Going backwards on Constitutional Recognition of First Peoples

Media release

The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Progressing Indigenous Constitutional Recognition

20 September 2012

The Australian Government will ask the Parliament to pass an Act of Recognition acknowledging the unique and special place of our first peoples.

This Act will be an important step towards holding a successful referendum to change the constitution to recognise Indigenous people.

The Act of Recognition will be worded to reflect as closely as possible the recommendations of the expert panel which the Government asked to develop options for constitutional change.

This Labor Government is committed to recognising Indigenous people in Australia’s constitution and wants meaningful reform that reflects the hopes and aspirations of Indigenous people.

However, we recognise that there is not yet enough community awareness or support for change to hold a successful referendum at or before the next federal election.

A preliminary report prepared for the Government by Reconciliation Australia has found that only 39 per cent of the non-Indigenous community have heard about a proposed referendum.

The Australian Government agrees with the findings of the expert panel that it is important that a referendum is held at a time when it has the most chance of success.

To ensure that we continue to build momentum for constitutional change, the Government expects to introduce the Act of Recognition to Parliament before the end of the year.

We have held preliminary discussions with the Opposition, Greens and Independents about this and we will continue to work with all parties to develop the Act.

We have committed $10 million towards a campaign being led by Reconciliation Australia to continue to build support for constitutional change.

Consistent with the recommendations of the expert panel, the Government believes that constitutional change should include these elements:

* a statement of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their unique history, culture and connection to this land;
* removal of references to race, reflecting the nation’s fundamental belief in the importance of equality and non-discrimination; and
* acknowledgment that additional effort is needed to help close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples disadvantage.

The Government will also include a sunset date for the Act of Recognition, to allow the campaign to continue to build momentum.

This will provide an impetus for a future parliament to reassess how the campaign for change is travelling and timing for a successful referendum.

The Australian Constitution is the foundation document for our laws and our government, but it is silent on the special place of our first Australians.

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians will be a significant step towards building a nation based on strong relations and mutual respect, which recognises the unique and special place of our first peoples.

The Government encourages all Australians to learn more and get involved in building support for constitutional change. Visit http://www.youmeunity.org.au for more information.