We need to fix the historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from Australia’s Constitution – the nation’s ‘rule book’ and founding document.
We also need to eliminate racial discrimination in the Constitution – such as the section that still says people can be banned from voting based on race.
An Expert Panel – which included Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts and parliamentarians – consulted extensively across the nation and reported to the Prime Minister in January 2012.
It recommended that Australians should vote in a referendum to:
- Remove Section 25 – which contemplates States banning people from voting based on their race;
- Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;
- Insert a new section 51A – to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
- Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.
Picking up from the Expert Panel’s work, the Parliament appointed a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to finalise the words that would form the amendment to the Constitution. The committee is chaired by the two Indigenous members of the Commonwealth Parliament, with Mr Ken Wyatt MP as the Chair and Senator Nova Peris as the Deputy Chair.
The Committee has held public consultations around Australia throughout 2014 and 2015.
The Joint Select Committee released its Final Report in June 2015, outlining proposed recommendations of amendments. They provided three different options for how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be recognised with wording that preserves both existing Commonwealth laws relying on section 51 (xxvi) and the Commonwealth’s power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. You can read this here.
The Committee also received numerous submissions of opinions and proposals from organisations and individuals. You can view them all here.
For the first time in our country’s history, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition also sat down with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in July 2015 to consider the path ahead. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition agreed to:
* A Referendum Council to be established to progress issues such as settling the referendum question and timing (with regular reports to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader);
* A series of community conferences across the country to provide an opportunity for everyone to have a say and for all significant points of view to be considered; and
* The Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition to develop a discussion paper to assist this consultation.
On December 7, 2015 the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten announced the recommended Referendum Council. The Referendum Council will oversee the progress and next steps towards a referendum for constitutional recognition. You can read their Joint Press Release here.
For more information on the Referendum Council please see here.