Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (4 June) . . Page.. 1862 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
Watson was supported in these moves by the pro-Labor independent, HB Higgins, who moved an amendment to deny Aborigines the vote. In his speech, he stated:
It is utterly inappropriate to grant the franchise to the Aborigines or ask them to exercise an intelligent vote.
The Barton government, reinforcing all the bad things that were happening, accepted the Higgins amendment, it was carried in both houses and discrimination against Aboriginal people was entrenched in the Commonwealth Franchise Act. That sad part of Australian history was reinforced over and over again over many years.
Some Commonwealth officials asserted that no Aboriginal people had Commonwealth voting rights at all and began to illegally take the franchise from Aboriginal people who had been enrolled in 1901.
But by 1962 pressure to recognise Aboriginals' rights as full citizens had grown to the point that the Commonwealth franchise was extended to all Aboriginal people. Western Australia gave Aboriginal people the right to vote in state elections in the same year. It is these two things we are celebrating today. And as mentioned, Queensland was able to follow in 1965. From that date all Aboriginal people in Australia finally had the right to vote.
In 1971 the first Aboriginal man took a seat in federal parliament and , as has been noted a number of times today, the first Aboriginal woman member of an Australian parliament was elected only last year. I hope that more Aboriginal women will soon take seats in both federal and state parliaments. In 2001 Aiden Ridgeway became part of the leadership team of the Australian Democrats, the first indigenous Australian to be part of the leadership team in any federal political party.
On this great day I honour all the people who fought for Aboriginal suffrage and with the Assembly recognise the shameful history of the Commonwealth in excluding Aboriginal people from our political system for so long. But we must recognise that the vote is only one part of equality in our community. We must continue to fight discrimination, racism and the great social inequities that, unfortunately, successive governments constantly reinforce rather than addressing as part of the reconciliation that the Australian community is so desperately crying out for.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (4.37): Mr Speaker, as other members have indicated, 2002 is the 40th anniversary of universal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suffrage in Australia and the 10th anniversary of the High Court's Mabo decision.
Ask Australians when Aborigines got the vote and most of them will say 1967. The referendum in that year is remembered as marking a turning point in attitudes to Aboriginal rights. In one of the few yes votes since federation, 92 per cent of Australians voted to change the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aborigines and to include them in the census.