Why does the Constitution need changing?
Why does the Constitution need changing?
The Constitution does not acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
The history of the longest surviving cultures on earth, those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is neither acknowledged nor honoured in the nation’s defining document, the Australian Constitution.
We believe that constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has the potential to address a history of their exclusion in the life of the nation, strengthen relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians, and take us further on the road towards reconciliation.
The Constitution allows racial discrimination
Many Australians might not know that our Constitution still permits racial discrimination – not just against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but against anyone. It permits the Parliament to enact laws that are racially discriminatory.
Changing the Constitution to recognise remove provisions for racial discrimination will provide better protection of the rights of all Australians and enshrine the principles of non-discrimination.
Why doesn’t the Constitution acknowledge indigenous Australians?
When the Constitution was drafted over 110 years ago, attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were very different then they are today. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were considered largely to be an inferior race that was likely to die out. Their rights, cultures, history and prior occupation in Australia weren’t valued or considered important enough to be included in the Constitution.
What is the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and what did it do?
In December 2010, the Government appointed a 20-member Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Panel was co-chaired by Professor Patrick Dodson and Mr Mark Leibler AC, and also included Indigenous and community leaders, people with legal expertise and parliamentary members.
The Panel’s role was to advise the government on how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples could be recognised in the Constitution, and to facilitate community discussion. The Panel talked with thousands of people from across the country, hosting over 200 public consultations across 84 communities in remote, regional and metropolitan Australia. At these consultations, over 4000 individuals and representatives of business, media, government and non-government organisations spoke to members of the Panel about their ideas or concerns for constitutional change.
The Panel presented its report to the government on 19 January 2012. The Panel’s recommendations include 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.
What actions is the Government taking?
Latest update: The Australian Government had previously aimed to hold a national referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by the time of the next federal election, due in 2013. All Australians have the power to vote in support of constitutional change in referendums.
However, on 19 September 2012 the Government announced that the referendum would be postponed, citing concerns over insufficient public support and the risk of the referendum failing.
Instead, the Government will ask Parliament to pass an Act of Recognition acknowledging the unique and special place of Indigenous Australians. It hopes to build momentum for constitutional recognition of indigenous language and culture in the next two years. The proposed legislation will have a two-year sunset clause in the expectation that a referendum will be put by the next government.
Find out more about the need for constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and remove provisions for racial discrimination - see the ‘More Information’ section below.
Spread the word: tell your friends and family about the need for constitutional reform.
Tell the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, your federal and state MP and your newspaper or radio station, why you support constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
You Me Unity - a webpage set up by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous Australians
Report: Constitutional reform: Creating a nation for all of us. Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011
ANTaR - ANTaR is a national advocacy organisation working for justice, rights and respect for Australia's First Peoples