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Australian elections are not what they used to be. The policy debates have been reduced to ten-second audio grabs. The big public rallies have been replaced with pre-packaged and scripted set-piece television events. According to the majority of the contributors to this account of the 2004 election, the passions that Australian voters once carried to the polling booth have been swapped for something much more prosaic. At the last election, our vote was apparently determined largely by interest rates and by mortgage costs. It seems that voters are now less animated by ‘It’s Time’ and more by ‘It’s Mine’.

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The nomenclature of indigenous policy is apt to mislead, casting indigenous people as the passive objects of progressively more enlightened régimes: protection, assimilation, self-determination. This view is resonant in the history propagated by Keith Windschuttle, among others. Contesting Assimilation sets out to debunk this historically inaccurate idea and the implicit condescension in the view that denies any role for indigenous people in shaping the policy environment. As the essays in this volume attest, the development of indigenous policy can only be understood as a product of the interaction of indigenous and non-indigenous reformers, engaged in a struggle of ideas as to how best to resolve the social issues occasioned by colonisation.

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