Australia to better recognize Aboriginals

Jan. 18, 2012 at 4:51 PM

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The Australian government is embarking on a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to better recognize the Aborigine population, a member of an advisory panel said.

The panel of Australian citizens is to make recommendations to the government on a planed constitutional referendum.

The panel -- which includes Aboriginal leaders, members of the main political parties and business and legal experts -- has been gathering opinions across the country for the past year, CNN reported.

"At the moment, the constitution denies that there was a prior presence of Aboriginal people in Australia," said Mark McKenna, an associate professor of history at the University of Sydney. "They're pretty much invisible."

Political parties appear to support a change to the constitution on recognition of Aborigines but not on how to accomplish it.

"This is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if the federal government proceeds to referendum," Megan Davis, director of the Indigenous Law Center at the University of New South Wales and a member of the panel, said in an e-mail.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor government says it will hold a referendum on the population during its current term or in the next general election.

The opposition Liberal Party also has expressed support for such a referendum.

In the 2006 Census, 455,031 people in the county with a population of more than 21 million identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

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