Support for change

Who is calling for recognition?

A large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations have campaigned for constitutional recognition for decades.

Some trace the history of the current movement as far back as the 1930s, when Aboriginal leaders such as William Cooper and Jack Patten began a campaign for Indigenous parliamentary representation and enfranchisement.

The work of that generation of leaders laid the foundation for a decades-long campaign for a referendum held in 1967, which deleted two racially discriminatory references from the Constitution. The grassroots community momentum for that referendum was led by FCAATSI (the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders).

In recent decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and individuals have urged the nation to complete the task begun in 1967 - by including recognition and ensuring there is no place for race discrimination in the nation's rule book.

In the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission's (ATSIC) 1995 report "Recognition, Rights and Reform" it listed "constitutional reform and recognition" as a priority. It reported that an extensive national consultation process with communities across the country found "overwhelming support for the reform of the Constitution especially in relation to recognition of Indigenous peoples".

Read a timeline of some of the many voices calling for recognition

What support is there for constitutional change?

More than 300,000 Australians have pledged their support to the RECOGNISE campaign.

Since 2012, we have had conversations with thousands of Australians about the need for change. Our Journey to Recognition has travelled the country and held more 270 events and talked to more than 27,000 people.

Many of these conversations have been with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who we have met with through local representative organisations, schools, church groups and sporting clubs.

While there is a range of views among Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities about the best way forward, there is strong support from the overwhelming majority of Indigenous peoples for constitutional recognition – and has been for a very long time.

In 1995, an extensive national consultation undertaken by ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) found strong community support for recognition. Since then, support to fix the Constitution has remained high.

The most recently released Polity Research study of 750 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples showed 85 per cent support for voting YES if a referendum were held today.

A 2016 member survey by National Congress of Australia's First Peoples also showed strong support for constitutional change and for a treaty.

Support is also strong across the wider Australian community. Twelve consecutive polls by different organisations over a number of years show consistently high levels of support for changing the Constitution to recognise the First Australians and ending racial discrimination.

Since 2012 polling research into constitutional reform from Fairfax-Ipsos, ANU, ABC Vote Compass, JWS Research, the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples as well as eight consecutive polls for Recognise by Polity Research continues to show high levels of support for constitutional reform.

All of this research and polling shows that there is a clear majority of Australians who support constitutional recognition and dealing with the racial discrimination in the Constitution.

In May 2016 research undertaken by independent research company, Polity Research showed 77% of non-indigenous and 87% of Indigenous Australians saying they would vote yes in a referendum if it was held at the time of the survey.

This ongoing and robust research shows that Australians are remaining strong in their support to fix the Constitution.

What will this achieve?

While constitutional recognition won't solve every issue in every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, it will go some of the way to help repair the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and bring us closer together as a nation.

Constitutional recognition can help us to turn a corner on a past we have struggled with. Its immediate impact would be to fix the historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the Constitution and the lingering racial discrimination in the legal framework of the nation.

In 2015 more than 117 of the nation's leading health bodies, now known as RECOGNISE Health, was formed. This group argued that constitutional recognition would help improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing, and would help support other work underway to address disadvantage.

Constitutional recognition will also unite Australians, giving us greater shared pride and deeper connection with our country's impressive Indigenous heritage and cultures, which are the foundation layer of Australia's unique national identity in the world.

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