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Views on the Bill
Witnesses appearing before the committee and written submissions were
generally supportive of the Bill, at least in principle, as a step towards a
referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
However, a range of views were expressed on a number of issues,
- the absence of any reference in the Bill to the need, as
identified by the Expert Panel, to remove racially discriminatory elements from
- what should, and should not, be included in the Bill's statement
of recognition (clause 3), and in particular whether an acknowledgement of the 'need
to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples'
should be included;
the extent to which ongoing work toward a referendum should be
informed by the recommendations of the Expert Panel, and how this might be
reflected in the Bill;
- the Bill's success or otherwise in setting out a clear path
toward a referendum;
- whether sufficient detail is included in the Bill regarding the
review outlined at clause 4; and
- the wisdom of including a sunset clause in the Bill.
While not directly related to the Bill, in the course of conducting its
inquiry the committee also heard a range of views regarding how the committee
could best engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This
issue is briefly discussed near the end of this chapter.
The committee also heard arguments from Professor George Williams of the
Gilbert + Tobin Centre for Public Law (UNSW) that the Referendum (Machinery
Provisions) Act 1984 needed to be updated in order to prepare the ground
for a successful referendum. This issue is discussed at the end of this
Racial discrimination in the Constitution
The committee heard from a number of witnesses that the Bill needed to
better reflect the relationship between ending racial discrimination in the
Constitution and constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
For example, Professor Williams told the committee that:
...the bill shows signs of losing connection with the most
important aspect of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples in the Constitution. That is, that recognition needs to deal with the
fact that the Constitution was drafted on a premise of racism, essentially.
Professor Williams further argued that in his view Australians are
strongly supportive of removing racism from the Constitution, and therefore the
decision to exclude any reference to the Expert Panel's recommendations on
removing the racially discriminatory elements of the Constitution 'sends a
signal that I think is quite unfortunate in terms of any sort of public debate
we might have over the coming months.'
Concerns regarding the absence of any reference in the Bill to the need
to end racial discrimination in the Constitution were also expressed by the National
Congress of Australia's First Peoples (Congress), the Australian Human Rights Commission
(AHRC), ANTaR, the Law Council of Australia, the Public Interest Advocacy
Centre (PIAC), the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) and the
Australian Psychological Association. In varying degrees, these organisations
also emphasised that the Expert Panel had identified the removal of racially
discriminatory elements of the Constitution as an important component of
recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.
Asked by the committee why the Bill did not refer to the Expert
Panel's recommendations on ending racial discrimination in the Constitution,
FaHCSIA responded that the Bill is only intended as one step toward
It goes to some but not all of the recommendations of the Expert
Panel and really those that are appropriate are at this step but not those
which would require constitutional change to enact. It is a simple statement of
recognition. It is a step in the process towards constitutional change and it
is intended to maintain the momentum.
FaHCSIA also reiterated to the committee the argument put forward in the
Explanatory Memorandum, namely that the government did not think it was
appropriate to include in the Bill recommendations of the Expert Panel that go
to constitutional change, such as the removal of the 'race' provisions. Nor was
it considered necessary for the Bill to reflect the Expert Panel's
recommendation for a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination, as
the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 already prohibits such
The committee acknowledges and shares the Expert Panel's view that the
removal of racial discrimination from the Constitution is an important
component of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples. In this respect, the committee notes the following point made
by Mr Noel Pearson (as quoted to the committee by the Law Council):
Elimination of racial discrimination is inherently related to
Indigenous recognition because Indigenous people in Australia, more than any
other group, suffered much racial discrimination in the past.
The committee also acknowledges the point made in the Explanatory
Memorandum and in evidence from FaHCSIA, that the absence of any reference in
the Bill to the Expert Panel's recommendations on the 'race' provisions and
racial non-discrimination does not represent a dilution of the goal of
eliminating racial discrimination from the Constitution. The committee also agrees
with the point made by FaHCSIA, namely that the Bill is only one step toward
constitutional change, and is not intended to prescribe what should or should
not be included in the proposal for constitutional change that is ultimately
put to the Australian people at a referendum.
The committee believes that the issue of racial discrimination goes to
the heart of the broader question of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As such, it is an issue that the committee intends
to explore further in its work going forward.
Statement of Recognition
Most witnesses expressed satisfaction with the Bill's statement of
recognition. However, a number of submissions argued that the statement could
be more ambitious in its scope.
