Surge in support for treaty with Aborigines

Sydney Morning Herald - 8th November 2000
Author: Debra Jopson

Most Australians now want a treaty with Aboriginal people, with a leap of 7 per cent in support over the past five months, according to the latest Herald-ACNielsen poll.

The survey of 2,066 voters last weekend found 53 per cent now favour a treaty, with those opposed dropping 6 per cent to 34 per cent over the previous poll in June.

Support for reconciliation also rose from 74 per cent to 78 per cent.

Indigenous Senator Aden Ridgeway said the "groundswell of good feeling" from the reconciliation theme of the Olympics and Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman's gold medal were partly responsible.

The chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Mr Geoff Clark who will hold high-level meetings beginning in Melbourne today to work out ways to promote treaty "awareness, understanding and unity" in indigenous communities said the poll showed Australians had realised it was not a threat.

The heads of the Kimberley and NSW land councils, Mr Peter Yu and Mr Rod Towney, are among members of a committee established to formally advise the ATSIC board on promoting a treaty which is having its inaugural meeting.

Tomorrow, leaders including Mr Patrick Dodson, Mr Noel Pearson, Mr Michael Mansell, Professor Marcia Langton and Mr Gary Foley have been invited as "experts" to give ATSIC treaty advice.

The telephone survey found that more than half of Australians in all age groups up to 55 years supported a treaty, but its popularity slipped to 37 per cent among older people.

A treaty was supported by 69 per cent of those aged 18-26 years, 63 per cent of people between 25 and 39 years old, and 51 per cent of the 40-54 age group.

Support is strongest in the ACT, Victoria and NSW and lowest in Western Australia, where 42 per cent are opposed and an equal proportion are in favour.

However, majority opposition to a Federal Government apology for past treatment of Aborigines has remained steady, registering 52 per cent in this poll, compared with 53 per cent in June, 55 per cent in May and 54 per cent in March.

Support for an apology has also remained steady, at 42 per cent for March and May and 43 per cent in the latest two polls.

Senator Ridgeway said the latest poll showed Australians had grasped the need to reconcile and for "some formal agreement or compact which brings us together, recognising that there are unique circumstances for indigenous people that must be catered for in national life".

An executive member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, he foreshadowed that in its final report to Parliament this year, it will say that there should be "a legislative guarantee at the least" that reconciliation is dealt with by all politicians in the future and that a treaty, compact or agreement is on the national agenda.

"The whole question of an agreement, without using words that are loaded, is something that the council has looked at over the past 10 years and everyone is of the common view that it is something that has to be achieved, whatever it's called," he said.