Indigenous referendum planned: Gumbaynggirr elders Aunty Emily Walker, Aunty Amy Jarrett and Barry Phyball.
Indigenous referendum planned: Gumbaynggirr elders Aunty Emily Walker, Aunty Amy Jarrett and Barry Phyball. Leigh Jensen

Elder greets referendum with caution

THE proposed referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution has been greeted with cautious optimism by members of Coffs Coast indigenous communities.

Coffs Harbour elder Aunty Bea Ballangarry said she was amazed it had taken so long to get to this point following the 1967 referendum.

“That referendum saw us recognised as human beings – before that we were categorised under the Flora and Fauna Act,” Aunty Bea said.

“This should have been a natural progression from then ... social change is social change.

“I believe it is crucial to our Australian identity to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution simply because of the recognition and respect for the first peoples.”

She said as far as helping improve the daily lives of Aboriginal people, “it could only get better”.

In Nambucca, member of the Muurrbay Language Co-operative, Gary Williams said the idea needed to be thoroughly talked about.

“Referendums are always a bit of a worry – a bit more than goodwill will be needed,” Mr Williams said.

“It sounds like a good idea and hopefully it will be good for Aboriginal people but they need to keep talking about it.”

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the referendum plan on Monday but left open the option of whether it would be held before or at the next Federal election.

Constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians was part of the deal struck between the Greens and the ALP after the August election. Currently the constitution still permits racial discrimination against indigenous Australians.

Ms Gillard has stated that an expert panel of MPs, indigenous Australians and constitutional scholars would be established to guide a national discussion leading up to the referendum.

She said there was bipartisan support in the Parliament for the constitutional change and described the process as “a once-in-50-year opportunity for our country ... there will not be another one like it”.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin reportedly said the task of building consensus for constitutional change would be a difficult one because to succeed, a referendum must attract the support of a majority vote both nationally and in a majority of States.

Since Federation, only eight of 44 referendums have been successful.



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