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 Australian Government committed to release proposed wording for the referendum within a year of taking government, ie, late in 2014 and this promise has not been kept. On December 11, 2014 at a fundraising dinner for the Recognise movement, the Prime Minister suggested that the proposed date for the referendum should be 27 May, 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. Reaction to this has been mainly negative with comment to the effect that further delays in the timing will add confusion to the debate rather than clarity and that research indicates a high level of support already.
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 and that overwhelmingly, most first peoples and the general Australian population are supportive of making the constitution a fairer, more inclusive document relevant to the 21st century in order to deliver equality for all citizens.
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 2015 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 all the separate nations that have existed in this land for millennia. Additionally, the removal within the whole document of references to race so that first peoples and all ethnic groups are included as equals and not as a “special case” category
- 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 and traditions; 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. It will be important for all voters to make their voices heard in their communities and heard by their Government representatives to influence the final wording that will 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.