Australia shelves Aboriginal referendum

2012-09-20 10:02

Sydney - Australia on Thursday shelved plans to hold a referendum on formally recognising the country's Aborigines in the constitution, saying there was not enough public support for the move.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the vote as a "once in 50-year opportunity" when she first unveiled plans for the referendum in 2010, saying there was a rare moment of widespread public and parliamentary support.

Gillard had said the vote, which would have followed a historic 2008 government apology to Aboriginal Australians for wrongs committed since white settlement in 1788, could be held before or in conjunction with next year's national elections.

But Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the plan had been shelved for two or three years due to a lack of community support, with the government instead set to pass a special "Act of Recognition".

"I understand that people are disappointed. I'm disappointed myself," said Macklin.

"All of us would like to see the recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution as soon as possible, but nobody wants it to fail, most of all indigenous Australians," the minister added.

Counted as part of population

"I think we also have to acknowledge that there isn't the community awareness for a change to the constitution."

Macklin said it could take several years to gather enough support.

Australia has not held a referendum since 1999, when a move to become a republic was rejected.

In 44 referendums since 1901, only eight have been passed, including a resoundingly successful 1967 vote on counting Aboriginal Australians as part of the population.

Macklin said the Act of Recognition would address the recommendations of an expert panel into the proposed referendum in the interim.

They included recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia's original inhabitants and acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of these groups, the nation's most disadvantaged minority.

Once thought to number more than one million, Aborigines now account for just 470 000 out of a population of 22 million, and suffer disproportionately high rates of disease, imprisonment and unemployment.

Aboriginal men have a life expectancy 11.5 years shorter than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Aboriginal women die 9.7 years sooner than non-Aboriginal women.

  • customdesign - 2012-09-20 10:32

    I don't see why this has to be put to a referendum, it is a basic human right.

      sharon.houghton.984 - 2012-09-20 10:49

      Obviously not in Australia!!

  • - 2012-09-20 11:12

    Sad reading indeed. You are outpopulated by invaders to your land, they don't recognise you as a human being for starters, and when they finally do, they don't think they have done nothing wrong to you and they don't think you are a subject for pity or assistance. Sad. I think it could have gathered attention in some western countries where people have a heart. By its very nature OZ was built by ex-criminals and of late hard-line apartheid groups and Rhodies from our shores. You can't expect empathy for aborigines from these or their descendants.

      thando.moloi.9 - 2012-09-20 11:22

      Spot on Teddy and doesnt this sound like a country you know in Africa some where in the south?????

      customdesign - 2012-09-20 13:37

      Not really anywhere in Africa where the whites are the majority, unless of course you are talking about a minority living in South Africa who are still dominating the country despite being sidelined. See T-man, you even speak their language and most probably watch their movies and wear their fashion, but man oh man can you play the victim. This is not the same as Australia.

      geert.lampen - 2012-09-20 22:48

      Been living here in Oz for 10 years as a Saffa and you guys can't be further from the truth. It's too complex to go into and I doubt you would understand. It's like some African American or European criticising and believing to understand the issues in Africa esp. South Africa. So go an and believe who you want .... bit don't for one moment think you are in the know.

  • joe.peters.56 - 2012-09-20 11:21

    This violation of their constitutional amounts to a criminal act. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree...#colonyofcriminalsandlowlifes

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