Former politician named senior Australian

Former federal politician Fred Chaney’s contribution to Australian society remains resolute, as does his championing of indigenous rights since his departure from parliament in 1993.


The one-time Liberal senator and lower house MP for Western Australia, 72, has been named Senior Australian of the Year in recognition of his commitment to reconciliation and human rights.

Stepping up to accept his award in Canberra on Saturday, Mr Chaney voiced his hope that Australia will soon achieve constitutional recognition for indigenous people.

“I have one learning I’ve taken from the past 50 years and that is for the prime minister to meet his ambition, for all of us to meet our ambitions to close the gap and to do the right thing by Aboriginal people,” Mr Chaney said after stepping forward to accept his award on Saturday.

“We have to work in partnership with Aboriginal people … and if we do that then the political firepower that’s being directed, the bureaucratic firepower and the community firepower will enable the Aboriginal people of Australia to have their rightful place in this country.”

Mr Chaney served as minister for Aboriginal affairs in the Fraser government but his commitment to indigenous rights began earlier.

He was an early advocate for Aboriginal voting rights in the 1960s and he later helped establish the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA.

Earlier on Saturday he recalled the “brilliant campaign” leading up to the 1967 referendum which allowed indigenous people to be counted in the census and for parliament to make laws concerning them.

He hopes a similarly strong momentum will build ahead of a planned referendum on recognising Aboriginal people in the constitution.

“In all his leadership roles, Mr Chaney inspires others to work collaboratively, respectfully and ambitiously to overcome the barriers that inhibit people’s full economic and social participation in Australian society,” a statement from the National Australia Day Council said.

Mr Chaney has served in a senior role with the National Native Title Tribunal and other advocacy groups, including the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation, which supports young indigenous people to reach their full potential.

The father of three, who trained as a lawyer, was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1997 for his service to parliament and the Aboriginal community.