For instance, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Studies (AIATSIS) argued for bolder language in the statement. In
particular, AIATSIS suggested that the statement should include recognition of
Australia's hybrid political and legal histories and the right of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples – as Australia's Indigenous people – to
self-determination, consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples. According to AIATSIS, the Bill could go further than the
Constitution in recognising the distinct collective identities of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples, given the Parliament 'is not constrained by
the need to pass a referendum and an act of parliament does not have the same
specialised functions as a section of the Constitution.'
The Law Council of Australia, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that,
while the statement of recognition is based on the Expert Panel's recommended
new section 51A, it does not include the Expert Panel's recommended statement
acknowledging 'the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples.' The Law Council also registered its concern with the
committee over the lack of explanation, and apparent lack of consultation,
regarding this omission, particularly given the Expert Panel's choice of words
were based on extensive consultations.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights made the same point, supporting its
argument for the inclusion of the 'advancement' language with reference to the
fact that the words were based on the extensive consultative processes of the
ANTaR also expressed concern about the omission of any reference in the
Bill to the need to achieve social and economic equality for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples. While noting that the word 'advancement' had
occasioned some debate, ANTaR suggested another form of words expressing the
same intent could be included in the Bill.
ANTaR told the Committee that, should the racially discriminatory elements be
removed from the Constitution (an objective it strongly supports), the
inclusion of the 'advancement' wording or words to the same effect would be
necessary to maintain a head of power for the Commonwealth to make and maintain
beneficial laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In her written submission, Professor Anne Twomey offered a different
perspective on the 'advancement' wording, suggesting that, to the extent it implied
that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are 'backwards' or
'insufficiently advanced,' it might be considered racist. For this reason,
Professor Twomey welcomed the omission of the 'advancement' wording from the
This reasoning was rejected by the Law Council, which told the committee
that the suggestion the 'advancement' wording was racist or might cause
(a) did not take into account the fact that about half the Expert Panel was
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander;
(b) did not address the Expert Panel's reasoning as to why the 'advancement'
language was necessary; and
(c) failed to recognise the resonance of the concept of 'advancement' for
many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The AHRC, however, allowed that the 'advancement' language could be
divisive, and suggested it might not be appropriate to include in the Bill:
I think that is a very important question and I think it is
one that, ultimately, the committee is going to have to resolve. Our view at
the commission is that a word like 'benefit' might be preferable but, of
course, words bring laden historical interpretations and Professor Twomey may
very well be right in her suggestion. ... But, again, it is something this
committee can explore over time. I am not sure that I can see the value, at the
moment, of picking a word and including it in the bill. So I think the short
answer is that we would like to see that explored and we would like to see the
right word chosen. But perhaps now is not the time in the context of the bill.
The committee heard from FaHCSIA that the 'advancement' language was not
included in the Bill because it had proven contentious and its inclusion could
therefore undermine the attempt to build momentum with the Bill. FaHCSIA also reiterated
the point that the Bill was only intended as one step – albeit an important one
– toward constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples. As such, it did not:
...attempt to take on board all of the Expert Panel's recommendations
on constitutional change. It cannot take on many of them because they are a
matter for the Constitution and a referendum itself. But it really is an
important and powerful symbolic statement by the parliament of support and
recognition which serves as a platform to then go on and further consider
issues like advancement.
As noted above, the committee recognises that the Bill is only intended
as a step toward, rather than a substitute for, constitutional recognition. The
committee expects further discussion on issues such as the inclusion of the
'advancement' wording in the proposal for constitutional change, and does not
believe the omission of this wording from the Bill proscribes further
consideration of the issue in the process leading to a referendum.
As with the Expert Panel's recommendations on racial discrimination in
the Constitution, the committee believes the wording of the statement of
recognition in the Constitution is a significant issue, and one that the
committee intends to give careful consideration to in the course of its work.
Relationship to the work of the Expert Panel
In addition to discussing how the Bill should capture the Expert Panel's
recommendations for constitutional change, a number of witnesses and written
submissions also addressed the extent to which ongoing work toward a referendum
should be determined by the recommendations of the Expert Panel, and how this
might be expressed in the Bill.
Professor Twomey suggested the Expert Panel had done some very good
work, but that its recommended wording for a referendum should be considered a
first draft and not 'be set in stone.' For this reason, Professor Twomey was
supportive of the reference in the Bill's preamble to the need for further
engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other
Australians to 'refine proposals for a referendum'.
