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Indigenous Peoples Rights In The Commonwealth Agreement Of 1901

In 1983, when the Australian Labor Party returned to office, “self-determination” returned to the Commonwealth vocabulary, the issue of national land rights was back on the agenda and work began to shift from a department model of administration and service delivery to an Aboriginal-controlled model, implemented in the Aboriginal And Torres Strait Commissions. However, when the Hawke government then reduced its definition of self-determination and shifted away from national land rights, the demands for a treaty intensified. In 1988, Prime Minister Bob Hawke committed his government to a “compact” by 1990, but because it failed to secure multi-party support for such a pact, the Hawke government saw merit in the concept of “reconciliation.” In 1991, multi-party support was secured for the adoption of legislation establishing the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council and a formal 10-year “reconciliation” process. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act of 1984 provided for the protection and conservation of property and sites of religious, historical and cultural significance to Aboriginal peoples, where government and territorial laws were ineffective or not enforced. The legislation was passed, but it does not mark major changes in social policy with respect to Aboriginal peoples. With the risk of approaching war, the entire program was abandoned. (132) An interesting feature of the debate is that, although old stereotypes were used, there seemed to be for the first time a broad consensus in Parliament that citizens` rights and rights should not be based on “race”. In the post-war period, social policy gradually changed in this direction, but it took at least three decades to repeal all laws granting fewer rights to a group of people “simply because they were Aboriginal.” The Commonwealth Parliament and Aboriginal Affairs debated this document before 1967, when the original constitutional provisions relating to Aboriginal affairs were amended by referendum. Many of the most notable events related to Aboriginal affairs took place in Parliament after that period. The only two Aboriginal people elected to the Commonwealth Parliament won office after 1967.

Neville Bonner (Liberal, Queensland) was a senator from 1971 to 1983 and Aden Ridgeway (Australian Democrat, NSW) was elected to the Senate in 1998. In addition, much of the commonwealth Parliament`s most notable legislation, directly related to Aboriginal peoples, was passed after 1967, when the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament in this area had been greatly expanded. These include the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, the Native Title Act 1993, the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act 1997 and the Native Title Amendment Act 1998. This legislation is not dealt with here. Nor were the important and controversial discussions that took place in Parliament after 1967, such as the “stolen generation” debate after the publication of Bringing Them Home in 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report on its inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal children and Torres Straiter from their families (1) or the debate on reconciliation of Aboriginal people in the late 1990s. 1938 – The day of mourning is proclaimed on 26 January for the 150th anniversary of the European occupation. The protest by Jack Patten underscores the need to consult Aboriginal people on political decisions and their implementation, to ensure that citizenship rights are fully controlled and that the Commonwealth has more control over Aboriginal affairs.

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