Constitutional Reform - What's it all about?

The constitutional reform agenda is about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of this country as well as addressing racial discrimination in Australia’s founding legal document – the Australian Constitution. Currently, our Constitution doesn’t contain any references to the First People of Australia. Read more about this history, & the proposed changes please read our briefing paper

RecVic's Constitutional Reform Position statement

Reconciliation Victoria supports the calls of the Aboriginal community in Victoria for the long-overdue negotiation of a Treaty…

A Treaty – an agreement between Governments and Aboriginal people – will address the nature of Australia’s settlement and colonial history and the ongoing impacts these have had on Aboriginal people, and provide Aboriginal people self determination over their own lives and futures, as shown by evidence to be the key to creating wellbeing. … We also believe that the Australian Constitution needs to be changed, as it currently includes racist clauses and at the same time omits Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s First Peoples.

It is our understanding that both state-based Treaty discussions and the national constitutional reform agenda can be progressed alongside each other. Both will represent significant milestones in our country’s history, but they must be informed by the diverse voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples if they are to be achieved.  To read our full position statement please follow this link.

So where are things at?


26 October: The Prime Minister and his cabinet officially rejected recommendations from the Referendum Council’s Final Report to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations Voice to Parliament and enact a Declaration of Recognition that articulates a symbolic statement of recognition to unify Australians.

Reconciliation Victoria was deeply disappointed to hear the government’s dismissive response to the Final Report of the Referendum Council; where there was overwhelming support through the process recommending to amend the Constitution to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament and for a statement of recognition that unifies Australians on just and respectful relationships.

“In valuing any peoples we must listen to their views and calls to action to make change for the better.” Reconciliation Victoria Co-Chair Belinda Duarte said. “By ignoring the extensive knowledge shared historically and again today, continuing to reject recommendations from a process in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples participated and advocated, what does that say to Australia’s First Peoples? In fact what does it say about Australia to the rest of the world?”

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take their rightful place in our society and participate equally and equitably, their voice must lead and direct the discussion. Lasting change occurs with this and it is undeniably evidenced in this way.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Co-Chair Rod Little ‘stressed that people need to take a step back and consider that “no people need permission from government” to bring about change. Those who support change “need to take ownership of this issue and work together"(1). We hope the reconciliation movement is galvanized into stronger action, led by the wishes of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities.


Joint Statement to the Prime Minister and the Australian Parliament

ACOSS has coordinated a Joint Statement to the Prime Minister and the Australian Parliament in support of First Peoples having a voice to Parliament 

Since the Turnbull Government's rejection of the recommendations from the Referendum Council’s Final Report to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations Voice to Parliament and enact a Declaration of Recognition there has been widespread criticism from many quarters within the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community.

Over 7,000 people have already signed up to the Joint Statement.

If you support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples having a voice to the Australian Parliament please SIGN the Joint Statement HERE

Some recent media commentary:

The Uluru Statement is a clear and urgent call for reform, Megan Davis, The Monthly (July 2017)

Malcolm Turnbull should heed Victorian treaty process, commissioner says, Carla Wahlquist, The Guardian (14/12/17)

Turnbull's abrupt rejection of Indigenous voice spells end of bipartisanship, Linda Burney, The Guardian (3/12/17)

Politicians are blocking progress on Indigenous recognition, not the public, Shireen Morris, The Guardian (22/11/17)

'Government rejects proposal for Indigenous voice to Parliament'
Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet has confirmed it has turned its back to its own Referendum Council's proposal to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.  Read the full NITV story here

'Parliament has failed nation'
The head of the Northern Land Council, Joe Morrison, is demanding answers from the Prime Minister after the Federal Government decided against setting up an Indigenous advisory body – a key recommendation of the Referendum Council.  Read the full story from the ABC

'Most Australians support Indigenous voice to parliament'
An online survey, conducted by OmniPoll in August for researchers at Griffith University and the University of New South Wales, found that 60.7% of respondents broadly supported a proposal to “change the constitution to set up a representative Indigenous body to advise the parliament on laws and policies affecting Indigenous people”.  Read the full story from The Guardian

