The proposed referendum: Australia’s Aborigines should not become a divisive political football

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he wants a “national crusade” to change the Constitution to recognise Aboriginals as the “first Australians”. He proposes to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money to hold a public referendum on the matter later this year.

It is very doubtful that your ordinary average Australian is really itching to support Abbott’s pet project, just like ordinary Australians were not very concerned with supporting the previous Labor government’s proposed referendum on recognising local government last year. (Labor pulled out of even going ahead with that referendum, when it emerged that there was an obvious lack of support).

Instead, Abbott’s “crusade”, smacks of being yet another example of the top-down, elitist style of governance, so apparent of today’s political leaders, be they Liberal or Labor. The public is granted a say only on very selective issues which the politicians favour, whilst politicians of both major parties remain seemingly terrified of allowing the Australian public the ability to initiate referendums, on issues that the public may actually want to have a say on.

But a referendum on recognising Aboriginals specifically and exclusively in the constitution, will undoubtedly deeply divide Australian society. It will inflame a Culture War divide between those who basically believe Australia’s Aboriginals should be treated respectfully and equally, and those who believe Aboriginals deserve the highest possible consideration, to the point that they will advocate constitutional changes, which could lead to them being substantially favoured in Australian law.

Australian Monarchist League national chairman Philip Benwell rightly warned that “the appalling desecration of Captain Cook’s cottage in Melbourne by anti-Australia Day vandals will cause many people to resile from the very thought of a referendum and the now almost certain violence that will accompany it”.

Even though a special constitutional mention is unlikely to practically improve the lives of ordinary Aboriginals in any way, it will be seen as an enormously important symbolic gesture by the political Left. The Left certainly won’t be passing up a golden opportunity to indulge in their endless moral vanity, and to publicly honour, recognise and revere one of their chosen, favoured “victim” groups.

And with so much Leftist moral vanity at stake, they can certainly become very passionate indeed. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be a lot more composed, respectful, and in control, and hence are much less likely to resort to violence.

So why is Abbott so keen for this referendum to go ahead? Does he really want a public debate that will inevitably become a debate about Australian history and how Australians view their own history? It seems to be about Abbott and his ego. He knows that Labor wants to give Aboriginals a special mention in the constitution, but he wants to beat Labor to the punch. He appears to be trying to pander to the “progressive” element in our society, and imply that the “broad church” Liberal Party has some “progressive” credentials as well.

But he won’t have it all his own way within his own party either. There will almost certainly emerge a few voices of dissent from within the Liberal and National Parties.

Perhaps Abbott envisages Australians will vote overwhelmingly for a special Aboriginal mention, in the same way that we voted overwhelmingly for the constitutional changes applying to Aborigines in 1967. Perhaps Abbott believes that he can “take Australia with him”, if he, with the moral authority of being a “conservative” Prime Minister, supports constitutional change. And perhaps Abbott, a devout monarchist, is also trying to nullify calls for a republic, by focusing on the divisive Aboriginal question instead.

But Abbott may well face an uphill battle. Australians have a natural suspicion towards politicians. Historically, the vast majority of referendum proposals have been rejected when put to a vote. Australians also have a deeply entrenched sense of egalitarianism. We believe in the concept of a “fair go” for people. But equally, Australians do not like favouritism. And it’s favouritism that is driving this referendum push.

In one sense, the proposed referendum seems like foolish politics from Abbott. He seems to be trying to win PC brownie points by pandering to the political Left, when the Left already hate his guts anyway.

The Australian damns my “inflammatory” language. It’s just dodging a moral argument”, Herald Sun, 31 January 2014 (Andrew Bolt)
I am, you are, we are Australian”, Herald Sun, 29 January 2014 (Andrew Bolt)
Abbott cannot guarantee how judges will exploit his constitutional change”, Herald Sun, 30 January 2014 (Andrew Bolt)
Simon Cullen”, ABC, 27 January 2014 (Simon Cullen)


  1. The government seems to be very willing to throw millions of taxpayer dollars to waste on an unimportant issue. And the very same government then tells us that we need to work harder to patch the holes in the budget, that we need to raise pension age for the people who already worked all their life and paid those taxes that are now being wasted. What is going to happen if the constitution does recognise Aboriginals as the first Australians? Will anyone become reacher, healthier or get to live longer? No! All it may lead to will be violence, reverse discrimination and favouritism.

    Is this pointless referendum proposed to detract public attention from other more significant problems? For example, having a foreign monarch as a head of our country.
    Or to win both sides of politics?
    In either case, the common people will be the ones left to deal with the sad consequences.

  2. The g Factor says

    Recognising Aboriginals in the constitution could be taken to imply they need special consideration and rights not available to other Australians. Added to this is the fact that the Aboriginals our ancestors encountered in 1788 were not the same as the first people to live in this country – in fact genetic evidence indicates that Aboriginals are largely descended from people who arrived from India about four or five thousand years ago.

  3. Michael Harrison says

    Once again wasted taxpayer dollars. Perhaps the Parliament should/could/would enact a move for a Royal Commission into the pitfalls of liberalising the Australian economy. And the first question should be put forward to the commission; “Has liberalising the Australian eonomy, been a success for the Australian people as a whole” the simple answer should comeforth, a resounding “NO”

  4. John Virgo says

    This isnt about aborigines or anything else and is a smoke screen. The true aim is to get the aborigines in the constitutuion then the socialists can use it to take private land under the guise of land rights. We will be able to own a home….perhaps, and the government will take the land under the land rights guise, the aborigines are being used, they won’t end up with it either. Land under communism can’t be owned by an individual or a tribe but by government. That’s the true agenda and the aborigines will get the blame. The only reason they are supporting it is misguided greed fed by whites and half castes and inflamed by the more radical blacks.

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