Since Federation in 1901, there have been 19 referendums proposing 44 potential changes to the Constitutional framework of Australia’s Commonwealth government, uniting the State and territory administrations of the British colonial settlements. Only 8 measures have been approved.
Now in 2017, Australia is on the brink of calling for another referendum. On the 7th December 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appointed a 16 member referendum Council ostensibly to pave the way for a referendum which would seek recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.
It was only in 1967 after a successful referendum vote, that our aboriginal peoples were included in the census held once every five years. At a recent convocation of Indigenous Leaders at Uluru, it was made clear that they now desired above all else a say in their own affairs, in planning their own destiny. They have long been disadvantaged, and felt voiceless in the land that was theirs, until white colonization some 230 years ago..
When the Constitution was framed at Federation, the Aboriginal people were widely regarded as uncivilized savages, Aboriginal culture was not valued, and there was no such thing as Native Land title. Their population was estimated then at about 93,200 in a general population of just over 3 million.
The situation is far different today. The population of pure-bred, and part-caste Australians identifying with their Aboriginal heritage, had increased to 670,000 in 2011 and may soon exceed 1 million, and 3-4% of our population. Annual growth is estimated at 2.2% compared with 1.6%. The median age for Aboriginal people at present is 22, compared with 37 in the general population.
Indigenous skills and culture are now well recognised and appreciated, particularly in sport, and the arts, whilst they are also admired for their ability to survive in harmony with Australia’s harsh environment. Some have qualified for the professions, and a few have become articulate and appreciated politicians.
But heart-breaking problems persist within their societies.
- high rates of youth crime, incarceration and ongoing deaths in custody.
- poor housing, unhygienic living conditions and rampant health problems, combined with difficult access to medical services.
- low standards of education
- few employment opportunities
- frequent alcohol and drug abuse.
- the abuse of women and children.
Two-thirds of our indigenous population now live in urban and regional areas of Queensland and New South Wales.
But for the other one-third, their plight is greatly exacerbated by the isolation under which they live in outback Australia, far removed from the community support and services available to others.
It has often been the women and children who have suffered most at the hands of drunken menfolk in remote communities. Indeed the problem a few years back was so urgent that it necessitated the prompt intervention of the Commonwealth government.
Now that a vast area of wilderness Australia has Native Title, perhaps the Commonwealth Government should create a new Indigenous Territory administration supported in part from Mining royalties, to provide the infrastructure and services that are so deficient for Indigenous residents.