Liberty Victoria submission: Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Read submission online here.

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has been accepting submissions as part of its duties to inquire into steps required for a successful referendum on constitutional recognition of Australia’s indigenous population. The Equality Pod, under the guidance of Dr Adam McBeth, has submitted a report that outlines Liberty Victoria’s position on key aspects of the proposed constitutional changes, as suggested by both the Expert Panel Report on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians and the Committee itself in a 2014 Progress Report.

This report explores the issue of constitutional recognition of Australia’s indigenous peoples within the context of international human rights law, emphasising the current inconsistencies in the Constitution and the substantive protections that could be incorporated into constitutional recognition to better adhere to international legal obligations. The report then uses this discussion to argue for particular recommendations concerning the wording and timing of the proposed referendum. These recommendations include:

  • That section 25 and section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution be repealed;
  • That a section 51A be inserted into the Constitution that gives Parliament the power to make laws with respect to the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and that ‘benefit’ be defined with reference to ‘an ordinary reasonable member of the community for whom the benefit is intended’;
  • That a prohibition against racial discrimination be inserted into the Constitution that applies to federal, state and territory governments; and
  • That a referendum take place at or shortly after the next federal election in 2016, provided sufficient consultation and awareness-raising occurs in the meantime.

The report acknowledges that while constitutional recognition in itself will not rectify past discriminatory laws and practices, it will hopefully contribute to the future reconciliation of the peoples of Australia in the spirit of equality, recognition and respect.

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