Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Anthony Albanese wanted the 1999 preamble to go further with recognition of Indigenous people. (Lukas Coch/AAP IMAGES)

Post misleads on Albanese’s 1999 preamble speech

Lachlan Coady March 17, 2023

Anthony Albanese spoke against Indigenous Australians being recognised in the preamble to the Constitution in 1999.


False. He opposed the proposed preamble because its recognition of Indigenous Australians did not go far enough.

A Facebook post has claimed that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spoke against recognising Indigenous Australians in a preamble to the Constitution during a speech to parliament in 1999.

The post (archived here) claims Mr Albanese is currently trying to “sneak this voice through” even though he spoke out against recognition 24 years ago in the early stages of his parliamentary career.

The claim is false.

Mr Albanese spoke in federal parliament in 1999 about opposing the proposed preamble to the Australian Constitution. However, this was not because of the recognition of Indigenous people – but because the recognition did not go far enough.

Anthony Albanese
 Anthony Albanese in the House of Representatives in Canberra in 2007. 

The question over the inclusion of a preamble was the second question as part of the 1999 Australian republic referendum.

To its supporters it was seen as a way for Australians to highlight the characteristics and values that unite the country. To its detractors, it was a distraction from the republic debate.

Then Prime Minister John Howard wrote the first draft of the proposed preamble with the help of poet Les Murray (page 6). It was slightly amended before the referendum in the November of 1999.

There are four mentions of Mr Albanese referencing the preamble in Hansard from 1999, see here, here, here and here.

It is clear from these speeches he was not against the inclusion of Indigenous Australians in the preamble, rather he thought the recognition didn’t go far enough.

Les Murray
 Poet Les Murray helped write the first draft of the 1999 preamble. 

On March 23, 1999, Mr Albanese said: “It (the preamble) goes no further than recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as having `inhabited’ the land before European invasion. Big deal! The Prime Minister acknowledges that there were people here before 1788.

“He does not go further than that because he is not capable of making that step forward. How can we have equal sovereignty if the oldest form of sovereignty in Australia, the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over the land, is denied?”

On June 21, 1999, he criticised the proposed preamble for its “straight refusal to acknowledge indigenous custodianship of our land”.

On August 25, 1999 he again criticised the preamble for not including reference to “custodianship”.

Days before Mr Howard released his initial preamble draft, Labor released its own, largely written by then MP for Holt, Gareth Evans.

Former Labor minister Gareth Evans
 Former Labor minister Gareth Evans pictured in 1991. 

This version included the wording: “Recognising Indigenous Australians as the original occupants and custodians of our land. (page 405)”

When Mr Howard’s proposed preamble was going through the Senate, ahead of the referendum, Labor again tried to include mention of Indigenous people having custodianship of the land.

The proposed amendment sought to omit the wording “Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands” and replace it with “Indigenous Australians as the original occupants and custodians of our land”.

However, this was rejected. Mr Howard’s proposed preamble went to the public vote but was rejected along with a move to make Australia a republic.

The Verdict

The claim that Anthony Albanese spoke against recognising Indigenous Australians in a preamble to the Constitution in a speech to parliament in 1999 is false.

While he opposed the proposed preamble, this was not because of its recognition of Indigenous people but rather because the recognition did not go far enough.

In particular, Mr Albanese – and Labor – had sought to have the phrase “custodianship” included when making reference to Indigenous Australians.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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