Humphrey McQueen is right to say that the High Court’s decisions in Mabo and Wik gave indigenous Australians rights they had been denied by successive federal governments. But the story did not end there.

Claiming to have a “covenant” with Australian farmers, John Howard legislated his 10-Point Plan to make sure that many of those rights could not be put into effect. The irony is that he did so using the powers conferred by the 1967 Referendum.

In others words, 1967 was most effectively used not for the benefit of the Aboriginal people, as was clearly the intention of the proposers and the overwhelming majority of Australians who voted for it, but to their detriment.

Howard has always dismissed Australia’s dismal treatment of its first citizens as a mere “blemish”, something not to be taken too seriously. At heart, he remains an assimilationist: Aborigines should be treated as just another disadvantaged group with no special needs or privileges.

Talk of cultural loss is irrelevant; if they can be integrated with mainstream Australia that is all the reconciliation that is needed. There are to be no apologies and, of course, any notion of a treaty or of self-determination is out of the question.

“Practical” reconciliation consists of offering standard services in the form of education, health and housing in return for the surrender of traditional rights and practices. Again ironically, the price demanded is often the hard-won land rights which were one of the few lasting outcomes from the 1967 Referendum.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey