When did Indigenous Australians and other people of colour get the right to become members of the Australian Parliament?
Thank you Emma for this great question. To become a member of the Australian Parliament a person must be at least 18 years old, an elector able to vote for the House of Representatives and an Australian citizen. In the past Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and people of non-European backgrounds have not had these rights.
The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 excluded all ‘aboriginal native[s] of Australia, Africa, Asia or the Islands of the Pacific except New Zealand’ from voting unless they could vote in state elections. In most states, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples were not able to vote. From 1920 all migrant British subjects except Pacific Islanders were able to vote in Australian elections. However, the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 had stopped non-white immigration to Australia, and Pacific Island and other non-white migrants had been deported.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were granted Australian citizenship along with all other Australians in 1948. (Before this all Australians were British subjects). Citizenship did not give voting rights to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples though. This was guaranteed by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962. The first Aboriginal member of parliament was Senator Neville Bonner in 1971.
Non-Europeans were not given a path to citizenship by the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. This did not happen until 1957 but only after a person had been a resident for 15 years. This requirement was lowered to 3 years (the same as for British migrants) in 1973. The first Asian-Australian member of Parliament was Tsebin Tchen who entered the Senate in 1999.
Joint sitting of the Australian Parliament, 1974.
This black and white photo is of a large room with tall ceilings. The seats are arranged in a horse-shoe shape around a large central table. There is a large chair at the open end of the U-shaped seats that is elevated above the other chairs. There are people sitting in the seats and papers on the desks. People are sitting and standing in the raised balconies around the sides of the room.
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