Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

The Government is committed to pursuing meaningful change in the Constitution – change that unites the nation and reflects the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians by:

  • Recognising the unique history and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • Reflecting the nation’s fundamental belief in the importance of equality and non‑discrimination by removing references to race; and
  • Acknowledging that additional effort is needed to help close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ disadvantage.

The Australian Constitution is the foundation document for our laws and our government, but is silent on the special place of our first Australians.

Successful constitutional change will not occur without the support of the majority of Australians. More time is needed to build the necessary support for a successful referendum.

To build the momentum needed for successful constitutional change, on 13 February 2013, the House of Representatives passed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012. It is anticipated the Bill will be considered by the Senate before the end of February.

The Act of Recognition will be an important step towards achieving constitutional change to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  The Bill includes a statement of recognition of the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that largely reflects the wording suggested by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

The Bill contains a sunset date of two years.  This will allow the campaign to continue to build momentum and will provide an impetus for a future parliament to reassess how the campaign for change is travelling and timing for a successful referendum. 

Under the legislation, a review will be carried out to consider levels of community support for amending the Constitution and proposals for constitutional change, taking into account the important work that has been done by the Expert Panel.  The review will conclude six months before the sunset date and be tabled in Parliament. 

The Government knows that support from across the Parliament is a prerequisite for a successful referendum and is pleased that Parliament is united in supporting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill.

It is in the spirit of bipartisanship that the Government has worked with the Opposition to establish a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to progress constitutional recognition.The Committee considered the Bill as its first task and reported to Parliament on 30 January 2013, unanimously recommending that the Bill be passed.

The Committee is further tasked with building a secure, strong, multi-partisan Parliamentary consensus around the timing, specific content and wording of referendum proposals for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Information on the work of the Committee can be found on its website.

The report of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples will form the basis of the Committee’s work. The Expert Panel was appointed in December 2010 to consider, consult and advise the Government on how best to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution and on possible options for change that would likely get the support of the majority of Australians at a referendum. The Government received the Expert Panel’s report in January 2012.

The Government is investing $10 million to help build public awareness and community support for change. This important work is being led by Reconciliation Australia, supported by a reference group of business and community leaders. The funding is supporting community groups and activities to provide Australians with the opportunity to learn more about constitutional recognition.

The Government encourages all Australians to learn more and get involved in building support for constitutional change.

For more information see the:

 

Content Updated: 13 February 2013