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Referendum 1967 Essay

2882 words - 12 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 resounding approval for the referendum question. There is a great amount of myth surrounding what the change to the constitution actually meant for the Aboriginal population, however governments gradually utilised the new powers granted to the Commonwealth to advance the Aboriginal people of Australia.When the Commonwealth Constitution Act (1901) was passed, it was considered one of the most democratic in the world,[1] however two sections of the new document discriminated against the indigenous population, section 127 and section 51 (xxvi). Despite there being numerous people involved in the framing of the constitution who took a humanistic, sensitive approach to the Aboriginal population, including Alfred Deakin, the idea that the new commonwealth government should have some obligation to legislate with regard to the aborigines was not mentioned once in the conferences.[2] The passing of the 1967 referendum saw this discrepancy rectified with amendments made to both of these sections. The most major change was the removal of Section 127, and Section 51 (xxvi) was amended to have discriminatory clauses removed. Section 127 had stated that "in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted."[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...

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