Political Discrimination Faced by Indigenous People in Contemporary Australia


Australia is regarded as one of the developed nations in the world. It has a strong economy and has managed to eliminate most of social problems affecting other nations in the world. However, despite of this good rating, the country’s indigenous community that are experiencing so many problems and injustices that portray uneven governance and provision of public amenities. Australian indigenous community is marked by two main groups that include the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Based on the 2006 approximation of Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were about 517000 people in the country from the two indigenous groups. In general, these individuals account for 2.5% of the entire population in Australia. Based this statistics it was approximated that 90% which accounts for 463700 individuals in the indigenous community were of Aboriginal roots, 4% which accounted for 20100 were a mixture of Torres Strait Islander, while 6% which accounted for 33300 originated from Torres Strait Islander (Dudgeon et al, 2010). Indigenous people are scattered around the country. According to Dudgeon et al. (2010), about 32% of the indigenous community live in big cities, 22% are found in the outer regional parts, 21% are found in the inner regional parts, 15% are found in very remote places, while 9% are found in remote places. Majority of the indigenous community live in the Northern Australia or even extra remote areas. The demographic analysis of the Australian people demonstrates a great social, health, education, economic, and political gap between the non-indigenous and indigenous people. This brings in the question of the political discrimination in the country between non-indigenous and indigenous people. The argument is that in such a developed country with high ability to provide for its citizen, there should never be such a great gap between two communities unless there is political discrimination. This paper traces the political history of Australian indigenous community with intention of identifying cause of the underlying situation.

Political Discrimination among Indigenous Australia

Australian Indigenous has been experiencing social and political injustices since the colonial period. Since the settlement of European in the country, the indigenous communities who were mostly semi-nomadic lost their lands to the settlers for what was termed as economic purposes. This increased the expansion of the industry of pastoral, attracting more British immigrants. This resulted to cattle rustlings where the indigenous community raided cattle from the European flocks and receive retaliation from the Europeans. This eventually resulted into a way between the settlers and the indigenous people. While Indigenous people employed guerilla warfare, the Europeans used military to counter worrier, they later extended their tactics to civilians where they massacred even children and women in the indigenous communities. With intention of eliminating indigenous to extend their land ownership, the European in some parts adopted more crude methods like supplying the indigenous individuals with poisoned flour and sometimes deliberately distributed diseases that included influenza, chicken pox, and measles (Dudgeon et al., 2010). This contained sever impact to the community. The situation became scary as more people indigenous died of diseases, guns, and hunger among other things. With strong military, better weapons and improved war tactics, European managed to defeat indigenous people. They tried to offer themselves to labor for food but the European refused to feed groups but individuals. This resulted to high death rate among the dependents among the community. Despite this, they were also subjected to discriminative government policies that tried to convert, disperse, “protect”, displace and ultimately assimilate them.

Australian territories and states at federation had responsibility and control for indigenous Australians. The states of the newly created federation enacted and framed policies and legislations suites which were restrictive and punitive toward Australian Indigenous community. The Aboriginal Protection Board was established in New South Wales in 1883, and it was given the legal power with enactment of 1909 Aboriginals Protection Act. Similar legislations were passed in other states with intention of controlling the indigenous community. Among other introduced acts included 1869 Aboriginal Act in Australia, the 1912 Cape Barren Island Act in Tasmania, the 1953 Welfare Ordinance and the 1911 Northern Territory Aboriginal Ordinance, and the 1897 Aboriginals protection and restriction of sale of Opium act in Queensland (Dudgeon et al., 2010; MCcallum, 2008). The main intention of developing these restrictive and punitive laws under indigenous people good was clear. Their impacts were a kind of indigenous Australian culture genocide, by the loss of language, cultural practices cessation, and family dispersion. The 1905 Aborigines act of the Western Australia today contains special meaning due to its gross rights erosion, resulting in forceful separation of children and aboriginal people intimidation in bleak reserves, to liv in despair ad servitude (Reconciliation.org.au, 2013). The year 1905, marked the beginning of formidable oppression and surveillance period for aboriginal people. Although the 1936 Native Administration Act consolidated the complete state rights over aboriginal community, the act of 1905 still act as symbol of oppression among indigenous people as much as the National Referendum in 1967, where the rights of Aboriginal people were won back acts as a symbol of emancipation.

The 1905 act gave the Aborigines Chief Protector the legal guardian to each aboriginal individual and of children that were half-caste. Pastoralists or police constables were given power as Aborigines protectors, and they took the role of removing half-caste children from their families in order to give them better life opportunities away from aboriginal environments contaminating influence. Reserves and mission were created for these kids, where the chief protector had the power to transfer the kids from one region to another (McCallum, 2005). Aboriginal were restricted from entering the city without permission, and their women were forbidden from cohabiting with non-aboriginal men. This part of the history shows how legislation became the protector of racism. Although the counter measures were employed in 1967, the damage had already been done and since then, the Aboriginal people have still been struggling to restore their initial strength and life vigor.

Although the 1967 referendum seemed like a breakthrough to the Indigenous communities especially the aboriginal people, there have seemed to be a long way to go. This referendum did not guarantee the community a place in the society or the government and its system. According to Rigney (1999), Indigenous Australia still experience stereotyping, structural alienation and name calling initiated by racism. These oppressions have resulted to the continuation of indigenous people subordination from political, social and educational processes in the society of Australia. The Australian educational institutions and policies have historically been marinated racial and cultural social engineering theories, that have continues to impact current policy, social perceptions, government debates and research with regard to indigenous Australians.