However, Congress, ANTaR, AHRC, PIAC and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC)
suggested the Bill should, in fact, place a stronger emphasis on the work of
the Expert Panel, and in particular its recommendations.
The committee agrees that the work of the Expert Panel provides a solid
foundation for the process of constitutional reform. The committee is satisfied
that the Bill, as currently drafted, properly acknowledges the important work
of the Expert Panel and its proposals for constitutional change.
The Bill's role in setting out the path forward
Several submissions commended the Bill as a means of building momentum
and setting out the procedure toward a referendum on constitutional recognition
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Professor Twomey pointed to a parallel here with the history of
federation, writing that after the Constitution was first drafted in 1891,
momentum towards federation was maintained by the colonies enacting legislation
setting out the procedure for the election of a new constitutional convention
and the process for putting the revised draft Constitution to the people in a
Mr Tim Gartrell, the Campaign Director of Recognise, explained to the
committee that Recognise hoped:
...the day the act passes will be a major milestone on the
journey to full constitutional recognition. It will be the day the parliament
makes its down payment of good faith for the journey ahead for the rest of us.
Mr Gartrell also informed the committee that following the introduction of
the Bill, Recognise had detected a rise in media attention and public awareness
of the issue of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
However, other submissions were critical of the lack of detail in the
Bill regarding the steps that would now be taken toward a referendum. The
Gilbert + Tobin Centre for Public Law, for example, expressed 'real concerns
about the adequacy of this Bill as, per the preamble, "a significant step
in the process towards achieving constitutional change."' The Gilbert +
Tobin Centre argued that without a clearer identification of the specific steps
to a referendum and mechanisms to engage the public, the Bill in fact risks
sending two undesirable signals: one, that the debate can simply be deferred
for two years, when the Bill will expire as per the sunset clause; or two, that
debate will be conducted through the Parliament and political leaders, rather
than through the community.
Similarly, while supportive of the intent of the Bill, ANTaR suggested
in its submission that the Bill needed to:
...outline a clear process to generate the required awareness
and community support to ensure a successful referendum. While the draft Act
includes a clause, under which the Act would cease to have effect after two
years, it does establish a mechanism or outline a process to take place at that
point. The way the Act is currently drafted, there is a risk that the issue of
Constitutional Recognition could fall off the radar of a future Parliament.
PIAC argued that the government needed to provide more detail on the
timeframe and mechanics of the process set out in broad detail in the Bill. If
this information was not contained in the Bill itself, PIAC considered the
Minister should provide it separately.
NTSCORP, meanwhile, suggested that while the Bill would help build
momentum and support for constitutional change, without a broader recognition
campaign it would be insufficient.
Responding to criticism that the Bill did not set out a detailed path to
a referendum, FaHCSIA told the committee that it believed the establishment of
the Joint Select Committee and the inclusion of a review provision in the Bill
(as discussed below) provided a process to determine the way forward to a
referendum. This work would proceed in parallel with the work of Recognise
(formerly You Me Unity) to build community support and awareness.
FaHCSIA also suggested there was a danger in trying to over-engineer the
process at this point:
Setting in place a plan now which locks us into certain
milestones and certain decisions could set us up to fail. [The] Government has
set in place a number of processes, and those processes are designed to act in
parallel to get us to a place where the Australian people are ready to make a
decision on this issue.
So I think we have in place now a number of processes. The
bill is one of those processes and I think there is a danger that we might try
to load too much into it. It is an important milestone but nonetheless it is
only one step in this journey. I think the committee is another, and much more
important, ongoing process.
The committee believes that the Bill, together with the establishment of
the committee itself, provides the Parliament with the political architecture
necessary to build and maintain momentum toward constitutional recognition of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The committee also notes that
there are a number of processes underway to build this momentum; not all of
these processes are set out in the Bill, nor is it necessarily practical or
desirable to do so. Nevertheless, the committee does not underestimate the
difficulty of securing the passage of appropriate amendments to the
Constitution recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Only 8
out of 44 proposals to amend the Constitution have succeeded; it is 36 years
since the last successful referendum. Controversial proposals are invariably
foredoomed to failure. For that reason, the committee cautions that if the
proposal is the victim of over-reach it will fail. While the committee does not
seek to limit the scope of public discussion, it nevertheless considers that
only a relatively modest proposal is capable of engendering the bipartisan
consensus which is a pre-requisite to success.
