Recognition for Aussie Indigenous more than tokenism - GulfToday

Recognition for Aussie Indigenous more than tokenism

Indigenous people make up 3 per cent of the Australian population.

Indigenous people make up 3 per cent of the Australian population.

A referendum on a constitutional provision to recognise the Indigenous people in Australia seems to be facing rough weather despite it being passed in the House of Representatives, the lower House. The referendum is to be held later in the year. An opinion poll showed that about 46 per cent said ‘yes’ to the move, and 43 per cent said no. Surprisingly, the ‘yes’ vote has been dipping steadily. It fell from 58 per cent to 53 per cent earlier this year, and now it has fallen below 50 per cent. The referendum if it approved through a popular vote would create an Indigenous advisory body in the Australian constitution. The British colonisers of the island-continent marginalised the Indigenous people and the Constitution did not mention them when it was adopted in 1900. The Indigenous people were given the right to vote only in the 1960s. That was not surprising because racism was part of the white colonial mindset. And it has not vanished though a large number of the white majority realise that the Indigenous people have the original rights to the land. Unfortunately, the Indigenous people form only 3.2 per cent of the 26 million population of Australia today. Over the decades the Indigenous people had suffered humiliation and exploitation when their children were taken away from their parents and brought up differently. The story revealed itself more than a quarter century ago, and these abducted and adapted Indigenous people have come to be known as the “Lost Generation”.

The Anthony Albanese government is quite keen to push through the necessary legislation to hold the referendum and it wants the referendum to be approved by the people. The Australian people have a tradition of referendums because the Constitution was drafted through a series of referendums. Those who oppose the idea of giving constitutional recognition to the Indigenous people are not doing so based on their ideas of white supremacism. They argue that it is more important that the Indigenous people get their due political and economic rights, and that their social indices like health and education improve, and they think that the referendum to give them constitutional recognition is a distraction from the more important task. But it can be argued that though this argument makes much sense, and that real progress is more important than mere symbolism, it has to be accepted the symbolism has its own significance and it cannot be dismissed out of hand. The Indigenous people had lived on the Australian continent for about 50,000 years before the white settlers from Britain came towards the end of the 18th century, and rapidly spread across the country. The proposed referendum when passed will grant due recognition to the Indigenous people and it needs to be made.

But a book written by Indigenous law professor Megan Davis and constitutional law professor George Williams shows the plan to give constitutional recognition to the Indigenous people was conceived by the Liberal-National Coalition government of prime minister Tony Abbott as a way to distract people from the serious budget cuts of governmental schemes to help the Indigenous people in the name of austerity. The two legal experts argue that the budget cuts affected the already marginalised Indigenous people and denied them basic medical help to their communities. The book shows that the Abbott government had slashed more than $600 million from the services meant for the Indigenous people between 2013 and 2015. The injustice being meted out to the Indigenous people needs to be pointed out and highlighted. But this does not take away from the purpose of the referendum to enshrine the existence of the Indigenous people in the country’s constitutional system.

Related articles