Australia to recognize native peoples

Nov. 7, 2010 at 9:30 PM

CANBERRA, Australia, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Australia has begun the process of incorporating recognition of indigenous Australians in the nation's Constitution, officials say.

The federal government will set up an expert panel to advise it on the process of working such recognition into the Constitution, fulfilling a promise made by the current Labor government in the last election.

What form the constitutional recognition would take or what impact it would have on Australian law is, at this point, unclear. Indigenous Australians gained the right to vote in 1966 and their traditional land rights were recognized 20 years ago.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard hopes to maximize the chance of the vote being successful.

"The first peoples of our nation have a unique and special place in our nation," Gillard told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Sunday.

She says there is bipartisan support in the Parliament.

Australia has had a troubled relationship with its indigenous population since European settlement began in the late 18th century. Indigenous Australians, who are believed to have come to Australia about 40,000 years ago, suffer from endemic alcoholism and other social ills related to poverty and discrimination.

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