Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Indigenous Vote

If you were asked when the Australian indigenous population were given the right to vote. I feel sure, like me, most would say 1967; however this is not correct. The referendum in1967 was given a massive decision by the Australian people. The 99.77% YES vote was to allow the Australian government to change the constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for aborigines and to include them in the census.

The referendum did not give the aborigines the right to vote. They already had that right. Legally their rights go back to colonial times. To the time when Victoria, NSW. Tasmania and South Australia framed their constitutions in the 1850s they gave voting tights to 'all male British Subjects over 21, which of course included Aboriginal men. Only Queensland and Western Australia banned aboriginals from voting.

Sadly, very few aboriginals knew their rights so very few voted; however some eventually did get to vote. A Mission Station near the mouth of the Murray River, got a polling station and aboriginal men and women voted in the first Commonwealth Elections in 1901.

Australia has been ostracised for the poor handling of the indigenous people in regards to the every day expectations in health, education, employment and housing,. To realise the early debacle of the formation of the Commonwealth government maybe that criticism is warranted.

The first Commonwealth Parliament was elected by state voters but when it met it had to decide who should be entitled to vote for the government in the future. Three groups attracted debate, women had voting rights in some state but not in others, so had the aboriginals, and then there were Chinese, Indian and other non-white people who had become permanent residents before the introduction of the White Australian Policy.

The debates reflected the racist temper of the times with references to savages, slaves, cannibals, idolaters and aboriginal 'lubras and gins'. The Senate voted to let aborigines vote but the House of Representatives defeated them

Information source: Electoral Office South Australia. Pet Stretton.

All the political debate failed to gain full support from the people of this country, who were made up of many for many different races and places. The white Australia Policy was defeated,; however it was not until the Chifley Labor government Passed an Act to confirm that all those who could vote in the States could vote for the Commonwealth.

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