Constitutional report paves way for Indigenous recognition

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A crucial report into the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians was tabled in Parliament yesterday.

The Commonwealth Parliament's Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has recommended the removal of clauses allowing for discrimination on the basis of race, and backed the inclusion of a clause mentioning Australia’s Indigenous people, in a parliamentary report released yesterday.

The recommendations call for the repeal of s25 of the constitution, which enables the disqualification of people from a particular race from voting in state elections. The Committee likewise backed changes to the race powers clause at section 51(xxvi), suggesting new clauses prohibiting racial discrimination but also offering acknowledgement of Australia’s First Peoples.

The University of Adelaide’s Law School is among the organisations to have made submissions to the Committee.

“Aboriginal people have a history and have experienced a history of disposition and unfair treatment under the law in Australia, and secondly, they are our first peoples,” said the Law School’s associate professor Matthew Stubbs.  “Around the world, it’s recognised that indigenous people have a special place in the country in which they are Indigenous.”

Suggestions of a 2017 referendum to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Indigenous people being counted in the census have been made.

“Now it’s just a matter of seeing whether the process that is envisaged here in terms of constitutional conventions, the process that the Prime Minister has announced with a meeting of Indigenous leaders and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in Sydney coming up in July, those processes are the next step in getting towards a successful change in the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people,” said Stubbs.

“The great challenge is convincing Australians, who are very reluctant to change their constitution, that this is the time to do it.”

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