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History 1967 Referendum
Transcript of History 1967 Referendum
The 1967 Referendum is considered to be the major turning point in the changing rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples in Australia. It addressed 3 points in the constitution:
The referendum was centred on removing the words 'other than the aboriginal people in any state' in section 51 and the whole of section 127. This would allow Aboriginal people to be counted as citizens if the referendum was passed, allowing the commonwealth government to pass laws for all Aboriginals and allow them to be counted in the census.
There was also another referendum centred on the 'nexus' question, which, if passed would allow the number of members of the House of Representatives to be increased without having to increase the size of the Senate.
The 1967 referendum was a major turning point for Aboriginal rights in Australia, as well as human rights on a global scale. The referendum has often been cited one of the most important moments in Australian political history, as it is the largest "Yes" voted referendum in Australian history, with over 90% "Yes" votes.
The overwhelming support for these changes to the constitution not only marks a change in the legislature regarding Aboriginal Australians, but also a shift in the way other Australian citizens regarded and treated Aboriginal Australians.
Politically, in the months after the referendum, the Australian Labour Party began to campaign for further Aboriginal rights such as giving them back their traditional lands, and equal wages. This contributed towards their massive increase in popularity; there was a 7.1 percent swing towards Labour in popularity in the 1969 elections compared to the 1966 elections. However, the Liberal party still won the elections. The also referendum allowed the fragmented state laws to be unified under federal law.
Evaluation of the 1967 Referendum
J-Bizzle and Lach Smith
The 1967 Referendum
Section 51: The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to ...(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.
Section 124: In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted.
Voters were asked the question:
Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population'?
The 1967 referendum was proposed to change two distinct parts of the Australian constitution: Section 51, and Section 127. The changes to section 51 gave the Federal Government the ability to pass federal laws regarding Aboriginal people. This has been used to greatly benefit Aboriginals with the introduction of laws that allowed Aboriginals to claim allowances for housing, education, and lower rates for loans of help offset the effects of old discrimination and to help integrate them into society.
The complete removal of section 127 let Aboriginal people be counted in the census. This let the government provide appropriate infrastructure and other help to them.
The longer term impacts of the referendum are less clear. The referendum has often been called the beginning of Aboriginal rights reforms in Australia, as it sparked many changes such as the ending of racial discrimination in the State legislation in Queensland, and influencing changes such as the eventual right to ancestral land.
The inclusion of the Aboriginal people in the census also allowed the government to take relevant action such as creating emergency housing, and subsidising housing and education for Aboriginal people to the present day. Before the referendum, no one agency or government body had accurate data about all the Aboriginal people in Australia, and therefore could not provide infrastructure and support for them.
Besides the quantifiable effects of the referendum, there are the unmeasurable, but still vitally important effects on the morale and psyche of both Aboriginal and other Australians. They were now viewed in the eyes of Federal law as equals, and although the laws themselves did not change very much for some Aboriginal people (such as those who lived in NSW), it changed a lot for others in other states, and created a sense of solidarity between them.
It inspired Aboriginal people and Aboriginal rights campaigners to strive for even more equality and for compensation for past discrimination, such as the introduction of race based affirmative action towards Aboriginal people.
What Still Needed To Be Done
1901 marked the start of Australia as a country, and was when the constitution was written. The constitution put very little value on welfare of Aboriginal people and was mainly centred on protecting the interests of white Australians through the white Australia policy and other similar laws. The constitution led to inconsistent laws as each state was allowed to make its own laws regarding Aborigines.
Although the 1967 referendum was a solid first step on the path to true equality, the changes that were made in the referendum did not do anything by themselves. They were simply tools that allowed other laws to be created. These other laws that upheld equality, and introduced Affirmative Action that made the difference. These laws led to he outcome of the famous Mabo case, and to the eventual policy of self-determination that Aboriginal people currently have adopted.
However, some people are critical of the 1967 referendum, as it was seen as misleading at the time. It did not directly stop the racial discrimination that was enforced by state and local law, and it did not give any major benefits such as giving citizenship, or the granting of the right to vote in 1962. Another reason that it is sometime seen in a negative ligt is that the referendum now allows the federal government to create laws based on an Aboriginal persons' race. Although it originally designed to create laws that positively discrimiated against them
By 1944, the public opinion was that there should be a greater emphasis placed on Aboriginal welfare, and that this could only be achieved by making them under the control of the commonwealth government. Prime Minister Curtin put this in a referendum along with 14 other points, however the referendum was not passed because many of the other points were controversial. However, this led to much of the pro-Aboriginal sentiment in the coming years.
In the early 1960s, there was a huge amount of pro-African American sentiment in the USA, which rubbed off onto Australia, mainly due to the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. This led to far greater awareness and realisation of the mistreatment of Aboriginal people, which was greatly covered in the media and in politics.
In 1962, Aborigines received the vote.
With awareness for the mistreatment of Aborigines rising, due to the release of the Grayden report, giving details on the harsh living conditions of Aborigines living on the Warburton ranges, concerned individuals among the white population formed action groups, such as the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship and the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA) who called for the constitution to be amended through petitions, private bills and motions. These organisations were the main beginners of the campaign to change the constitution.
In 1966, South Australia introduced the Prohibition of Discrimination Act, making it illegal to discriminate based on race or colour of skin, meaning that Aborigines had a fair chance of employment and other opportunities.
On March 1 1967, the Holt government introduced legislation that would remove sections that discriminated against Aborigines. It had to pass through a referendum and huge amounts of advertising were made to help promote the referendum.
In 1965, action groups made up of mostly university students, such as the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) organisation, who toured regional NSW to see the living condition of Aborigines to see it for themselves. They visited a total of over 10 towns, helping to eliminate prejudice, and were widely publicised in media, both in Australia and overseas as the 'Freedom Rides'. The Freedom Rides helped to raise awareness among the white Australians, and as a result, the State Government pledged to spend $65,000 on housing in Moree.
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3. Campaigning for a Yes Vote. 2014. Campaigning for a Yes Vote. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer/1967_referendum/campaign3.html. [Accessed 08 September 2014].
4. The 1967 Referendum – the State comes together? | Queensland Historical Atlas. 2014. The 1967 Referendum – the State comes together? | Queensland Historical Atlas. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/1967-referendum-%E2%80%93-state-comes-together. [Accessed 08 September 2014].
5. Collaborating for Indigenous Rights 1957-1973. 2014. Collaborating for Indigenous Rights 1957-1973. [ONLINE] Available at: http://indigenousrights.net.au/civil_rights/freedom_ride,_1965. [Accessed 08 September 2014].
6. Collaborating for Indigenous Rights 1957-1973. 2014. Collaborating for Indigenous Rights 1957-1973. [ONLINE] Available at: http://indigenousrights.net.au/civil_rights/the_warburton_ranges_controversy,_1957. [Accessed 09 September 2014].
"My grandfather used to tell me that white Australia had done enough by voting yes in the 1967 referendum. All the evidence points to the contrary."— An Aboriginal person called 'Reeree' in an SBS discussion forum
There were 5,801,584 ballot papers handed out in the referendum, with 5,183,113 votes for yes, 527,007 votes for no and 91,464 invalid votes. This was a 90.8% vote for yes, with an overwhelming majority. The nexus vote however did not make it through the referendum.
This table shows the disrepancies of the laws relating to Aborigines in the different states.