Following on from my previous post, let’s skip the step of again proving that the existence of Section 127 of the Constitution (in it’s original form) is being sold as proof of Australia’s anti-aboriginal history.
The charges against it are varied:
First Nations people were ‘dying out’ and, hence, would soon cease to be a factor in questions of representation, First Nations people weren’t intellectually worthy of a place in the political system, and/or First Nations people weren’t considered human.
The truth is, there were a number of factors at play when it comes to this inclusion in the constitution, and they had precious little to do with demeaning aboriginals, and far more to do with:
- The development of an appropriate representational electoral system and the associated quotas,
- State financial considerations (of course), and
- The physical practicalities of accurately determining the population for such a system.
Let’s break this down:
Representational Government, Quota and Financial Considerations
I think this website puts it as well as I could:
Section 127 meant that when the population of the Commonwealth, of a state or territory is counted, Aboriginal people are not included.
Until well into the early 1960s politicians feared that by counting Indigenous people this would affect the quota that decided the number of seats a state could hold in parliament. Hence the greater the number of Aboriginal people within a state, the greater the number of seats. This, it was argued, would give advantage to states with a great number of Aboriginal people and it was feared that Western Australia and Queensland could lose a seat.
The white Australian population at that time was about 3.7 million; the Aboriginal population can only be estimated to around 50,000 to 60,000. Newspaper sources of the early 1960s considered it “a mildly entertaining historical oddity” trying to count Aboriginal people on one day, and an impossible task to do.Creative Spirits – Australian 1967 Referendum
The SBS itself, puts the cherry on top of this point:
“Each colony had a capitation fee — I think it was a pound a head, but it was a certain sum for every person — to get the Commonwealth going, because they didn’t have any money until they could start raising taxes. And, at Federation, South Australia included the Northern Territory. So, if you said, ‘We will add the Aboriginal population to the white population,’ that was going to hit South Australia in the hip pocket** big-time, and, I’m sorry to say, that was the end of that conversation.”SBS – Myths persist about the 1967 referendum
To address the practicality issue, I need do no more than revisit the flyers distributed during the 1967 Referendum campaign. I think it is eminently sensible in what it says on the reverse side:
Given the expanse of Australia, and the transport means available in 1897, you’d be hard pressed to argue against this. This commonsense reasoning around Section 127 seems to have been lost to the tides of time.
Still not convinced?
Ok, let’s go to a transcript of the Constitutional Debates to get a feel for the issues at play, none of which remotely resemble the alleged racism.
The irony of this exchange is that it clearly highlights that:
- The Clause was not designed to rob Aboriginals of their vote, and nor did it,
- The arithmetic wasn’t such as to warrant an attempt to count the entire aboriginal population of Australia (26,000 to affect one electorate),
- In 1897, it was well understood that Aboriginals were actually voting and participating in the political system.
- Aboriginals were actively encouraged to vote by the founders.
- The focus was on the implications to South Australia’s financial obligations.