Call to put constitutional reform on electoral discussional agenda

Indigenous inclusion is good for our constitution
MICK GOODA
July 9, 2010 Sydney Morning Herald

(Extract only)

On this day 110 years ago Queen Victoria gave the royal assent to the Australian constitution. It remains a living document today – at various times relied on, argued about and revered. It can be divisive and cohesive.

Many things about Australia have changed since July 9, 1900: two world wars have been fought; humans have walked on the moon; our population has grown from fewer than 4 million to about 22 million. But one thing that has not changed is the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s first peoples.

This fact remains unrecognised in Australia’s founding document. It may seem insignificant to some but it upsets me, both as an Aboriginal man, and as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

Constitutional reform is more than just symbolism. The positive effect on our self-esteem, the value of our culture and history, and the respect it marshals from others can make real differences to the lives of indigenous Australians everywhere.

To achieve it, in the lead-up to the federal election let’s get the major parties and independents to support constitutional recognition, at least in general terms. Then let’s harness the strong public support for full reconciliation to build widespread and bipartisan support for constitutional reform. And once we have the political commitment and public support, we can sit down and work out what the constitutional words might be.

The constitution is a living document and the time is right to finally breathe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life into it.

Mick Gooda is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

full story – and note comments – at
http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/indigenous-inclusion-is-good-for-our-constitution-20100708-10275.html

Read also Australian Human Rights Commission media release:
Calls for Constitutional recognition on National Aboriginal and Islanders Day

Constitutional reform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is the next major step towards reconciliation and full recognition of Indigenous rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, and Co-Chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Sam Jeffries and Dr Kerry Arabena, said today, on National Constitution Day.

Commissioner Gooda, Mr Jeffries and Dr Arabena used 9 July, National Constitution Day and also a national day of celebration of Indigenous people and culture, to call for an election commitment to Constitutional reform from the major political parties and independents.

“Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have been calling for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first Australians in the Australian Constitution in recent years,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“Now is the time to take up this challenge and work together as a nation to build the support needed to make this a reality.

“The building blocks are already there with the Queensland and Victorian Parliaments already having changed their respective State Constitutional preambles to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Mr Gooda said.

“The National Apology in 2008 was the crest of a new wave of commitment towards reconciliation in Australia – we owe it to ourselves as a nation to ride this wave further to give Indigenous Australians the Constitutional recognition we deserve.”

Commissioner Gooda said Constitutional recognition was fundamental to achieving true equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. He said the lack of protection for Indigenous peoples in the Constitution has contributed to their unfair treatment in the laws and policies of the nation.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples called for bipartisan support.

“Successful constitutional change is historically rare and will be impossible without widespread public and political support. Political parties need to make their position clear before the election,” said Dr Arabena.

“As we celebrate the achievements of unsung Indigenous heroes this week, we offer Australians the chance to acknowledge our status.

“To create a meaningful and lasting partnership, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders must be part of the Constitution – the document that defines the nation’s soul.

Mr Jeffries said a huge amount of groundwork had already been laid.

“I have confidence that there is goodwill in the community to see this type of practical reconciliation accomplished.

“The Congress sees reform as a necessity to underpin a new relationship with all Australians. This is fundamental to build a just and modern Australia,” Mr Jeffries said.

Commissioner Gooda, Dr Arabena and Mr Jeffries said once support had been galvanised and all the major parties had committed to Constitutional reform, all the parties could come to the table to discuss the precise content of the reforms.