold a vote this parliamentary term, citing low public support, but Rudd made clear that recognition of Aboriginal people as the country’s first inhabitants was a priority.

“I therefore, as prime minister, want to see this matter brought to the people of Australia by referendum within two years of the election of the next parliament,” he said, with national polls scheduled for later this year.

Rudd said he wanted to work with the conservative opposition to draft an appropriate question.

“I want us to agree on the question to be put to the Australian people,” he said. “No more delays, no more excuses, no more buck-passing. It’s time the nation got on with this business.”

Any change to Australia’s constitution must be approved by a national referendum in which all citizens vote, and such ballots typically have low levels of success.

Rudd was speaking ahead of an event in the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala in the country’s north, where the indigenous land rights movement began 50 years ago with the signing of two bark petitions protesting against a government plan to confiscate a massive block of land to mine for bauxite.

The petitions became the first native title documents recognized by Australia’s parliament. While they failed to win their case in the courts, they set in motion the push for the eventual recognition of Aboriginals as full citizens in 1967, and the statutory acknowledgement of land rights in 1976.

  • Paldo

    I had been in Australia’s Northern Territory for 8 whole years, half of my time dealing with the Aboriginal people. I can almost tell from the way they talk or just their names or how the faces look like, and tell which community they are from.

    Aborigines are unique people in the world. It was recognized that their body temperature can lower a bit to suit the environment (cold weather), while all of us are maintaining at about 37C. I noticed that their legs are like a pair of chopsticks, very very slim, even the person has a very big belly. I noticed the aborigines in the far north (near the equator) are darker than their brothers down south.

    They had 50,00 years of “culture”, as reflecting on the “rock painting”. Traditionally they are hunters, never ever farmers. In good times when they hunted some animals, they shared with neighbours; and in bad times, the neighbours would give them whatever caught in return—sharing.

    Aside from rock painting, they have what we called the dot-painting, painting dot dot dot and so on. Music wise they have an instrument called didgeridoo, made of long pieces of wood hollow inside, plus striking with sticks to make the Rhythm.

    Since the arrival of “white man” about 200 years ago, they were slaughtered and displaced, from an estimate of 600,000 (some said more) to to-date’s 60,000, most of them live in Northern Territory and Western Australia.

    The “white man” brought with them diseases and grogs. The aborigines were sort of cornered to their own “communities”, with no jobs. In about the 1960’s the “white man” snatched from the communities the new born kids and raised in the white families…that’s what we called the “stolen generation”. The Australian PM Kevin Rudd, when he won the election a few years ago, “apologize” for the wrongdoing of the government (JP, up to now, did not formally apologized for the wrongdoings during the hundred years or so.

    The Australian government started to give the aborigines “citizenship” and recognized their rights in mid-1960’s. Heaps of funds were poured to improve their livelihood.

    Unfortunately, the aborigines have not got any culture of schooling and working. Most are illiterate and had never been working the whole life. The government provides housing to many, but they prefer to sleep under the sky. In some communities, house/room doors are missing because they used them for barbecues.

    The aborigines have a bit of herbal medicine culture, but it did not help them from the modern day’s diseases and numerous infections. Alcoholism is another problem. A lot of them get drunk whenever the dole money arrives. If banned by the communities, they would go to the nearby township to get drunk. Some simply lie in the middle of the roads and get run-over. Fighting, sober centres are their way of life.

    Gambling is another major problem. They can be one day millionaire (some receive thousands of dollars from the mining companies within their communities) and the next day broke, mainly due to gambling.

    The culture of “sharing” is also bad. When one aborigine is showing the “palm” to the other, the other has no choice but hand over 10 bucks, if he as any money.

    The aboriginal problems in Australia, I am afraid, will remain