John Howard’s brush with Aboriginal Australia — a timeline:
March 1996: In John Howard’s first act as prime minister, he calls a press conference and announces his intention to appoint an administrator to take over the powers and functions of the ATSIC board. It requires a change in the Act, but is blocked in the Senate.
April 1996: Howard announces he will appoint a special auditor to investigate allegations of widespread fraud within organisations funded by ATSIC. The special auditor finds no such widespread fraud, but the Federal Court soon thereafter deems the appointment of the special auditor illegal.
May 1996: In his first budget as Prime Minister, Howard announces a cut of $470 million from the ATSIC budget, forcing ATSIC to close a raft of community and youth support programs, including women’s centres.
May 1997: John Howard’s releases his Wik 10-Point Plan.
May 1997: At the Reconciliation Convention in Melbourne, Howard bangs the lectern and shouts at the audience as he claims symbolism will deliver nothing, and unofficially launches the policy of ‘practical reconciliation’. He also defends his ‘Wik 10 point plan’ which proposes to amend the Native Title Act (which had come out of the Mabo victory). The plan was passed by parliament, but decried by the United Nations and the international community, which labelled it racist. Members of the audience famously turn their backs on Howard as he speaks.
4th September 1997: John Howard on The 7.30 Report alongside a map of Australia with sections coloured brown, “What has happened with Native title is that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, particularly after the Wik decision. What I have done with this legislation is bring it back to the middle. Let me just show your viewers that this shows 78 per cent of the landmass of Australia coloured brown on this map. Now, the Labor Party and the Democrats are effectively saying that the Aboriginal people of Australia should have the potential right of veto over further development of 78 per cent of the landmass of Australia.”
August 1999: Howard officially refuses a national apology for members of the Stolen Generations, with parliament instead issuing a statement of ‘sincere and deep regret’.
October 1999: John Howard on the importance of voting yes to the preamble for reconciliation, “A preamble is a broad statement of values and principles which aim to reflect the spirit, traditions and sentiment which underpin our commitment to the Constitution. It would also provide Australians with an opportunity to highlight the aspirations we share as we enter the second century of our nationhood.
The great value of the preamble is that it can unite republicans and anti-republicans behind commonly held Australian values. It is not conditional on whether the republic is supported or rejected. It can also make a contribution to the reconciliation process which is one of the most important issues we face as a nation as we enter the new century. The preamble honours “Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country”.
28th May 2000: Howard refuses to attend the Bridge Walks for reconciliation.
29th May 2000: John Howard as quoted on The 7.30 Report: “I speak for the entire government on this and it’s a matter that’s been discussed at great length. We don’t think it’s appropriate for the current generation of Australians to apologise for the injustices committed by past generations.”
November 2002: The Howard government announces a review into ATSIC. The review, which cost over $2 million, recommends reform of the body, and a strengthening of the regional council structure and the election of local officials. Howard proposes abolition instead.
October 2004: Howard formally dumps ‘reconciliation’ from the government agenda, axing the ‘Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Reconciliation’ portfolio during a a post-election cabinet reshuffle.
June 2005: Howard abolishes the democratically-elected ATSIC. He replaces it with a group of hand-picked Aboriginal ‘advisers’ (the National Indigenous Council). One of the first acts of the NIC is to recommend the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.
May 2006: During his visit to Canada, Howard successfully lobbies new conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reverse Canada’s support for the UN’s Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
September 2006: John Howard reacts to the Native Title Noongar win in Perth, saying the federal court decision was one of “considerable concern”, with the government falsely claiming a day later that even beaches in Sydney could be under threat.
June 2007: Howard launches his ’emergency intervention’ into the Northern Territory in response to the Little Children are Sacred report.
August 2007: Six weeks after the announcement the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act is passed, giving the Government power to acquire Aboriginal land for five years and hold back 50% of all welfare payments for necessary items. The long standing permit system, enacted as part of the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) is scrapped. The legislation includes exemptions from the Racial Discrimination Act.
September 2007: Howard orders his delegates at the UN to vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
11 October 2007: Howard delivers a speech to The Sydney Institute in which he introduces “new reconciliation” and a promise to amend the preamble to the Constitution to acknowledge Indigenous Australians should he be returned to Government at the looming election.