Abbott Seeks to Recognize Aborigines in Australia’s Constitution

Indigenous Australians
Participants perform at the Mbantua Aboriginal cultural festival in Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory state. Photographer: Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government will explore changing the constitution to recognize indigenous Australians.

The Liberal-National coalition government will “start the conversation about a constitutional referendum to recognize the first Australians,” Abbott said in a New Year message. “This would complete our constitution rather than change it.”

Australia’s 400,000 Aborigines remain the poorest and most disadvantaged group in society more than 200 years after Europeans settled in 1788, experiencing lower life expectancy and higher jobless and incarceration rates. Indigenous Australians populated the continent at least 50,000 years ago and now make up about 2.5 percent of the population.

Abbott, whose coalition won the September election, spent time each year while opposition leader working in remote Outback communities with indigenous people. His government is encouraging the private sector, including mining and gas companies, to give Aborigines jobs.

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered the nation’s first apology in 2008 to Aborigines taken from their families for assimilation with the white community, saying the policy was a “blemished chapter” in the nation’s history.