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Aborigines And Their Place In Politics

Aborigines And Their Place In Politics For much of their history, Australias major parties did not perceive a need to have Aboriginal affairs policies, but this altered in the 1960s and 1970s as the Aboriginal interest came to occupy a more prominent position. The policies of recent major governments, those being the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Coalition, consisting of the Liberal Party and National Party, have changed drastically since the Federation of Australia. The approaches throughout history of these major parties will be discussed briefly in order to gain an understanding of the foundation of each partys beliefs and platforms in regards to Aborigines. The main political issues facing Aborigines in society today will be identified, and subsequently the main political parties approach and policies will be distinguished in relation to each issue. Finally, recent policies and legislation introduced by the main political parties will be introduced and discussed. From 1937, the approach of all governments was one of assimilation, whereby Aborigines would submit to indoctrination in white ways before taking their place in the general Australian community. However, in time this policy came under intensifying attack on all sides, with critics claiming the policy denied these individuals of their Aboriginal culture, and enforced the notion of the superiority of the white culture.

For a time, integration became a policy of the Commonwealth, though it was hard to identify the distinction between assimilation and integration. As attitudes changed, State governments began to amend many of the laws that denied Aborigines equality with whites. In 1967, all parties maintained the proposed Constitutional amendment. Although attitudes had begun to change, little had been done to encroach such altered attitudes in definite government policies. The Labor Party made the most positive pitch for these interests, and at its 1971 Federal Conference, Gough Whitlam led the party into conceiving the most detailed Aboriginal affairs policy yet adopted up until this period, by a major party. This called for the establishment of a full Aboriginal affairs department.

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Whitlam guaranteed that a Labor government would not falter to override any State laws which discriminated against Aborigines, or which supervised Aborigines, or which reduced the opportunities for Aborigines to conduct themselves as they wished. Shifting aside assimilation and integration, Labor adopted self-determination, a policy which spoke of Aborigines ultimately being able to decide the pace and nature of their future development, where they would take a real and effective responsibility for their own affairs. After becoming Prime Minister, Whitlam took it further with his talk of restoring to Aborigines their lost power of self-determination in economic, social and political affairs. Within a year of its election, the Whitlam government was discovering that its position among Aborigines was sliding outrageously. There was also indications that advancement on land rights was frustratingly slow. Despite Aboriginal complaints, there is no doubt that the Whitlam government did a lot for the Aboriginal people. Apart from the creation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) and the passage of anti-discrimination legislation, a lot of money was spent, much of it usefully.

During the Fraser years, Labor was proud of the work of the Whitlam government, which, it claimed, had developed achievements and advances, which remain unparalleled in the history of our politics since the British occupation. The Liberal Party was slower than the ALP in devising policies in these areas. However, the party did support the 1967 amendment, and soon after, the Coalition moved to establish the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, an advisory body that was given considerable funds to determine Aboriginal needs so that the Commonwealth could undertake action. The Liberals were prepared to cast aside assimilationist ideas in their identification of Aborigines fundamental right to maintain their racial identity and traditional lifestyle or, if preferred, to adopt partially or entirely a European lifestyle. The Liberal Partys Aboriginal Affairs policy emerged as self-management, a policy that was held to distinguish Liberal policy from that of Labor, stressing as it did that Aborigines should not only be responsible for their future development, but also accountable for the success or failure of such development.

National Party politicians have been far less prepared than the Liberals to accept that Aborigines require special assistance to meet their needs. The primary political issues faced by Aborigines today include Aboriginal death in custody, reconciliation, land rights including native title and the Mabo decision, and the Stolen Generation. There are other issues, however these appear to be the major contemporary issues by way of the media focus they have gained and policies and legislation relating to them. In regards to reconciliation, the Liberal Party is committed to reconciliation. They are working with the Reconciliation Council in order to develop a written understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that will recognise the prior occupation of this country by indigenous people and their place in the Australian community.

However, in 1999 it was reported that the UN Committee felt the Liberal Governments approach to native title laws were in breach of Australias international legal obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Under previous Liberal Governments, Australia was a strong and proud voice against racial discrimination. If this being the case, then it would appear to be the present Liberal governments policies not fully supporting Aborigines and land rights, rather than an overall representation of the Liberal Party in general. The ALP however, recognises the wrongs of the past and accepts the responsibility to address the issues associated with the mistakes of the past so that Australia can move on. This entails commissioning indigenous Australians and working with them towards a lasting settlement. The foundation for a lasting settlement, and thus reconciliation, between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians was laid with the establishment of The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, made up of 25 indigenous and non-indigenous Australians was established to lead the process of reconciliation. The aim of the process was to profoundly alter the basis of relations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the wider community in the lead up to the Centenary of Australian Federation in 2001. Aboriginal deaths in custody is another major issue, and has only recently been recognised in the last twenty years or so by the major political parties of Australia. In July 1997 a summit was assembled on the issue of deaths in custody, and also issues applicable to the over-representation of indigenou …


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