What changes are being proposed?

We need to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people in the Australian Constitution, the nation’s rule- book.

We need to deal with the sections that allow for racial discrimination.

Calls for recognition have been made over many decades. The formal process examining how to achieve recognition has been underway since 2011. There have been two expert committees that have reported on the next steps towards a meaningful and successful referendum for constitutional recognition.

The current phase of work is the detailed development of a model to take to a referendum in 2017. This work is being undertaken by the Referendum Council, established by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten in December 2015.

The Council will conduct a concurrent series of Indigenous dialogues and community-wide dialogues in the second half of 2016 to April 2017, to get the views of Australians about the referendum and what the question should be. Read more about the dialogues here

The Council has agreed these proposals will form the discussion:

  • Drafting a statement acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, and inserting it either in the Constitution or outside the Constitution, either as a preamble in a new head of power or in a statutory Declaration of Recognition
  • Amending or deleting the ‘race power’, section 51 (xxvi) and replacing it with a new head of power (which might contain a statement of acknowledgement as a preamble to that power) to enable the continuation of necessary laws with respect to Indigenous issues
  • Inserting a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination into the Constitution
  • Providing for an Indigenous voice to be heard by Parliament, and the right to be consulted on legislation and policy that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Deleting section 25, which contemplates the possibility of a State government excluding some Australians from voting in State elections on the basis
    of their race.

Please read the Referendum Council’s discussion paper here – it sets out some of the different options for change and outlines some of the issues to be taken into account.

The Referendum Council is distinct from the RECOGNISE movement. The Referendum Council’s role is to advise the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on progress and next steps towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.  This includes recommending, to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, a model for an amendment to the Constitution.  Recognise’s role is to raise awareness across Australia of the need to fix the Constitution and build support for a change. 

The Council is made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians across the spectrum bringing different skills and expertise. See who’s on the Council here.

A referendum can be held once there is broad agreement on a model and enough support across the community to ensure the best possible chance of success.