The 1967 Referendum Essay

3855 words - 15 pages

The Significance of the 1967 Referendum October 2010
Page 1 of 14
www.onecuckoosnest.com ©2010 William P J Kulich
Essay published at One Cuckoo Short of a Nest. www.onecuckoosnest.com
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
1 John Hirst, The Sentimental Nation (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000) page 288.
2 Dr John Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the
1967 Referendum, Background Paper 11 1996-1997 prepared for the Department of the Parliamentary
Library, c2007, online text.

The Significance of the 1967 Referendum October 2010
Page 2 of 14
www.onecuckoosnest.com ©2010 William P J Kulich
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...

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