We are a voluntary working group aligned with ANTAR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation), Reconciliation Queensland (a peak indigenous body in Queensland). Our working group formed to try to elevate the discussion in Queensland and throughout Australia about the forthcoming constitutional referendum for the recognition of the first peoples in the Australian Constitution. Believe it or not, the original inhabitants of this land are not mentioned at all in the entire document!
The first peoples we talk to are of a mixed viewpoint as to whether they wish to be recognised in what is essentially a white man’s document or not. One of our projects is to enlist the help of our local governments to try to communicate with grass roots people of all cultures and offer a resource that enables them to browse information both for and against the referendum and to make up their own mind. The Abbott Government committed to release proposed wording for the referendum within a year of taking government, ie, late in 2014 and this promise was not kept. Since that time, a Referendum Council was formed to progress a process of grass roots involvement for first peoples to provide input on their views of the proposed referendum. A series of meetings of first nations peoples known as the “Dialogues” were held and were seen as a means of determining whether there should be recognition of first peoples in the Australian constitution and if so, what form this would take. The outcomes from the Dialogues would then lead to a First Nations Convention held at Uluru in May 2017.
The Convention was hailed as a success by many at the invite only event however a dissenting group staged a walk-out in protest at what they saw as a choreographed meeting process where dissenting views were overruled. Regardless, the convention process has led to a report being presented to the Australian Parliament for consideration. On October 26th 2017 the government cabinet met and cynically rejected the report and its recommendations without tabling it in the Parliament having decided without any consultation that the proposals would not be acceptable to the Australian people. Throughout the course of the past two years while these processes have evolved, a distinct narrative from first peoples has emerged in the media and on-line, including through social media, indicating a strong preference for treaty over recognition and a belief that inclusion in the constitution will diminish first peoples’ claims for a sovereignty that was never ceded.
Our group recognises that there is a diversity of opinion among first peoples as to whether they wish to be recognised in a document that is the foundation stone of a colonialist legal framework that doesn’t represent their culture or pre-existing legal structures. Inclusion in this framework is therefore seen as another form of assimilation and there is an understandable scepticism that once again, the outcome will be less than is hoped for and less than is required to truly deliver on equality and social justice.
There are many valid viewpoints but we believe that there is a genuine ground-swell of support for justice and meaningful rather than symbolic recognition among first peoples and the general Australian population in making the constitution a fairer, more inclusive document relevant to the 21st century in order to deliver equality for all citizens. This support may well change once the form of the proposal for recognition is known and people become more informed on both the details of the proposal and on the views of our first peoples to them.
It is startling to realise that Australia stands alone as a first world nation that contains overtly racist clauses in its constitution. You would think we are past that as a nation yet here we are in 2017 and some politicians are still baulking at the removal of such clauses. Extraordinary indeed!
In short, we hope to see:
- The recognition of first peoples in the Australian Constitution and the recognition individually of the sovereignty of all the separate nations that have existed in this land for millennia.
- The removal within the whole document of references to race so that first peoples and all ethnic groups are included as equals.
- The removal of the discriminatory clause section 25 that allows governments to exclude minority and ethnic groups of all types from the vote.
- To see a change to section 51(xvi) so that laws made using the heads of power within this clause must be framed such that they cannot be discriminatory or detrimental to all Australians.
- The recognition of first peoples’ languages as Australia’s first languages, their customs, traditions and connection to land; while also recognising the English language.
There is bi-partisan support politically for the referendum however neither side of politics has declared what form the changes to the Constitution should take or to what extent the changes should go, although it is now clear that the LNP government wants only symbolic recognition which will be unacceptable to first peoples and many in the general community. It will be important for all voters to make their voices heard in their communities and heard by their Government representatives to influence any final proposal that might be put to the people.
We hope that the contents of this site enable you to be better informed, have your say in your communities or in any discussion or forum on the topic and to make your voice heard.