13 July 2015 | General Interest
40 influential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have met with the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to discuss constitutional recognition and a possible referendum.
In a rare joint press release Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten stated that the meeting had moved Australia closer to “recognising the First Australians in our constitution and ending the great silence about indigenous people in our founding document.”
Three news steps were proposed as outcomes from the meeting:
- a series of community conferences be established across the country to provide an opportunity for everyone to have a say and for all significant points of view to be considered.
- a discussion paper on various issues regarding constitutional change will be developed by the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to help facilitate an informed community discussion.
- the establishment of a Referendum Council to progress a range of issues around constitutional change, including how a question might be settled, timing and constitutional issues.
The meeting follows the tabling of a cross-party report on constitutional recognition in Parliament, which recommends the removal of discriminatory language and recognition of Australia’s first peoples.
The report was compiled by a cross-party parliamentary committee tasked with inquiring into potential steps to progress towards a successful referendum on Indigenous Constitutional Recognition.
Recommendations from the report include to:
- Repeal Section 25 of the constitution, which currently allows Australian states to disqualify people from voting due to their race.
- Repeal or amend Section 51 (xxvi) to remove reference to race, which relates to the Parliament’s ability to create special Commonwealth laws for people of a particular race.
The report also proposes the inclusion of new sections recognising that Australia was first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, acknowledge the continuing connection of Indigenous people to their traditional lands and waters, and respect continuing Indigenous cultures, language and heritage.
Chief amongst the items for consideration in the report is the Committee’s recommendation to hold an Australian referendum on constitutional recognition, with the Committee suggesting the referendum be held when it has the highest chance of success.
Tabling the report in Parliament, Aboriginal MP Ken Wyatt urged all Australians to ensure a referendum did not fail.
“This is owned, and must be owned, by all Australians: black and white; urban and regional; rich and poor. This is about all of us as a nation: about all of us as Australians,” Mr Wyatt said.
“This is not about singling out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or affording them extra rights above all other Australians.
“This is about correcting the contextual silence that is so currently deafening in the Constitution.”