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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 05:58 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

'Social divisions will continue'

Aborigines regard the result as a 'sad moment in Australian history'

Aborigines have lamented the failure of a referendum proposal that would have recognised them as Australia's first people.

Australian referendum

The proposed preamble to the Australian constitution was rejected in a separate vote during Saturday's referendum that saw Australians reject an proposal to replace Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

"This is a sad moment in Australian history," said Senator Aden Ridgeway, Australia's senior Aboriginal politician.

He wrote the preamble with monarchist Prime Minister John Howard, which was rejected by 61% of voters.

"The social divisions will continue," Mr Ridgeway said.

Click here to read the proposed preamble

The defeated preamble honoured "Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation's first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country".

[ image: Prime Minister John Howard co-wrote the preamble]
Prime Minister John Howard co-wrote the preamble
The UK settled the island continent as a penal colony in 1788. Aboriginal existence in Australia dates back some 40,000 years.

Aboriginal Reconciliation Council chairman Evelyn Scott said Australians must use next year's centenary celebrations of the federation of Australia's six states to address reconciliation.

Aboriginal leader Lowitja O'Donoghue said the vote against the preamble could be a protest against the lack of public consultation during the writing of it.

"It sends the message that people are not happy about the prime minister deciding what should go in the preamble without any real consultation."

Defeated by apathy

Mr Howard said he believed there was a desire for reconciliation between black and white Australia.

"I think the preamble was probably defeated by apathy or ignorance, not by hostility," he said, adding that the preamble had been overshadowed by the republic debate.

Mr Howard's government and many of its predecessors have been criticised for not apologising to Aborigines on behalf of all Australians for past injustices.

These injustices included the decades-long government policy of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families to raise them as whites.

Aborigines number about 386,000, or 2.1%, of Australia's 19 million people.

They have an infant mortality rate twice as high as the rest of the population and a life expectancy almost 20 years lower.

Proposed preamble:

"With hope in God, the Commonwealth of Australia is constituted as a democracy with a federal system of Government to serve the common good. We the Australian people commit ourselves to this Constitution. Proud that our national unity has been forged by Australians from many ancestries; never forgetting the sacrifices of all who defended our country and our liberty in time of war; upholding freedom tolerance individual dignity and the rule of law; honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation's first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country; recognising the national building contribution of generations of immigrants; mindful of our responsibility to protect our unique natural environment; supportive of achievement as well as equality of opportunity for all; and valuing independence as dearly as the national spirit which binds us together in both adversity and success."

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