Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (4 June) . . Page.. 1858 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
The changes to the status of indigenous people in Australia are more a product of action in civil society-by indigenous people primarily, and their supporters-and through the courts. In that context then the Pilbara strike in 1946, the freedom ride of the mid-1960s, the walk off Wave Hill by the Gurindji people, the Aboriginal tent embassy in the 1970s and land rights legislation in 1976-direct action-have more significance than the awarding of the vote in a piecemeal fashion. Perhaps this is true of all major progressive change in society.
Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the High Court's Mabo decision. There is a proposal made that that be a national day. At a philosophical level, this decision effectively recognising native title, and the later Wik decision that found that native and leasehold title to coexist, more significantly establish positive and respectful partnership between the indigenous people of Australia and more recent intruders. However, since then the parliament, led by Howard, has done what it can to undermine these understandings.
In the delivery of social policy-on education, health, crime, community development, for example-there is clearly a role for state and Commonwealth governments. In participatory democracy, the rights and responsibilities of indigenous people to vote for ATSIC and land council members and to influence the actions and policies of those bodies will remain important for some time to come.
There remain key actions that the government of Australia still must take if we are to see an equitable, united and respectful Australia. It would start with an apology and then move on to a treaty or treaties. Perhaps then we could bring the executive, the parliament, the courts and the people into one accord.
MR SMYTH (4.20): Mr Speaker, I commend Ms Gallagher for this matter of public importance today. I believe it truly is a matter of public importance that a democracy founded in 1901 took 83 years to reach the true measure of democracy, one in which all are able to participate. When Gordon Freeth, Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works, introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Bill in 1962, he said:
This is a short bill and a relatively simple one, but the implications in it are of the greatest significance. I would hope and expect that it will be received by the House with enthusiasm and passed without dissent. By so doing we would proclaim to the world that the representatives of all sections of the Australian community are determined to ensure that the aboriginal people of Australia enjoy complete political equality with the rest of the community.
The question needs to be posed: has that been achieved? There is an awful lot we still need to do. To see how inequality started, you have to look at the racism that was evident in the original parliaments of Australia. The questions they debated were: "Who will we give the franchise to? Will we give it only to white male Australians or will we give it to female white Australians also? Will we extend it to indigenous Australians? Will we allow only indigenous men to vote, or will we allow indigenous women to vote also?"
A document entitled Voters and the franchise: the Federal Story makes interesting but sad reading. The debate was decided on the argument that said, "If we extend the vote to indigenous people, they could run for parliament. Would we as good Australians want