Call for conversation on Indigenous recognition

It’s the key recommendation of the Joint Select Committee on the Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.



The committee has also called for a full day’s sitting of the House of Representatives to be devoted to discussing the issue to try and reach consensus on the wording of a referendum question.


The committee was chaired by Western Australian Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, with Northern Territory Labor Senator Nova Peris as its deputy chair – both Indigenous Australians.


It was made up of MPs and senators from the Liberal and National parties, Labor and the Australian Greens.


It agreed unanimously there is a need to recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution, but it failed to set a timeframe for the referendum.


Mr Wyatt has told parliament constitutional recognition is about correcting a long-standing omission that dates back nearly 150 years.


“This is not about singling out Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people or affording them extra rights above all other Australians. This is about correcting the contextual silence that is so currently deafening in the constitution.”


The committee agreed Section 25 should be removed from the constitution.


It currently allows people from a particular race to be prevented from voting and was used to exclude Indigenous Australians from voting until the 1960s.


The committee also agreed that constitutional recognition would offer protection from racial discrimination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Labor’s Indigenous Affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann is also a committee member.


He’s told parliament constitutional recognition would be a major legal and symbolic step forward for Australia’s first peoples.


“Constitutional change must be real and it must be substantive. It must recognise, it must acknowledge and it must respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their prior occupation, their continuing relationship with land and waters, their culture, their language and their heritage.”


Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he would like to see a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition held on the 27th of May, 2017.


This would mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which removed references in the constitution specifically discriminating against Indigenous Australians.


Labor has not committed itself to a timetable for the referendum.


But Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has previously backed the Committee’s idea to hold a series of constitutional conventions to discuss the issue.


The co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Lez Malezer has welcomed the committee’s recommendation for separate conventions only involving Indigenous Australians.


He says the committee has put forward a strong set of recommendations which will encourage more discussion ahead of an upcoming constitutional summit in federal parliament on the 6th of July.


“The summit is important because it’s the opportunity for a strong (Indigenous) delegation to meet with the leaders of the major political parties. So it’s important in that sense. But now having this report out with the recommendations, it will give us a lot more focus and an ability to be able to sit down and exchange views on the merits of what’s being proposed.”


Mr Malezer says it is critical not to rush into setting a date for the referendum until there has been a lot more community consultation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.


He agrees the debate should be conducted in a respectful way.


“There’s a distance between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia and the mainstream governance of Australia and that needs to be bridged. Reform of the constitution is a big part of that. But it has to be a process where decision-making in our communities is respected.”