• Labor frontbencher, Linda Burney, has been appointed Shadow Minister of Preventing Family Violence (AAP)Source: AAP
Federal Labor frontbencher and Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney says Australia did experience true apartheid for much of its history.
18 May 2017 - 1:39 PM  UPDATED 19 May 2017 - 3:57 PM

Federal Labor frontbencher and Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney says Australia did experience true apartheid for much of its history.

Speaking at the Australian National University, Ms Burney slammed previous comments from social commentator Andrew Bolt who repeatedly made reference to 'a new apartheid.' 

"This apartheid was purportedly being imposed on the Australian community by the National Rugby League’s Indigenous Round, an art work Mr Bolt found offensive as well as the push for a new referendum on Constitutional Recognition," she said. 

"The idea behind that allegation doesn’t bare examination. It is patently absurd." 

She said Mr Bolt's discomfort does not quite compare to Nelson Mandela's 27 years in prison. 

"What does require exploration is the terminology, the use of that word doesn’t just imply hostility towards Indigenous issues, it belies a wilful blindness about our past," she said. 

“Apartheid did exist in this country for much of its history, though it wasn’t known by that name."

Ms Burney then went on to list a number of instances of apartheid, such as the Stolen Generations, denial of education, treatment of returned soldiers, denied entry to hotels, pools and public bathes, and being denied the right to vote. 

Ms Burney says the conservative voices feel free to throw around the term lightly because they do not remember the history or they refuse to know it. 

"This view isn’t uncommon, I was told by a conservative Senator when filming a documentary in early 2016 that the constitution;“Has stood the test of time… it has allowed you to become elected to the Parliament.”

Learn lessons from 1967 Referendum

"He had to be reminded that the 1967 referendum and constitutional reform ended some of the discrimination which would have kept me out," she said. 

But Ms Burney says the 1967 referendum did not create an equal playing field for Aboriginal people and did not end discrimination. Discrimination which we still see today.

"But there is no question that it was a high watermark for the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people," she said. 

She says the historic vote, which will mark 50 years on 27 May, paved the way for future change. 

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"For Australians this was a time in which the whole world began to change, the ground was shifting below our feet – our national identity, the very way we conceived ourselves, was shifting," she said. 

Ms Burney says she is routinely told that the 1967 Referendum was enough. 

“You’ve already had one vote – why should you get another? It is troubling how quickly these memories have slipped away from the collective consciousness," she said. 

She argues a new referendum on Constitutional Recognition must succeed, warning that it is imperative the vote succeeds. 

"We must accept that no matter how just and well-crafted the proposal put forward is, it will mean nought if it is not winnable," she said. 

"If it does we will finally have a national compact which recognises and acknowledges our true history and tells the truth.

Her comments come as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives prepare for a national convention to propose a model on recognition in Uluru next week. 

Ms Burney says we need to learn the lessons from 50 years ago. 

"The 67ers knew that they’d made some progress, but that it wasn’t the end. They understood the value of pragmatism and the necessity of politics," she said. 

"They understood that progress is always slow, painfully so. They understood the long game."

"And they also saw that opportunity could not be wasted."

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