The continuing relevance of constitutional recognition

By Professor Mick Dodson AM

There is growing support for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples in the Australian constitution.

In January 2012, there was a report to government on possible options for constitutional change to give effect to Indigenous constitutional recognition.

A Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was established and is due to deliver a final report on or before 30 June this year.

In addition, an awareness campaign, called Recognise, has been afoot, travelling the country to educate and raise awareness within the Australian population both about the constitution and the prospects for change and recognition.

We require this process and a successful referendum will complete a key pillar of our nation building and our democracy.

Indigenous peoples were not included in the self-governing peoples that came together in the lead up to 1901 to negotiate Australia's constitution and form a federated Australia. 

At its foundation, the Australian Constitution is an exclusionary document for Australia's Indigenous peoples.

The referendum in 1967 demonstrated a sense of inclusion in Australian society that many Indigenous people still hold high as the pinnacle of reconciliation in Australia.

But it has not delivered equality for first nation peoples.

Up until 1967, the constitution had exclusion at its base.

All reference to Indigenous peoples, albeit to exclude, were removed from the text of the constitution by the successful referendum, which was the most successful in Australian constitutional history.

Negative and exclusionary references to Indigenous people were removed from sub-section (26) of section 51 and section 127 was deleted entirely, but there was still no express recognition of the place of Indigenous peoples in the nation or on the rights and protections that should be afforded them.

In addition, Section 25 permits any state to disqualify any person from voting on the basis of race.