Constitutional Reform - What is 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 Constitution. Currently, the 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.
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?
Nationally: Currently the Referendum Council is conducting national consultations and providing various opportunities for community engagement around the country. In October a discussion paper was released, they have also launched a website to host digital consultations and provide more information on constitutional reform.
The Referendum Council are seeking feedback on the following proposals via their nationwide consultations.
drafting a statement acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, and inserting it either in the Constitution or outside the Constitution, either as a preamble in a new head of power or in a statutory Declaration of Recognition
amending or deleting the ‘race power’, section 51 (xxvi) and replacing it with a new head of power (which might contain a statement of acknowledgement as a preamble to that power) to enable the continuation of necessary laws with respect to Indigenous issues
inserting a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination into the Constitution providing for an Indigenous voice to be heard by Parliament, and the right to be consulted on legislation and policy that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
deleting section 25, which contemplates the possibility of a State government excluding some Australians from voting in State elections on the basis of their race.
Recognise are continuing to build community awareness and support for constitutional reform. The Journey to Recognition is in hiatus, however they will have a strong presence at festivals and events over summer across Australia.
In spite of there being bi-partisan support for constitutional reform, neither major party has officially responded to any of the recommendations made in numerous reports over the past few years by various, government initiated, committees. From the Expert Panel, to the Joint Select Committee to the Referendum Council, none of their recommendations have been officially responded to or addressed.
No date has been set for a referendum, next year will be the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 referendum, so there may be a symbolic gesture to hold the referendum on the anniversary of the most successful referendum in our nation’s history.
What is RecVic doing?
Reconciliation Victoria are 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.
A clear message was delivered after the Melbourne Constitutional Recognition Dialogue in mid March, 'substantive reform or nothing at all'. Jeremy Clark & Jill Gallagher have published an opinion piece in The Age titled "Why Indigenous Australia will reject a minimalist referendum question", Published March 20, 2017. Michael Gordon also covered the dialoge in his article, "Indigenous Australia's 'line in sand' on recognition: substantial change or nothing".
The Referendum Council have continued their nation-wide dialogues. Recently they met with community leaders and Traditional Owners in Darwin and the Kimberly and Pilbara. Pat Anderson, a Alyawarre woman and co-chair of the Referendum Council surmised the Darwin meeting, "We're hopeful that by amending the constitution, we can be properly recognised — we're not talking about a plaque in the constitution or some kind of poetry, we're looking for substantive change."
There is also growing support for a representative body to be established. Patricia Karvelas writes, "Indigenous Australians are rejecting the "elite", "politicians' model" for changing the constitution, according to a key member of the referendum council that has met with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country." read her full article here.
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