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Aborigine Constitutional Reform

August 21, 2008

As reference, here is the Australian Apology from Feb 13, 2008
Australian leader wants Aborigines recognized

By ROD McGUIRK Associated Press Writer

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia’s prime minister, who has won applause
for apologizing to Aborigines for past wrongs, has revived plans for a
constitutional revision to recognize the country’s indigenous people.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was visiting a remote Outback Aboriginal community
Wednesday when he raised the issue of recognizing Aborigines in Australia’s
107-year-old constitution.

“We will … give attention to detailed, sensitive consultation with
indigenous communities about the most appropriate form and timing of
constitutional recognition,” Rudd told the Yolngu people in the Northern

But government opponents warned Thursday against giving Aborigines any
special privileges under a revised constitution.

“The challenge … is putting something into the constitution that is
meaningful without alienating large sections of the population,” opposition
Liberal Party indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott told Australian
Broadcasting Corp. radio.

“One thing you certainly couldn’t do is give more rights to one group of
Australians than to others,” he added.

Opposition from Liberal lawmakers would almost certainly ensure that any
referendum needed to include Aborigines in the constitution would fail.
Referenda that lack bipartisan support almost always fail in Australia.

Australia’s constitution does not mention Aborigines. A referendum in 1999
that proposed adding a preamble to the constitution that recognized
indigenous people as the first Australians sparked bitter debate about its
wording and ended in defeat.

Australia was colonized in 1788, but the nation’s highest court did not
recognize until 1992 that Aborigines had been the legal owners of the land
when British settlers arrived.

Federal compensation has been paid to some Aborigines for loss of land while
native title claims over parts of cities around Australia are still before
the courts.

Rudd said Thursday he did not have a timetable for constitutional reform.

Rudd, whose Labor Party won elections in November, led Parliament in
February to apologize to Aborigines for past racist policies and

Aborigines are a 400,000-member minority among Australia’s 21 million
population. They are also the poorest, least-healthy and worst-educated
ethnic group in Australia.

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