The discrimination in the allocation of the government resources and provision of government services has continued to increase the gap between the indigenous people and the rest of the Australian population. Although there are times that the government had demonstrated interest towards bridging social, education, and economic gap between the indigenous community and the rest, the plan are normally not long lived. According to Sutton(2001), the Australian society is progressively drawing aboriginal culture and religion as being the Aboriginal people province,  especially those in remote and rural communities, which the “new conservative arrangement” between the state and indigenous people contains great resource impacts to Indigenous individuals living in urban environment. For instance, there has been no joint responsibility contract enacted in urban area (Loppie et al., 2014). The important area where the dichotomy is causing disastrous effect is in education of indigenous people. The changes were provoked by the federal government in indigenous policy that included changing the arrangements of funding for indigenous education. This yielded to cuts of two million dollars to the money given to indigenous education funding. As a result, only a few indigenous children will manage to obtain tutorial assistance. In addition, the government cancelled aboriginal student support and parent awareness scheme (ASSPA) funding which enhance communities of individual school to locally organize their own support programs in various urban regions, where most indigenous children live. This fund was used to add to significant community activities that include after school homework clubs, storytelling and dancing activities with elders, breakfast clubs, and assistance in continuation and rival of aboriginal culture. The changes are described as government disrespect to the culture of indigenous people in the country (Davis, 2006).

According to Dudgeon et al. (2010), the history of Australia demonstrates how indigenous rights given by one regime taken away by another regime due to poor political power in the community. For instance, the labor prime minister in 1988 promised a treaty between the state and the indigenous Australians, but it was never completed. In 1989, the Federal Labor Government enacted the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission Act. However, this act was abolished in 2005 by the Federal Coalition government without indigenous community consultation. In addition there was enactment of 1993 Native Title Act following the High Court ruling on recognition of native land title. During the enactment debate the parliament adjourned the 1975 racial discrimination act which was meant to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination in the country (Thornton, 1990).  In 1998, there was the native title amendment where the parliament reduced aboriginal native title. This amendment again did not employ enough consultation with indigenous people. Although the abolishing of racial discrimination violated the obligation of Australia under the international law, this did not make the parliament to reconsider its decision (Charlesworth & Durbach, 2011).

The abolishment of racial discrimination act has highly propagated the growth of indigenous people discrimination in Australia, especially with regard to the access to public services and facilities. According to Dudgeon et al. (2010), there are high cases of reported individual racist experience among indigenous people especially in health sector. In a racism survey conducted in 2007, it was established that 7.7% of Anglo-Australians overwhelmingly believed in race inequality. Thus, racism is still practiced by a small but significant part of the population. Apart from the self-reported racism cases in health, racism might also burden indigenous Australian to access to quality health in conventional health services. A view that healthcare system in Australia is institutionally racist remains controversial. According to Awofeso (2011) the health system racism view results to the development of values and beliefs on the operation of institutions and result into discriminating over indigenous Australians. Although the political authorities of Australia refuse to acknowledge it, there is consistent reporting of high and increasing rates of racism by indigenous people in the country, which may influence the wellbeing and health of indigenous people (Awofso, 2011).

Indigenous people have been experiencing life challenges in different measures. The there is also a considerable gap between the social, education, health and economic gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. This has been attributed to culture, past social injustices, political discrimination, and general poverty. Although the Australian constitution recognizes indigenous people as members of commonwealth, they are never treated like so. Indigenous people in the country are marginalized, poor and very distance from the rest with regard to the acquiring of the necessary public services. Although this may partly be attributed to cultural factors, it is highly enhanced by the government inability to offer services to all its citizens equally. According to Dick and Calma (2007),indigenous Australians are not well provided for by the government especially with regard to social and public amenities while compared to non-indigenous people. Consequently these people suffer from different issues include high rate of diseases, poverty, high rate of drugs and alcohol use, high infant mortality rate, low life expectancy with difference being about 17 years, low access to medical, and education facilities, poor social amenities including safe water to drink, sewerage system, healthy housing, and rubbish collection services (King et al., 2009). Despite all this, there is very little being done to reduce the gap between the indigenous and non-indigenous people in the country. As discussed above, the Australian legislature has developed a habit of nullifying what was enacted by the previous legislatures to protect the indigenous community. In this regard, their political struggle to be treated right like all other citizens or members of commonwealth has never been successful. This is possibly due to constant nullification of their previous efforts, making it hard to achieve anything tangible in the long run.

The political struggle of indigenous people has been real for so many years. According to Henderson (2015), there have been various referendum proposals in the country; around 44, but only a few; 9 have been successful. However, there has been no particular constitutional reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. According to advocates indigenous Australians recognition in the founding document is important, both practically and symbolically. Moreover, there are various race references in the country’s constitution that permit indigenous Australians discrimination by the government (Henderson, 2015). Being minorities groups in the country, and hence in the parliament, it is considerably hard for the indigenous people to initiate change in the constitution. Moreover, most governments are not ready to invest the national resources in uplifting the life of aboriginal people, maybe due to their poor contribution to the national revenue (Maria-Eugenia et al., 2009). This makes it considerably hard to handle the situation as it should be handled.


The government of a country has a role to provide for its citizen equally to enhance equal growth and to promote good health and wellbeing in the country. However, this is not the case in Australia. Although the country is regarded among the developed nation, it has not managed to cover the gap between the poor indigenous people and the rest of the population. The indigenous Australians who have experienced social injustices under the governance of Europeans have since lived in poverty, and any effort employed to liberate them is overturned by legislators in the future. In this regard, it has been considerably hard to uplift their life to match the standards of other Australians. The analysis demonstrates how the Australian indigenous has been experiencing political discrimination such that it has been proven hard for them to liberate themselves from these discriminations.

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