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Aboriginal land rights "next cab off the referendum rank"

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"peter r e it h , m p Shadow Attorney-General Chairman, Coalition Referendum Task Force C O M M O N W E A LTH


23 August 1988


The Hawke Labor Government in Canberra will proceed with plans for a national referendum to force land rights legislation in Western Australia if the 3 September referendum is successful.

Federal Shadow Attorney-General, Peter Reith, told a luncheon in Perth today that the Hawke Government had already indicated that Constitutional amendments for "aboriginal rights" would be included in the next series of referendums.

"The 33 changes to our Constitution being put forward on September 3 are just the beginning of a long campaign to completely rewrite the legal basis of Australia's democratic system.

"Labor has a hidden agenda for Constitutional change, and the September referendum is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Lionel Bowen hinted at this hidden agenda when he told the ALP's National Conference on June 9:

"We now have a climate for change.

We've started a process of the agenda of reform.

We've put in the time scale of one of the major priorities ...

We've got to keep the momentum of the (Constitutional) Commission going. '

Its work should not be lost, because it covers a very wide spectrum of what we're about, and we have a very realistic agenda for gradual reform."

"If this package, which Mr Bowen describes as 'the most substantial reform made to our Constitution in the last 40 years', is approved by the voters then the Hawke Government will mount further changes year by year.

"Lionel Bowen told a meeting in Darwin in July that the next round of referendums would include aboriginal land rights, and go way beyond the scope of Mr Hawke's proposed Aboriginal Treaty.

"One of the common threads in the September 3 referendum is the way the Hawke Government is intruding into areas of State law and demanding change.

"The electoral boundaries, trial by jury, religion and compensation questions will all require that State Governments change their laws - or face action in the High Court to force them to change.

"Our Constitution is being abused and treated with contempt.

"It is a document intended to protect the rights of the States, not to steamroll them into submission."

Mr Reith said the ALP National Conference had re-affirmed Labor's commitment to land rights.

The ALP's Aborigines and Islanders Platform, approved at the National Conference, directed the Government to "use Commonwealth constitutional powers and legislation" to "ensure that Aboriginal and Islander people in each State and Territory have access to land rights held under secure title...".

Attorney-General Bowen had made it clear that a referendum would be held to write these matters into the Constitution.

"It is important that the people of Western Australia understand the Hawke Government's determination to override elected State Governments, and completely ignore local views and attitudes, in order to implement Labor's national programme," Mr Reith said.

"Every person who values the Western Australian way of life should rally against Hawke's referendum, and vote NO to preserve tfie principle that State matters should be decided by elected Sitate parliaments.

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"This referendum is not just about the 33 changes on September 3, ijt' s also a chance to decide whether we are going to accept a totally illegitimate process of using referendums to gang up on States that don't agree with Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne on issues such as land rights.

"On September 3, people should vote NO to Labor's deceit, vote NO to Labor's hidden agenda, and vote NO to the end of the Constitution that has served this country well."

Further information: Peter Reith 09/2211277 Bill Royce 062/774032