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The announcement of Patrick Dodson’s move to the Australian Senate for WA is another significant moment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

He is a leader of great integrity and intellect, whose advocacy commands enormous respect. With the potential move of another experienced leader, Linda Burney to the Canberra corridors of power, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Federal parliamentarians is moving towards population parity, although I am sure before too long we will exceed this base line. They will join current MPs including Ken Wyatt, Nova Peris, Joanna Lindgren and Jacqui Lambie.

This is a big shift in our nation’s politics, importantly across both sides, and the stage is set for even more movement, as it should be.

In the 25 years since the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Patrick Dodson has been instrumental in maintaining momentum for the recognition of our peoples in the Constitution.

Now, we are moving ever closer to ending the silence on 40,000 plus years of Indigenous custodianship of this country and addressing racial discrimination in our Constitution. Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have reaffirmed their commitment to having a referendum next year.

Shortly the next chapter will begin with the commencement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander conventions. Communities across Australia will be invited to come together to discuss the model for constitutional change.

Some are cynical about it, and that’s understandable. I too have spent years watching reports, inquiries and recommendations come and go with little to show for it. As far as constitutional recognition goes, none of the numerous reports and their related recommendations have received a direct response from any government.

But right now, I’m urging everyone to take a wider view. We are at a crucial and positive stage in the decades-long campaign for recognition and dealing with racial discrimination in our Constitution. We now have the opportunity to change this. And if we miss this chance it may never come again.

Recently there have been renewed calls for a treaty and positive steps towards an agreement with the Victorian Government. This is a good thing and it’s not at odds with the push for recognition. Recognition is not a substitute for a treaty. It’s a separate issue and a separate process. Recognition is something we’re absolutely entitled to and there is a huge amount of support for it, across politics and all walks of life. We can seize the opportunity that’s in front of us right now and make it happen.

Fixing the Constitution will be great for the nation and doesn’t require anyone to put aside the pursuit of other social, cultural, economic or political rights.

Activists, leaders, friends – Prof Mick Dodson, Pat Turner, Noel Pearson, Prof Larissa Behrendt, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, Mick Gooda and many others – have supported work towards constitutional recognition and treaty simultaneously.

That’s because the two are not an either/ or proposition. Working towards constitutional recognition doesn’t stop us working for a treaty; repeated legal advice makes that clear.

Treaties and agreement making can and do already take place, but the process of constitutional change is separate. And the only way to be recognised in the Constitution is through a referendum. Constitutional recognition could be just over a year away from completion, and we need to conclude this piece of work.
Constitutional recognition is a distinct process – via a referendum. And despite what some may say about dealing with racial discrimination via a clause in a treaty – you can’t. Sections of the Constitution that allow for racial discrimination can only be changed through a referendum.

No-one is saying this conversation is straightforward; but right now we have the opportunity and the momentum we need to finally bring a resolution to this decades-long issue and not leave it for yet another generation of our young people to deal with.

– Tanya Hosch, Op Ed, Koori Mail 09/03/2016

  • Justine Burns

    Hello Recognise, I’m interested in the constitutional recognition process and just if there is a clear decision regarding the proposal for referendum. The last recommendation that I’m aware of was one of three options put forward by the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Toress Strait Islander Peoples Final Report June 2015. I have read above that the next chapter is the commencement of the Conventions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in communities to discuss the model for constitutional change. Are there firm proposals as yet or are the changes still being worked out with the community? Many thanks Justine

    • Shannan Dodson

      Hi Justine, thanks for getting in touch! There isn’t a draft or proposed model at the moment, it is just recommendations at this stage. You can take a look at this page to see what the proposals are up to date http://www.recognise.org.au/why/recognise-what-is-proposed/

      There are going to be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander conventions happening this year, however there are no set dates at this point. Hope this answers your questions. Feel free to email us at info@recognise.org.au if you have any further comments or questions.