1967 Referendum Essay Typer

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The 1967 Referendum Essay

The Significance of the 1967 Referendum October 2010


Page 1 of 14


www.onecuckoosnest.com ©2010 William P J Kulich


Essay published at One Cuckoo Short of a Nest. www.onecuckoosnest.com


The 1967 Referendum question on Aborigines arose in a time of growing awareness for


indigenous issues both in Australia and worldwide. Debate in parliament was legalistic under


the Menzies Government, whilst pro-Aboriginal pressure groups presented daily petitions to


try and influence members of the house that there was a great public outcry for reform. It


was not until Menzies' retirement that the Commonwealth Parliament was convinced to


include the removal of all discriminatory clauses from the constitution in the referendum.


The public was easier to win over, already aware of the humanitarian issues that the


Aboriginal people faced, however pressure groups still worked to achieve a resounding


approval for the referendum question. There is a great amount of myth surrounding what


the change to the constitution actually meant for the Aboriginal population, however


governments gradually utilised the new powers granted to the Commonwealth to advance


the Aboriginal people of Australia.


When the Commonwealth Constitution Act (1901) was passed, it was considered one of the


most democratic in the world,1 however two sections of the new document discriminated


against the indigenous population, section 127 and section 51 (xxvi). Despite there being


numerous people involved in the framing of the constitution who took a humanistic,


sensitive approach to the Aboriginal population, including Alfred Deakin, the idea that the


new commonwealth government should have some obligation to legislate with regard to the


aborigines was not mentioned once in the conferences.2 The passing of the 1967


referendum saw this discrepancy rectified with amendments made to both of these


sections. The most major change was the removal of Section 127, and Section 51 (xxvi) was


amended to have discriminatory clauses removed. Section 127 had stated that "in reckoning


1 John Hirst, The Sentimental Nation (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000) page 288.


2 Dr John Gardiner-Garden, The Origin of Commonwealth Involvement in Indigenous Affairs and the


1967 Referendum, Background Paper 11 1996-1997 prepared for the Department of the Parliamentary


Library, c2007, online text.

The Significance of the 1967 Referendum October 2010


Page 2 of 14

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