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Further thoughts on why we should vote yes

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 13 October 2023

This writer has long wondered why people should advocate voting NO in the coming referendum. And particularly why some aboriginal people advocate a NO vote. To me, a YES vote seemed near morally obligatory. The reason is to apologise for the considerable pain and conflict that we white Australians have inflicted on aboriginal people, together with the considerable difficulties faced by Australia's first inhabitants as a result,

And to give them the opportunities to restore their self-esteem and confidence.

The problems of Australian aboriginals are immense.


Australian Aboriginal children are eleven times more likely to be removed from their families by child protection services and to end up in care.

Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people in the world. 3.3% of Australian population is aboriginal, 30% of the prison population is aboriginal. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around 2% of the national population, they constitute 27% of the national prison population.

About 20 per cent of Aboriginal people in the major cities are estimated to live in poverty, a 2016 report from Australian National University's Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research found. The situation is much worse in remote areas.

A much lower life expectancy rate. The gap stands at 8.6 years for males while indigenous females expect to live 7.8 years less than everyday Australians.

The reason behind these problems is indubitably the massacres of aboriginals and the dispossession from their lands. They are beaten people, savaged in the wars to retain their land, now with little land and little self-respect. University of Newcastle historian Emeritus Professor Lyndall Ryan now estimates more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives were lost in more than 400 massacres. "More massacres happened in the period 1860 to 1930 than in the period 1788 to 1860," Professor Ryan said. The aboriginals resisted the taking over of their lands, as anyone anywhere in the world would. Frequently raiding parties of settlers and police would attack aboriginal communities, driving them off their lands. Some of the coverage, notably Calla Wahlquist in the Guardian, refers to overall estimates of the number of deaths, which may be as high as 65 000 in Queensland alone.

Between 4,000 and 7,000 Aboriginals were in Tasmania, then Van Diemen's Land, when the British military arrived with a group of convicts in 1803. Within 50 years, all but 200 of the Aboriginals were dead.


The Australian Wars is a three-part 2022 documentary series about the Australian frontier wars by indigenous Australian filmmaker Rachel Perkins made for SBS Television. Using interviews, re-enactments, archaeological research, and original documents, it explores massacres of aboriginals in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland.

The series received positive reviews, with a number of people calling it "essential viewing" for Australians. However, others have criticised it as exaggerating the number of Aboriginal deaths and promoting a political agenda. In response to the series, the Australian War Memorial announced it would work towards great inclusion of the violence against indigenous people in its exhibitions. The TV series won the 2023 Silver Logie for Most Outstanding Factual or Documentary Program. It estimated aboriginal deaths to be much higher than did Lyndall Ryan. Possibly 20,000- 60,000 native people died in the wars.

The result of the wars aimed at exterminating aboriginal people was a loss of self-esteem, of self-confidence. They were the losers. That was the cause of the problems we have seen since. A YES vote will rebuild that.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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