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Back to "Community and Associations Newsletter - October 2018"


Update on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians

The issue of constitutional recognition remains unresolved. Where is it up to?

With the 20 year anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report in 2017, and subsequent enquiries, the rights of Indigenous Australians have been at the forefront of politics, and the social conscience, in recent months.

In particular, as we discussed in our August 2017 newsletter, over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Islander leaders met in May 2017, and released the Uluru Statement from the Heart, calling for the establishment of a “First Nations Voice” in the Australian Constitution and a “Makarrata Commission” to supervise the process of “agreement making” and “truth telling” between Governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

To date none of these recommendations have been implemented.

What’s next?

The Uluru Statement, the full text of which can be viewed here, states: “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”.

Indigenous Leaders still argue that in not referencing Indigenous Australians, the Constitution, allows racial discrimination. This is particularly so in relation to Section 51(XXVI) which was amended in 1967 so that Indigenous people could be counted in the census and the States were empowered to make laws in relation to Indigenous Peoples. However, there was no new section included specifying that Aboriginals are equal under the Australian Constitution.  Leaders argue that recognition, whilst perhaps only symbolic, is a necessary step in the reconciliation movement between Indigenous Australians and the greater Australian community.

Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar has noted that through the processes of native title, reconciliation, and now constitutional reform or recognition, four clear recommendations have surfaced:

a representative voice for Indigenous peoples; constitutional reform; truth telling processes; and an agreement or treaty-making framework

However, the need for a Treaty, a representive voice, and a Truth Commission, as articulated by the Uluru Statement, remain in limbo.

Australia continues to lag behind other Western countries in recognising Indigenous Rights. New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America have recognised their Indigenous populations in law Indigenous peoples and groups are also recognised in the Constitutions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, South Africa, the Philippines, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia.

The issue remains live.

Lillian Kidman, Solicitor

Hayley Aldrich, Associate

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