The Australian Constitution, Treaty and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

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 peoples. 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. This needs to change.

We support reform of Australia’s Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as Australia’s First Peoples. A referendum on Constitutional Recognition should ask Australians to support the inclusion of a statement of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s original peoples, including their ongoing relationship to the lands and waters and their continuing cultures, languages and heritage. We support removing the racist sections of the Constitution and as such we support adding a new clause that prohibits racial discrimination. We do not believe that Constitutional recognition would hinder any progress on a Treaty or Treaties with Traditional Owner groups.

Treaty

We have advocated for a Treaty process in several submissions to government inquiries since 2000. We are concerned that there is no remaining Commonwealth legislative process for dealing with important unresolved issues associated with the reconciliation process, including Indigenous rights, self-determination and constitutional reform. The reconciliation process must be protected in legislation. We fully support the call by the Uluru Statement from the Heart for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations, and truth-telling about Australian history.

Representation

Representation is vitally important for Indigenous peoples and it is an essential first step towards reconciliation. While there are some forms of representative bodies in Australia, such as the land councils and the Torres Strait Regional Authority, the totality of Indigenous representation remains fragmented.

This is why a national, independent and sustainable representative body is essential. The Federal Government must provide adequate, long-term and secure funding for an independent national representative body that is directly elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We fully support the call by the Uluru Statement and the Referendum Council for a Referendum to establish a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Further reading