Voting in the upcoming national referendum concerning the constitutional rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is, in my view, a sacred responsibility for every Australian. It's not just a matter of acknowledging Indigenous heritage that spans over 65,000 years; it's about recognizing them as the true custodians of this magnificent land.
Throughout history, Indigenous Australians have never extended invitations or welcomes to foreigners on their land, spanning from the 16th century to the present day. The Europeans, driven by their pursuit of exploration and global treasures, eventually set their sights on the Australian landmass, deeming it a prime territory for conquest and resource extraction. This marked the beginning of an influx of people from around the world, who made Australia their home without seeking the permission of the native inhabitants. Over time, the British colonial rulers recognized the need for redress and justice for these Indigenous communities and their ancestral territories.
The "White Australia Policy" was instituted in Australia under the leadership of then Prime Minister Edmund Barton and the leader of the then Perfectionist Party in 1901, through the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Bill. This policy aimed to limit non-white individuals from settling in Australia. Under its provisions, only individuals of European descent were granted the privilege of permanent residency and the associated rights to live and work in the country. The reverberations of the "White Australia Policy" over the following four decades reshaped the demographics of the Australian populace. By 1947, the population of European origin, particularly those from Ireland, England, Poland, Greece, and Italy, had notably increased.
This era highlighted the necessity for Australia to enhance its progress and compete on par with other developed countries, particularly in Europe. Recognizing this imperative, the Chifley Labor government undertook a relaxation of the Immigration Restriction Act, permitting non-European individuals to reside in Australia permanently for business purposes. Nonetheless, this alteration fell short, as the country demanded an influx of skilled professionals and educators to facilitate infrastructural growth and other modern advancements.
Full credit is attributed to the Labor Government and the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who decisively abandoned the White Australia Policy in 1973, ushering in the era of Multicultural Australia. Today, Australia stands as a resolute multicultural nation, with migrants from over 200 different countries establishing their permanent homes on this soil.
Since Australia embraced its multicultural identity, it has garnered a distinguished reputation as a society rich in diversity. From Anglo-Saxon Australians to ethnic communities, each has made significant contributions to the evolution of Australia into a proud and advanced welfare state. Presently, Australia boasts a world-class platform of equal opportunities extended to all, with its doors flung open to deserving individuals worldwide. The migrants' substantial contributions have propelled Australia to the echelons of developed nations.
In the journey to shape Australia's image with a fair and equitable approach for every citizen, successive Australian governments have made progressive strides towards the betterment of the Indigenous people who have possessed the ownership of this land for at least the past 65,000 years.
These natives are endowed with a heritage steeped in indigenous history, traditions, cultures, languages, cuisine, art, and familial bonds. While past governments have endeavoured to enhance the lives of the Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, a more profound acknowledgment of their voice within Australia's democratic national framework was needed.
In 2008, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd extended a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Australian Government to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander natives for the historical injustices and cruelties perpetuated since the arrival of Europeans and during the era of White Australian governance. This momentous step, taken by the Labor government at the time, resonated not only with the majority of Australians but also garnered global recognition for its sincerity and Candor. The Australian government's apology to the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Australians remains a testament to its commitment to reconciliation and progress.
However, the apology fell short of satisfying the Indigenous Australians' desire for their constitutional voice and rights as the rightful native owners of this land.
In July of last year (2022), Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made a promise to the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities during the Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures. He assured them that his government had a comprehensive plan for establishing a constitutional voice for the indigenous peoples within the Parliament.
Prime Minister Albanese's proposal included amendments to the Australian Constitution, aimed at incorporating the following provisions: