Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (4 June) . . Page.. 1857 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
In one sense unfortunately, this is the celebration of the 18th anniversary of true universal compulsory indigenous suffrage for state and federal elections. Nonetheless, it is a milestone worth noting. I hope that it will count as a matter of public importance even if many key players in this debate fail to acknowledge how significant this anniversary is.
MS TUCKER (4.15): We have a very racist history of federal government in Australia. Less than a year ago the Commonwealth government enacted legislation to ensure that as many as possible of the Afghanis and Iraqis desperately hoping for our succour and help were rejected by this country. This was precisely 100 years after Labor and conservatives united in their first bipartisan act to introduce the white Australia policy.
We all know that the British, in contempt of the existing people on Australia, used the legal fiction of terra nullius to claim the continent of Australia. We also know that the federal government, time after time, did everything it could to limit the voting rights of indigenous people.
Arguably that was part of the British heritage, as the introduction of Australian citizenship in 1947 resulted in citizenship being awarded to all Australians, including indigenous people. The right to vote in federal elections, however, was fully extended to Aboriginal Australians or indigenous Australians only in 1962. That is what we are commemorating today. As Mr Humphries said, it was not a clear right, as it was an offence to encourage indigenous people to vote. I was not aware of that. I think it is important to have that on the record, because it shows that it was a qualified right.
In a rare show of progressive unanimity, but many years too late, the parliament voted in favour of the Commonwealth government making laws for indigenous people, including them in the census and so on. That was the basis of the 1967 referendum, which was supported with 90 per cent of the vote.
It seems fairly clear, however, that the Commonwealth parliament has been, in most instances, fairly careful not to offer national leadership in dealing with indigenous people.
Today we are celebrating 40 years of indigenous suffrage at federal elections. The vote is a basic right to democracy. It is something to which all adult citizens ought to be entitled.
In the United States of America, unfortunately, people who are, or have been, imprisoned are not eligible to vote. These sorts of arrangements build in a bias against people who are caught on the margins of society. Universal suffrage is a significant principle that underpins our parliamentary democracy.
It is arguable, however, that the right to vote has not been the most important factor in the changing relationship between indigenous Australia and those of us who arrived quite a long time later.
To date there have been only two indigenous Australians in the Commonwealth parliament, both senators. It was only last year that the first Aboriginal woman was elected to a state or federal parliament.