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The treatment of indigenous Australians by the government has been an issue of contention since White Europeans settled in Australia. This chapter examines changing government policies including protection, assimilation, integration and self-determination. This chapter also gives an overview of Indigenous Australian protests for equality and land rights and responses to these issues from the government. Protection * This was government policy during the second half of the 1800s and into the early 1900s.
* Aboriginal people were removed from their traditional lands and placed on reserves (government run) or missions (church-run). * The government argument was that this was done ‘for their own protection’, as they were a ‘dying race’. * It was really a policy of segregation where Aboriginal culture could be replaced by white culture under the control of the authorities and they could be ‘civilised’ and ‘Christianised’. * It also allowed land previously occupied by Aborigines to become pastoral land. * Aborigines had to seek permission to marry, to work or to move somewhere else to live.
* ‘Mixed blood’ or ‘mixed race’ children were removed from their families, the Stolen Children, and brought up with white families and taught ‘useful’ skills such as domestic work and simple trades. * They were labelled as neglected and destitute and Australian governments had had a long policy of removing children ‘at risk’ from their families. It happened on a large scale with Aboriginal children. Assimilation * This was a change in policy but not necessarily a change in reality. * This government policy was introduced in 1951 by Paul Hasluck, Federal Minister for Territories.
* Aborigines were encouraged to ‘think white, act white, be white’ with the intent that they would eventually live like white Australians. * It forced Aborigines to totally abandon their traditional way of life if they wanted to gain access to what was offered such as a degree of freedom from the intrusions of the government in their lives on the reserves and missions. * However, discrimination continued in all areas including housing, education, health and employment. * Racism and intolerance continued, and many Aborigines were forced to live on the fringes of towns and were prevented from using public facilities such as town baths.
* Even returned Aboriginal soldiers were denied the same rights as their fellow, white, soldiers. * In 1962 all Aborigines were given the right to vote in federal elections, which consolidated their voting rights in the states which had been given to them at various times between 1949 and 1961and had made them citizens of Australia. * They were still not counted as Australians in the census Integration * This was a change in wording and a relaxing of the harsher aspects of the government’s policies but most of the controlling aspects of assimilation remained.
* The words defining ‘assimilation’ were changed in 1965 which seemed to allow Aborigines to retain some of their cultural ideas, beliefs and customs, and implied a greater acceptance of their culture and relationship with the land. * This change was soon called ‘integration’. * It was not a very long-lasting policy. * The 1967 referendum, which gave the federal government power over Aboriginal affairs (instead of the states), was passed with a massive majority. * The referendum also contained a question asking that the constitution be changed to allow all Aborigines to be counted in the census.
This, too, was passed with a massive majority. Self-determination * This was a major change of policy and a major change in reality. * It was introduced during the first Whitlam government in 1972. * Aborigines were to have full control over all aspects of their lives. * They were no longer seen as a dying race. * They no longer had to be protected. * They were no longer expected to assimilate or integrate. * They were now full and equal citizens in the eyes of the law. * Land rights and native title to traditional lands now became the major issues.
An outline of the 1967 Referendum There were two parts to the referendum: to change the constitution so that Aboriginal people could be counted as part of the population, and to change the constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws to help improve conditions for Aboriginal people, no matter where they lived in Australia. The significance of the 1967 Referendum For Aboriginal people * It shows a major change in government attitudes and Australian citizens’ attitudes towards * Aborigines and their rights.
It meant uniformity of laws for Aborigines as they were no longer under the individual states’ laws which were very different on some issues. * Having been recognised as citizens over the previous five or so years, and being counted in the census, confirmed their status as Australian citizens. * There was an expectation that Aborigines would get equal rights and opportunities as a result of the passing of this referendum. It did not happen but it was a beginning. * It opened the door for other advances. * It brought representation in parliament. * It brought membership of parliament.