July 13, 2011

Aboriginals of Australia: Chaney on Indigenous mission

Former Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Fred Chaney pushes for constitutional change that recognises Indigenous Australians - improving the reconciliation process.

Below is an article published by Moree Champion

Former Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Fred Chaney was in Moree on Wednesday to discuss changes to the Constitution that would recognise Indigenous Australians.

Mr Chaney had breakfast with 10 Aboriginal Elders in the Banquet Hall, before spending the day meeting the public at the Multi-Purpose Centre.

Mr Chaney, 69, is one of 22 members of the Federal Government’s Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The panel members are travelling around the country to find out how people think Indigenous Australians should be recognised in the Constitution.

They will be visiting 65 locations between them between May and September.

Their report is due on December 1.

Mr Chaney said any proposed Constitutional change had to be unifying, legally sound, beneficial to Aborigines and capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians.

He said because just eight out of 44 referenda had been approved in Australia’s history, the panel would only recommend changes they thought had broad and bipartisan support.

Mr Chaney said broad and bipartisan support for Constitutional change seemed to exist.

He mentioned a Newspoll survey that showed about 75 per cent of Australians were sympathetic to the idea of amending the Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians.

He also pointed out that the panel contained four parliamentarians from across the political spectrum - Janelle Saffin (Labor), Ken Wyatt (Liberal), Rachel Siewer (Greens) and Rob Oakeshott (Independent).

“We’re in the unusual position where we have got support across the political spectrum,” he said.

Mr Chaney said Wednesday’s breakfast meeting suggested the local Aboriginal community supported Constitutional change.

“It was very favourable to the idea and concerned that the idea should be one that was acceptable to the wider community,” he said.

The Elders, he said, spoke about the difficulties of the past, and expressed hope that Constitutional change would improve the Reconciliation process.

He described the mood of the meeting as sober - there was no cynicism, but no false optimism either.

“No one was thinking this was going to be a magic solution to all the problems.”

Mr Chaney said the Elders had a role in spreading the message of Constitutional change to the rest of the Moree - which he was optimistic they would do.

He said because the panel didn’t have enough time to meet a mass of Australians, it would be helpful if those they did meet spread the word.

Mr Chaney said he had been invited to be join the panel - and that he had accepted because of his long-standing commitment to Reconciliation.

“I’ve been involved in Aboriginal matters since I was a schoolboy,” he said.

While he called Australia “the most successful country in the world”, he also said it was “never perfect”.

“The thing I’ve always thought is the one thing we haven’t gotten right is our relationship with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” he said.

But he did say there had been huge advances in Aboriginal rights and tackling Aboriginal disadvantage.

“I think we’ve made huge progress in my lifetime,” he said.

Mr Chaney was in Federal politics from 1973-1993. He was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Fraser Government from 1978-80.

The panel is co-chaired by lawyer Mark Leibler and Aboriginal activist Patrick Dodson.

More than half its members are Aboriginal - including Kamilaroi Lauren Ganley, who is general manager of Telstra’s National Indigenous Directorate.

Other panel members include prominent Aboriginal activists Noel Pearson, Mick Gooda and Marcia Langton.