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Dublin: 20 °C Wednesday 30 July, 2014

Australia to hold referendum on formally recognising Aborigines

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces plans to hold a ballot on whether to recognise Australia’s natives in the constitution.

Julia Gillard: the constitutional referendum would hope to capitalise on a
Julia Gillard: the constitutional referendum would hope to capitalise on a "once-in-a-50-year opportunity" to offer official recognition for the Aboriginal community.
Image: Andrew Brownbill/AP

AUSTRALIA IS TO HOLD a referendum on whether to include a formal reference to the country’s native Aborigines in its constitution for the first time.

Announcing the move, prime minister Julia Gillard described the ballot as a “once-in-a-50-year opportunity” to harness the wave of both public and parliamentary support for a greater recognition of the country’s native population, the BBC reports.

“The first people of our nation have a unique and special place,” Gillard said, announcing parliamentary support for the constitutional amendment and the formation of an expert panel of Aboriginal natives who would formulate the exact wording of the clause to be inserted.

The formal ballot, however, may not take place until November 2013, when the current House of Representatives is up for re-election at the end of its three-year term.

PA reports that the ballot may not be well received, however, with Australia having approved only 8 of the 44 various constitutional referenda presented since the current constitution was enacted in 1901.

The most recent Constitutional ballot, in 1999, included a proposal that would have added a new preamble to the constitution honouring the Aborigine population for cultivating the national culture. That ballot was put alongside the controversial issue of whether Australia should have become a republic, however.

Sam Watson, an academic who doubles as an activists for indigenous rights, has dismissed the ballot as a political ploy, telling AAP that the government was “trotting out Aboriginal issues in order to prop up a pitiful performance in the polls”.

Aboriginal leader Mick Gooda, however, said that the road to acknowledgement was “a long, hard journey – but it’s the journey that will mark our maturity as a nation… it will change Australia forever.”

One of the first measures undertaken by Labour when it took power in 2007 was the issue of a formal apology to the Aborigine population for the injustices perpetrated against it since the onset of British colonists in 1788.

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