Australia’s Constitution was written more than a century ago. By then, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had lived on this land for more than 40,000 years, sustaining and evolving the oldest living cultures on the planet. Yet from its inception, Australia’s founding document did not recognise this first chapter of our national story.
When it took effect in 1901, the Constitution mentioned Aboriginal people only to discriminate, and Torres Strait Islanders were not acknowledged at all. Before the 1967 referendum, the first Australians were excluded even from being counted as citizens by section 127 of the Constitution.
In 1967, more than 90 per cent of Australians voted ‘yes’ to fix this.
Why We Need Change
The public discussion about Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has focused on three main problems with our nation’s founding document:
1. There is no mention of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution.
2. Section 25 contemplates laws that ban people from voting on the basis of their race. This power was last used to exclude Aboriginal people from voting in Queensland, up until 1965.
3. Section 51(xxvi) is a ‘races power’ which allows ‘special laws’ to be directed at the people of a par-ticular race. While this power allows laws to address disadvantage, it leaves open the possibility that future governments could unfairly target the people of any race for negative treatment.
What Could Change Do?
In January 2012, an expert Panel, appointed by the Federal Government, presented a report to the Aus-tralian Government. Which unanimously endorsed a proposal to amend the Constitution. If adopted, this amendment would:
1. Recognise the prior occupation and continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
2. Acknowledge the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to these lands and waters.
3. Remove the ability of States and Territories to bar certain races from voting [section 25].
4. Remove the capacity of governments to make laws to the detriment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples or the people of any race [section 51(xxvi)].
5. Insert a protection against discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethnicity.
ANTaR is involved with the issue of the proposed constitutional recognition of first peoples in the Australian constitution to help deliver long overdue recognition of the pre-existence of first peoples in this land and their inalienable rights, social justice and equity outcomes. ANTaR works for “Justice, Rights and Respect for Australia’s first peoples”.
To find out more visit www.recogniseaustraliasfirstpeoples.com
The Uluru Statement called for:
*Constitutional reforms to “empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country”.
*The establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
*A Makarrata Commission "to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history".
ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the
southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the
Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.
This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according
to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’,
and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain
attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is
the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or
extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred
link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient
sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately
criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This
cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene
numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the
torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own
country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in
two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures
our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better
future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between
governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek
across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people
for a better future.