Monday, August 9, 2010

Labor revives Aboriginal preamble vow

LABOR has pledged to invite the Coalition to join in a bipartisan initiative to rewrite the preamble to the constitution to recognise indigenous Australians.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott reached out to indigenous Australians in another way in his policy speech, floating the idea of offering guaranteed jobs to young Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders if they gave up their rights to welfare payments.

But no details were released, and it was unclear what form this might take.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd promised in 2007 that Labor would rewrite the preamble to recognise the first Australians, then hold a referendum to seek public approval for the change.

But while the idea won support from former prime minister John Howard and Mr Abbott, nothing was done in Labor's term, a fact sharply criticised by Aboriginal leaders.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin and Attorney-General Robert McClelland yesterday responded by proposing to invite the Coalition to join it in setting up an expert panel to work out how best to implement the pledge.

They said the panel would include indigenous leaders, MPs and constitutional lawyers, and be asked to come up with "options on the form of the amendment, and guidance on the information needed for public discussion".

"We are optimistic that this reform can happen," Ms Macklin said in Nhulunbuy.

"We are hopeful that this is an issue that can unite Australians and be above partisan political interests."

She also said Labor would give $20 million to support remote communities in implementing plans to reduce the supply of alcohol and drugs, and prevention programs to tackle alcohol, drug and substance abuse.

"This abuse can have a devastating impact on indigenous communities, leading to high levels of substance-fuelled violence," she said.