Russell McGregor writes in The Conversation (26.5.17) that the 1967 referendum was the culmination of a long struggle for both Aboriginal rights and respect, for social esteem as well as equality before the law.
‘On May 27, 1967, campaigners for Aboriginal rights and status won the most-decisive referendum victory in Australian history.
‘The referendum attracted more than 90% of voters in favour of deleting the two references to Aborigines in Australia’s Constitution. Campaigners for a “Yes” vote successfully argued those references were discriminatory and debarred Aboriginal people from citizenship.
‘Ever since, and as we approach the 1967 referendum’s 50th anniversary, it has been popularly remembered as the moment when Aboriginal people won equal rights – even the right to vote. In fact, the referendum did not secure those outcomes.
‘By 1967, all Aboriginal adults already held the right to vote in federal, state and territory elections. Racial discriminations had been removed from the statute books at the federal level and in all states and territories except Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. And even those three laggards were moving toward legal equality.
‘… Regardless of its slight legal consequences, the 1967 referendum was an important event in Australian history. It was a symbolic affirmation of Aboriginal people’s acceptance into the community of the nation.
‘Yet the referendum affirmed only the broad principle of national inclusion. On how that principle should be translated into practice – on the terms of inclusion – the referendum was silent.’