Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
Picture this: children are being given morning tea in a
primary school playground. As they queue up, one child is sent to the back of
the queue. When they finally reach the front they are given a tiny portion
compared to the other children. They complain to the teacher, only to be told
they should be grateful to get anything.
Because this child is Aboriginal.
Because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are not and
have never been treated equally and fairly by Australians.
Instead they have been shunned, murdered and discriminated against.
In 1901 the Australian Constitution came into effect, a
glorious document that, according to Australian Conservative Senator Cory
Bernadi ‘has given us everything in terms of a legal framework and provided
opportunity for every Australian.’ And yet, when this document was created, Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islanders were recognised as part of the flora and fauna, not
as people. The founding document of this nation fails to acknowledge Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islanders as the first people of this land. Furthermore it
contains within it section 51, part 26 and section 25. Section 51, part 26 allows
the parliament to make and apply laws to a specific race and section 25 permits
states to discriminate on the basis of race by disqualifying persons of that
race from voting.
Indigenous activist Lowitja O’Donoghue is pained to know that
‘the constitution still contains a
potentially discriminatory power, which can be used by the Commonwealth against
our people or, indeed, any other race. And that it still lacks any explicit
recognition of us or our place as the first Australians.’
It is time that
Let’s amend the
Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islanders as the first
people of this land and let’s remove sections 51 part 26 and section 25 from
The Australian Constitution should reflect Australia’s
identity. However, according to journalist Jeff McMullen ‘a glance at the
constitution reveals the deep stain of racism and discrimination. It is one of
the few constitutions in the world today with negative race powers allowing the
government to make laws and policy that pointedly trample the rights of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’.
How can Australians feel proud of their Constitution?
The Australian Constitution contains no protections against
racial discrimination and the Australian Parliament is capable of suspending
existing statutory interpretation.
According to Professor Mick Dodson, over the last two
decades, on at least five occasions the Federal Government has used sec 51 part
26 to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act and pass racially discriminatory
laws against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. This section has only ever
been used to discriminate against Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
How can we call this democracy?
Of greater concern however, is the fact that Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islanders are not recognised as the first people in the
Constitution. By excluding any mention of them from the Constitution, it only
serves to entrench the disrespectful, dismissive and condescending attitude
Australia holds towards them.
We need to recognise them in the Constitution.
By recognising them as the first people of this land and
acknowledging their continuing relationship with the country, culture, heritage
and language, we would show our respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islanders and bring Australia out of a past of black shame and into the 21st
Furthermore, acknowledging them in the Constitution would
address Australia’s history of exclusion, racial discrimination and violence
towards the indigenous people of this country.
Let’s acknowledge Australia’s history.
Let’s make sure it never occurs again.
Let’s recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in
There is strong opposition to Constitutional recognition of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the Australian community. Some of
the most dissident are Liberal and conservative politicians, including Cory
Bernadi. In an article by the conversation in 2016 called ‘recognition, yes or
no?’ Mr. Bernadi rejected recognition, stating that ‘our Constitution has given
us everything in terms of a legal framework and provided opportunity for every
Is this true?
Does it really provide equal opportunity for everyone?
Is equal opportunity ignoring Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islanders and not mentioning them in the Constitution?
In May 2017, the First Nation National Convention at Uluru
stated ‘we seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a
rightful place in our own country.’ They further stated that they ‘don’t want
recognition if it means a simple acknowledgement but rather constitutional
reform that makes a real difference in their communities.’
Let’s acknowledge their voice and reform the constitution.
So what is the next step from here?
How should the Constitution be reformed?
Firstly, Section 25, which allows the government to prevent people
from voting based on their race should be removed from the Australian Constitution.
Secondly, Section 51 part 26 which, according to ‘The Australian Constitution’
on the Australian Government’s website, states that ‘the Parliament shall,
subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and
good government of the Commonwealth…with respect to the people of any race for
whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws’ should also be removed from
And finally, a section should be inserted which, as
suggested by the Uluru convention, ‘recognises and allows beneficial laws to be
created in respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’.
Let’s acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’
relationship with this country.
Let’s address Australia’s history.
Let’s reform the constitution.