`Matey' charter irks Australia

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The Independent Online
EXTOLLING THE values of "fairness", "independence" and "mateship", Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, released a draft for a new constitutional preamble.

The Liberal-National government says it wants public comment on the draft before putting it to the people in conjunction with a referendum on becoming a republic.

Describing Australia as a nation "woven together of people from many ancestries and arrivals", it says: "Since time immemorial our land has been inhabited by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who are honoured for their ancient and continuing cultures."

Mr Howard wrote the preamble with the help of the poet Les Murray, a defender of outback values. "Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage," it says. "We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship."

But the document, released yesterday, has been criticised as badly written, sexist and unacceptable to Aboriginals.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission chairman, Gatjil Djerrkura, criticising the reference to Aborigines, said it was always clear that Mr Howard had no plans to recognise indigenous Australians as custodians of the land rather than as "inhabitants".

Women's groups objected to the use of the word "mateship" as "coded masculine" and not representative of the contribution of women to the nation. Critics have also complained that the preamble is badly written, describing it as corny in parts.