INDIGENOUS Australians should be recognised in the body of the
constitution and racist sections should be scrapped, an expert panel has
Labor has promised to hold a national referendum on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians on or before the next federal election, due in 2013.
An expert panel of 19 indigenous leaders, politicians and legal minds
travelled the country last year holding public meetings on the issue.
They presented their report to the government at the National Gallery in Canberra on Thursday.
The panel recommends recognition should take place in the body of the constitution, rather than by inserting a new preamble.
“There is too much uncertainty in having two preambles,” the report says.
It recommended inserting a new section (51A) to recognise that “the
continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The new section will also acknowledge the continuing relationship of indigenous people with their traditional lands and waters.
It will also respect the continuing cultures, languages and heritage
of indigenous people and acknowledge the need to secure their
The expert panel also called for new section (116A) to prohibit racial discrimination.
“The panel came to the view that there is a case for moving on from
the history of constitutional non-recognition of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples and racial discrimination and for affirming that
racially discriminatory laws and executive action have no place in
contemporary Australia,” the report said.
The panel also proposes a new section (127A) stating the national
language of Australia is English while recognising that “Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander languages are the original Australian languages, a
part of our national heritage.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said changing the constitution would
recognise the “unique and special place of Aboriginal people and
strengthen the identity of our nation”.
“It’s a great opportunity to continue the journey of reconciliation that began with the previous referendum in 1967,” she said.
“To constitutional recognition, I urge our whole nation to say, ‘yes’.”
The panel urged the government to hold the referendum as a single
question, consult widely about the timing and fund an extensive
education program about the issue.
It also said the referendum should not be held at the same time as a vote on constitutional recognition of local governments.
“For many Australians, the failure of a referendum on recognition of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would result in confusion
about the nation’s values, commitment to racial non-discrimination, and
sense of national identity,” the report said.
“The negative impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be profound.”
Outdated discriminatory sections recommended for the cutting board
include: section 25, which says an Australian voter could be excluded
from voting on the basis of race and section 51(xxvi) on “race power”.
The panel said aspiration of sovereign status had been a significant
issue to emerge during public consultations with indigenous people.
But the panel believes recognising the sovereign status of indigenous
people would be highly contested and likely to jeopardise broad public
support. - AAP