Changing Rights and Freedom

Changing Rights and Freedoms of Aboriginal People The rights and freedoms of Aboriginal people have changed significantly during the 20th century after facing many years of neglect and inequalities. In that time, change in indigenous rights and freedoms was brought about as a result of government policies, political activism and legal changes. Government Policies changed the rights and freedoms of the Aboriginal people. The policy of protectionism was introduced in 1869 which wanted to protect Aboriginals from the effects of violence, diseases and exploitation as a result of European settlement.

The policy was based on a certainty that Aboriginal people were doomed to extinction and should be given some protection to live out their last years in peace. This policy was the source behind the stolen generation, where thousands of indigenous people were displaced from families and sent to live with the white population. This policy failed because the indigenous people were not becoming extinct which resulted in the government introducing the policy of Assimilation in 1930s which required Aboriginals to abandon their culture and adopt to the White Australia values to survive.

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It was anticipated that such integration would improve their way of life. However, the Assimilation Policy did not improve conditions for the Aborigines, and they were denied the most basic of rights – that of being accepted as Australian citizens unless they applied for a “certificate”. Applying for a certificate meant denying one’s aboriginal heritage and severing all ties with one’s own indigenous community. With the failure of the Protection and Assimilation policies the government introduced the policy of Integration in 1965 which intended to mix the indigenous people with the white population.

However the liberal government did little to implement its new policy. When Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister in 1972 he introduced the policy of Self-Determination which recognised the rights of Aboriginal people to have full control over all the things that affected their lives. The government policy of Reconciliation established in 1991 sought to re-establish relations with the indigenous and be aware of the previous faults and mistreatments against the indigenous people.

This policy was a positive outcome it aimed at having all Australians recognise the indigenous people as the original owners of the land, that they have suffered ongoing disadvantages as a result of having their land taken from them, resulting in indigenous people missing many of the benefits of life that other Australians have had. Political activism helped Australians inform of the need for a reform of indigenous rights. Political activism was in action all across Australia with many people supporting it.

The policy of assimilation was a consequent attempt to make Aboriginal people accept the way of life of a white Australian. This only resulted in discrimination and racism. For example indigenous people were not even allowed to swim at local council pools. Groups such as the Aboriginal Advancement League and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines were established to fight for the injustice of the indigenous. Source A is an example of an indigenous protest that took place to highlight discrimination in rural Australia.

Student Action for Aborigines, led by Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins, organised the Freedom Ride – a bus tour through New South Wales protesting discrimination against Aboriginal people in small towns of Australia, which was inspired by the US Civil Rights Freedom Ride campaign in 1961. According to Source C “…Aborigines were becoming political activists” which provides evidence that indigenous people were rising up and taking charge of their own affairs.

Political activism in Australia was a major factor achieving changing rights and freedoms for Aboriginals people because of this indigenous people were able to take action to rise up for their opinions. The evidence for legal changes in the indigenous people’s rights and freedom was the result of the 1967 referendum. The referendum was held to change the Australian Constitution to count the Aboriginal people in census as a part of the Australian population and allow the Commonwealth government make laws to help improve conditions for Aboriginal people no matter where they lived in Australia.

As indicated in Source B the white population insisted to vote yes in the referendum and acknowledge indigenous Australians. A change in the law was needed to equalize indigenous Australians and therefore consider them as part of our society. The powers given to the Federal government by this referendum enabled Gough Whitlam to introduce reforms such as indigenous land rights and equality of women. The change in legal affairs for the indigenous was a result of the change in rights and freedoms. Throughout the 19th century white settlers moved the Aboriginal people off their land and into reserves.

This resulted in Aboriginal people experiencing dispossession, which meant that they didn’t exist. In the early 1970s the Whitlam government began to work on behalf of Aboriginal people. In 1976 the Fraser government passed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. This resulted in the setting up of an Aboriginal Affairs Department in Woodward Royal Commission which meant that the indigenous were allowed to claim ‘crown land’ that was not being used by other people. The evidence of restoration of land ownership to the indigenous can be seen in Source D where Gough Whitlam is seen pouring sand through Vincent Lingiari to symbolise the land ownership.

The indigenous were given their land back and acknowledged as the official owners and as a result of the legal changes in rights and freedoms they gained further privileges of land and human rights. In the high court The Wik decision of 1996 decided that pastoral leases did not extinguish native title. The decision established the principle of co-existence with Aboriginal people either owning their land or negotiate it with commercial companies to use that land. The significance of the Mabo decision was that they fought for land rights and won.

The reason the case was successful was that the High Court recognized the principle of native title and overturned the idea of terra nullius. The indigenous Australians have experienced many changes in rights and freedom in the 20th century as a result of changes in government policies, political activism and legal changes. These changes have allowed the Aboriginal people to better rights and privileges such as land rights. This changes in rights and freedom has allowed the indigenous population with range of opportunities never before made possible.

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