Photo: Lara McKinley/OxfamAUS Photo: Lara McKinley/OxfamAUS

Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Australian Constitution

The Australian Constitution is the founding political and legal document of our nation. It underpins our federal laws and system of government. Written over a century ago, it was shaped by the values and beliefs of the time, without input from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. In fact, the only mention of the nation’s first peoples was to exclude them.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are still not recognised in the Australian Constitution as Australia’s first peoples. Most people would be surprised and shocked to know that the Constitution allows discrimination.

Newspoll found that 75% of Australians support some kind of constitutional reform to recognise Indigenous Australians.

However, support is fast growing for an updated Constitution that reflects the reality of Australia today.

Many people feel the Constitution should be amended to secure better treatment of Indigenous Australians and stronger protection of their unique cultures, languages and spiritual connection to the land. Newspoll found that 75% of Australians support some kind of constitutional reform to recognise Indigenous Australians.

This issue is about our nation as a whole, not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s time for a national conversation about our past, our future and our collective journey towards reconciliation. While constitutional change is just one part, it can help build the relationships needed to move towards a reconciled nation.

Reforming the Constitution could also bring about real changes in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists believes that constitutional recognition would make a real and positive impact on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians.

Referendum

The Australian Government, the Opposition, the Australian Greens and the Independent members of Parliament all support recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the Constitution and have agreed to hold a referendum to address this silence and recognise Indigenous people in our founding national document.

In fact, the Federal Parliament has now passed an Act of Recognition, expressing its support for recognition of the First Australians. This is an historic step on the path to a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in our nation’s founding document – the Constitution. Currently the parliament is working on the exact model and the major parties are working out a timeline for a proposal to be put before the Australian people.

Constitutional recognition is the right thing to do and can ensure our Constitution reflects modern Australian values and formally recognises the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the history of this country.

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