Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Getting constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians

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One of the items on our radar over the last year or so has been the discussion that has started within Australia about acknowledging Indigenous Australians within the constitution.   Shockingly, Australia is the last democracy with a constitution permitting laws that discriminate on the basis of race.  We feel that this is something that obviously needs to change;  but in order for it to happen in Australia, a referendum must be passed.   This referendum needs to be one that has bi-partisan support, and that the majority of Australians support.   Sadly, there are quite a few hurdles that need to be leapt over before this can happen – and these hurdles are one reason why the referendum has been deferred.

Another key reason to defer the referendum is that more grassroots support throughout Australia needs to be obtained.  A recent Auspoll found that 61 per cent of people are not even aware that there is a proposal to recognise Aboriginal Australians in the constitution.  Information is key – if people don’t know, or don’t understand the crux of the issue, then they will do what they have always done…. vote “no” when it comes time to cast their ballot.  So there is a lot of work on the ground that needs to happen.

I recently attended an information session about this very matter, and it was a good discussion, but I was a bit disappointed that the attendance was sparse.  Not surprisingly, there was a fair bit of focus during the question period around the issue of sovereignty.  Sovereignty is really about the ability of a people (in this case, Indigenous Australians) to have the right of self-determination;  the legitimate power to govern themselves.  This is a very valid way to progress indigenous rights in Australia, and as a First Nations person from Canada, I can totally understand why some people are choosing to move down this path.   But constitutional recognition and the discussion of sovereignty is not an “either/or” discussion.  You can support constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, and still campaign hard for issues like sovereign nations and treaties to be developed.

Another huge hurdle to overcome is that Indigenous Australians are incredibly diverse;  in their languages, their lifestyles and their views on issues like constitutional reform, etc..    so depending on the type of wording that gets used in the actual referendum question, it may alienate some groups, etc….   This is a big challenge, because getting the wording over the line will mean a whole lot of people coming together for a common purpose, and focusing on one another’s similarities, rather than differences.   A big challenge perhaps, but one that I really hope we Australians are up for!

In the meantime, what  IS being proposed is that Parliament pass a short-term ”Act of Recognition” to acknowledge ”the unique and special place of our first peoples”.   No doubt a useful first step, but there is no guarantee that even this will happen.   The coalition has already stated it will not support such a move.  But irrespective of whether the Act of Recognition is adopted, we clearly need to take the next step, and ensure that the referendum  gets some legs and gets up and running!   So we are doing our part by posting this information, in the hopes that in particular, our Australian readers can start to be part of the necessary conversation about this important issue.

You can read more about this discussion here.    Or here..….

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Written by Mar(k)

October 10, 2012 at 9:34 am

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