Constitution debate: push to change with the times

, - September 19, 2011

  • By: Heather Beck
  • From: Cairns Post
  • Date: 19 September 2011

A LOT has changed in Australia since the Constitution was written in 1901 and a Cape York organisation is now one of the driving forces behind a movement to have it updated.

The You Me Unity project is travelling around the country to get people’s ideas on how the Constitution can better recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and define equality for all Australians.

Playing a key role is a team from the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership in Cairns, which had been investigating how Australia’s legal structure might be improved for indigenous people.

Shireen Morris is a constitutional reform research fellow who is working on the legal and policy research with CYI director and panel member Noel Pearson.

“While it’s important to look at welfare reform to tackle behaviour and reinstate social norms, on the other side of the coin we need to look at whether indigenous people actually have equal rights and responsibilities within the current system,” Ms Morris said.

“The Constitution works for the majority of Australians but not the small minority of indigenous Australians. That’s because when the Constitution was drafted it was a colonial time and it was not intended to work for them.

“Although we’re in a much more enlightened time now and people’s feelings have changed, the structure of our laws is yet to be updated.”

Submissions to You Me Unity close on September 30 and in December the panel will suggest how the Federal Government can formally recognise indigenous peoples, their culture and language in the Constitution.

A panel of indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts and parliamentary members will head to Thursday Island today for a public discussion, before arriving in Cairns tomorrow for a forum at Rydges Tradewinds from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

Visit www.youmeunity.org.au for more information.