'No heart in Turnbull’s position'
Suzanne Thompson
, the co-chair of a working group set up after the historic meeting of Aboriginal leaders at Uluru in May, said a series of strategy meetings had been held on how they would move forward.  “I think the majority of Australians want to see some change. We’re a patient people. We’re very patient. How long have we been waiting for this? We’re definitely not beaten by this. If anything, it’s just raising the bar.”  Read the full story from NIT

'Real reform – the question of leadership for PM'
National Congress Co-Chair Jackie Huggins also made it clear that, "people are disappointed that the Prime Minister and Cabinet has not heard the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country."  Read the full media release from National Congress of Australia's First Peoples here

'Rejection of voice to parliament a missed opportunity'
Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said the Prime Minister’s decision was a frustrating blow to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, who participated in the government-initiated Referendum Council process in good faith.  Read the full media release from Reconciliation Australia here



August 2017

In August, at this year’s Garma Festival the Referendum Council’s Final Report received considerable focus, due to the timing of the release of the Final Report, the attendance of both Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Shorten, and the focus of discussion on this issue. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced at Garma that the Labour Party supported the recommendations from the Referendum Council as well as the Makaratta Commission. Prime Minister Turnbull however was cautious and non-committal in his response. 

Significantly, as of August 11, 2017, Recognise has been disbanded, and is transitioning into Reconciliation Australia. No further details have been provided at this time about the transition.

A group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and supporters of constitutional reform released a joint statement of support for the Referendum Council’s recommendations. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples have released a media release detailing their support and Reconciliation Australia has done so too.


June 2017

On June 30 2017, The Referendum Council presented PM Turnbull and Opposition Leader Shorten with their Final Report. Two weeks later, the PM released the report publicly.  

There are two recommendations detailed in the report; firstly that a referendum be held to include a provision in the constitution for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament; and secondly that a Declaration of Recognition be enacted to articulate a symbolic statement of recognition to unify Australians.


May 2017

On Sorry Day, 26th May 2017, 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates brought to a close a three day Constitutional Conference by presenting the Uluru Statement From The Heart. The conference was the culmination of six months of comprehensive regional dialogues coordinated by the Referendum Council, held across Australia. At each dialogue feedback was sought on the five options as presented in the Referendum Council’s Discussion Paper. 

This is a historic event and a powerful and unifying statement, a statement that empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, that champions their rights and demands to be heard. The statement demands substantive constitutional reform, the establishment of a First Nations Voice and a Makarrata Commission “…to supervise agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.” A symbolic statement of recognition in the constitution has wholeheartedly been rejected as a reform proposal. Seven of the 250 delegates walked out of the Uluru Conference, including some of the Victorian and NSW delegates and their supporters. 

In late July, The Cape York Institute then released a Design Issues Report, which was produced for the Referendum Council to identify the broad parameters of a First Nations Voice that may be enshrined in the Constitution.


What is RecVic doing?

Reconciliation Victoria is committed to facilitating greater community awareness and understanding on the issues of Treaty & Constitutional Reform, and in particular to provide a balanced and informed voice on these issues to Reconciliation Victoria’s supporters and networks.

For more information about the Victorian Context and RecVic's involvement to date, follow this link.

Latest News

Bridget Brennan, "Recognise campaign ends after making 'significant contribution" (ABC News, August 11, 2017)

Stephen Fitzpatrick, "Indigenous Recognise campaign ditched" (The Australian Newspaper, August 10, 2017)

Galarrwuy Yunupingu “Makarrata the map to reconciliation: over to you, leaders” (The Australian, July 31, 2017)

“Indigenous leaders urge Australians to get behind Uluru Statement proposal” (NITV News, 25 July, 2017)

Bridget Bennan “Indigenous groups worry 'Voice to Parliament' referendum proposal will be watered down” (ABC News, July 25, 2017) 

Editor, “Senior leaders call for indigenous advisory body” (The Australian Newspaper, 24th July)

“The Uluru statement and Indigenous recognition” (The Saturday Paper, July 29, 2017)


Visit our Media Coverage and Resources page for more information.