Recognition and reconciliation has direct practical and psychological benefits for Indigenous wellbeing. This is why we have a strong focus on achieving constitutional reform.
The Constitution which came into force in 1901 is Australia’s founding national document, but it still makes no mention of the historical fact that Indigenous peoples lived on this land for thousands of years before the British arrived.
It is also still embedded with outdated views about “the inferior or coloured” so-called races.
Indigenous people were explicitly excluded from the Constitution because they were considered a “dying race”.
While the 1967 referendum removed the explicit exclusions of Indigenous people from the Constitution, it left unresolved issues.
Two racially discriminatory clauses remain: one that talks about banning races from voting; and one that empowers the government to pass race-based laws.
And there is still no mention of the prior and continuing existence of Indigenous people as a historically, politically and often geographically distinct polity in Australia.
The Constitution recognises the former colonies as States, and ensures that even the smallest minority States are guaranteed an equal number of Senators: minority States are guaranteed a voice in the democratic system and recognised as historically, politically and geographically distinct polities worthy of recognition. Indigenous people are afforded no such recognition.
This must be rectified.
The Constitution should be reformed to remove references to race, ensuring that the Commonwealth retains the necessary power to legislate for Indigenous peoples in order to pass laws like the Native Title Act and heritage protection laws.
And the Constitution should be amended to create an Indigenous body to consult with and advise Parliament on matters affecting Indigenous interests.
It is only right that Indigenous Australians should be constitutionally guaranteed a say in Parliament’s decisions relating to Indigenous affairs.
There should be a constitutionally mandated procedure to ensure that Indigenous people can take more responsibility and leadership in our affairs.
This will help ensure that Parliament’s actions are not discriminatory, and are more effective in addressing the issues facing Indigenous people.