Australians Support Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders - Report
19 January 2012 at 1:40 pm
Panel Members, Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler hand PM Julia Gillard the report on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Australian Constitution. Image via YouMeUnity
Members of the Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have presented their report to the Prime Minister recommending the removal of discriminatory references to ‘race’ and declaring that a referendum for change would be successful.
The Panel’s work had cross-party support and includes representatives from the Government, the Coalition, the Greens and Independents.
The Panel presented a unanimous report recommending changes to the Constitution which recognise the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples; remove racist elements; and prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin.
The changes proposed by the Panel remove race from the Constitution, but maintain the Parliament’s ability to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In preparing its report, Panel members held over 250 consultations in 84 metropolitan, regional and remote locations across Australia, and received more than 3,500 submissions from individuals and organisations. The Panel also drew on research and national surveys, meetings with community and Indigenous leaders and the advice of constitutional law experts.
The Panel says these consultations and submissions revealed strong support across the country for constitutional recognition.
“Many people were concerned that while the contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, art and cultures to Australia’s national identity was valued and celebrated, the nation’s founding document did not acknowledge the place of Indigenous people in Australian history or contemporary society,” the Panel said.
The Panel also found majority support for the removal of racist elements from the Constitution. “Many Australians were surprised and troubled to learn that the Constitution permits discrimination on the basis of race.The consultations and submissions revealed a genuine desire to remove the racist elements from the Constitution to reflect modern Australian values and to protect all Australian citizens from discrimination on the basis of race.”
Panel members believe that the report’s recommendations, supported at a referendum, would create a Constitution that more accurately reflects our nation by:
- acknowledging the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in our history and their continuing cultures, languages and heritage as integral to Australia’s national identity
- removing outdated sections that countenance discrimination on the grounds of race protecting all Australian citizens from discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethic or national origin.
The Panel has concluded that its recommendations for constitutional recognition are capable of succeeding at a referendum if supported by all sides of politics and if the pre-conditions for a successful referendum are put in place.
The Panel found there were no political, social or geographic boundaries in the support it received from the Australian public.
The overwhelming success of the 1967 referendum is a reminder that constitutional change in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can generate majority support.
The Panel calls on all political parties to continue their support for Indigenous constitutional recognition and to work towards a successful referendum including implementing an effective education campaign to raise public awareness of the issue and its importance for all Australians.
The Panel’s report was presented to the Prime Minister, by the Co-Chairs Professor Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler AO .
Reconciliation Australia, the peak body promoting reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians has welcomed the report saying “Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures in our nation’s founding document is a further way to demonstrate the valued place of the First Australians in our national identity.”
“We have an opportunity to properly recognise the First Australians and to reset the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and all Australians. This is fundamental to realising true reconciliation,” said Chief Executive Officer Leah Armstrong.
Prime Minister Gillard has posted a response to receiving the report saying "The Government does not underestimate the challenge of achieving nation-wide consensus. Change will not happen without support from across the political spectrum and the support of the majority of Australians.
"The National Apology to Indigenous Australians helped build a bridge of respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It helped generate the trust so we could work together to tackle Indigenous disadvantage.
"The recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution is another step in that journey, a step that is critical in our efforts to close the gap," the PM said
The panel’s report can be found at www.youmeunity.org.au.
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