Terry Barnes

John Howard is right about British colonialism in Australia

John Howard (Credit: Getty images)

Almost sixteen years after he lost office and his own parliamentary seat, former Australian Liberal prime minister John Howard is still an influential political figure. Idolised by the right and demonised by the left, when Howard speaks, Australians still take notice.

When Howard spoke to the Australian newspaper to mark his 84th birthday this week, he told home truths as he sees them, in his trademark plain language style. The focus of Howard’s interview was the Australian Labor government’s drive to change the nation’s constitution to give Aborigines a race-based ‘Voice to parliament’.

It is becoming clear that the Voice referendum will be lost or won only narrowly

This would be a representative body of Aborigines, elected by Aborigines, to ‘advise’ the parliament and executive government on legislative and policy matters that may affect their communities. Changing the Australian constitution requires a referendum carried by a majority of four of the six states, as well as a majority of voters.

This required double majority ensures there have been very few changes to the constitution in the 123 years of its existence. One of them, however, was a 1967 proposal to recognise Aborigines by empowering the federal government to legislate for their needs. It was carried overwhelmingly by all states and 91 per cent of the compulsory vote.

The Voice – as it’s universally called in Australia – was the product of a declaration known as the ‘Uluru (Ayers Rock) Statement from the Heart’, a reform manifesto created by a convention of Aboriginal leaders and activists. The noble aim of the declaration was to improve Australia’s ability as a nation to redress intractable and disgraceful social, health and economic disadvantages suffered by far too many of the three per cent of Australians claiming Aboriginal heritage. It is generally supported by mainstream Australians.

Committed to by current prime minister Anthony Albanese on the night of his 2022 election, the referendum on the Voice has, however, been a bitterly divisive issue ever since.

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