Referendum of Indigenous Australian shows nation's maturity

20:08, November 08, 2010      

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The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner on Monday said recognition of indigenous people in the Australian Constitution is a sign of the nation's maturity.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier Monday announced an expert panel would be set up, in order to consult on the best possible option for a constitutional amendment to be put to a referendum.

Gillard said there was bipartisan support in the parliament for the constitutional change to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution.

This is a once-in-50-year opportunity for our country, Gillard told a media conference in Melbourne on Monday, added that the panel will guide a national debate on the issue in a bid to maximize the chance of the vote being successful.

Commissioner Mick Gooda said it is a great announcement and this referendum will be more than about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"It will be about us as a nation and about us being mature enough to recognize our history but then to move on from it," he told Australia Associated Press on Monday, adding that the referendum meant that indigenous people would no longer be excluded.

Gooda was hopeful the referendum would achieve a 90 percent success rate, which he said would match the benchmark set in the referendum of 1967, which recognized indigenous people as Australian citizens.

However, Larissa Behrendt, director of research at the Sydney University of Technology's Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, said the most difficult part of the referendum on recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution will be to convince most people of its importance.

He said any political support needs to be reflected in the community.

"I think what is going to be the challenge is getting the hearts and minds support from Australians to ensure that the majority of Australians in the majority of states vote yes," Behrendt told ABC News on Monday.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland also said securing a yes vote in a referendum was "not easy".

Meanwhile, The Greens, who lobbied for the referendum in their talks with Labor on forming a minority government, said there should be a people's debate and not a political discussion.

It is intended that the panel will report to the government by the end of 2011, while the timing of the referendum has yet to be determined.

Since federation, only eight of 44 referendums have been successful. To succeed, the referendum must attract the support of a majority vote nationally, plus a majority of votes in a majority of states.

Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands and the descendants of these peoples. Indigenous Australians are distinguished as either Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, who currently together make up about 2.7 percent of present Australia's population.

Source: Xinhua(by Vienna Ma)


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