The review outlined at clause 4 of the Bill
A number of witnesses and submissions suggested there was insufficient
detail as to the purpose and resourcing of the review outlined at clause 4 of
the Bill. The committee also heard concerns that the review was too focused on
measuring support for constitutional change, rather than seeking to build this
AIATSIS suggested that the review, as currently drafted, is unclear as
to the review's process and purpose. To the extent that the clause does outline
a process, AIATSIS argues, this process largely duplicates the work of the
Expert Panel 'and may not achieve anything that has not already been achieved.'
In particular, it was felt the review only provides for the measurement of
public support, rather than for its creation. AIATSIS told the committee that
instead of the review proposed in the Bill, the committee might consider a
process similar to that established in the Council for Aboriginal
Reconciliation Act 1991 (Cth), wherein a body with statutory powers and
functions was given 'operational work to do in promoting reconciliation,
leading discussion and educating.'
In its written submission, AIATSIS also suggested that the terms of the
review indicated that it should identify which proposals for constitutional
recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be most
likely to gain the support of the Australian people. According to AIATSIS, the
review should in fact identify 'the best proposal that can succeed, rather than
the most popular.'
ANTaR also told the committee that it believed more detail was needed
about the proposed review, including:
...what the scope of that review would be—I would suggest it
should not be confined to the issues identified in the bill but include the
broader issues raised by the panel; who will undertake that review; the
question of Aboriginal representation; what the process might be and what the
resource implications of that process might be, since the Bill at this stage is
said to have no resource implications; as well as the reporting provisions.
HRLC noted that no provision had been made in the review clause for who
will actually conduct the review. HRLC suggested that, consistent with the
right of self-determination, the Bill should 'provide that the persons
undertaking the review include representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander organisations and communities.'
HRLC also expressed concerns that the review might be limited to
considering the recognition issue only, and not the broader recommendations of
the Expert Panel. As such, HRLC recommended that 'both the Bill and the
Explanatory Memorandum be revised to promote a review process that considers
the full range of recommendations of the Expert Panel, without limitation.'
Reconciliation Victoria recommended that the review should not only
consider the levels of support for amending the Constitution (as currently
required at 4(2)(d)) but also how this support can be developed. If the review
shows there is insufficient support for a successful referendum:
...then the Committee should be in a position to make
recommendations to the Parliament as to the means by which this support can be
developed, averting the potential for extensive delays or even side-lining of a
referendum on this critical issue.
Responding to criticisms regarding the review, FaHCSIA told the
...the form and shape of the review has deliberately been
left open. So, there is a process that needs to be gone through to determine
what will best be achieved by the review. The review was put in place in order
to ensure that there is a clear process for parliament to consider next steps
towards the ultimate goal of constitutional recognition. So in the government's
view the review itself is an important mechanism. But how it operates and what
it will achieve is still something which is to be determined and something,
perhaps, for the committee to consider.
The committee acknowledges the need to maintain momentum and build
support toward a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples, and recognises the contribution the review
outlined at clause 4 of the Bill would make in this respect. As noted above,
the committee is satisfied that the mechanisms currently in place, including
the review outlined at clause 4, provide a good architecture for moving toward
Deferral of referendum
Generally speaking, witnesses acknowledged the need to defer a
referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples in order to build greater public awareness of and support for
The St Vincent de Paul Society expressed 'deep sadness' at the delay in
'taking this important step in our national journey of recognising the
historical truth and honouring the First Peoples.'
Other submissions, however, expressed strong support for the idea of not
holding a referendum at the current time, and instead using the Bill as part of
a process to build momentum towards constitutional change.
For instance, the Redfern Legal Centre wrote that its consultations with
both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples indicated
a general lack of awareness about the issue, and it therefore welcomed 'the
Bill's approach of setting up a timetable for constitutional change, rather
than attempting to introduce constitutional change at this stage.'
In its submission, the NSWALC acknowledged the need to defer the
referendum, and expressed support for an extended timeframe toward constitutional
recognition, 'provided the additional time is used to build awareness and help
ensure informed support of Constitutional recognition as well as undertake
proper and meaningful consultation with Aboriginal peak bodies, organisations
Sunset clause and legislative recognition as an 'interim step'
While a number of witnesses and submissions argued against the inclusion
of the sunset provision in the Bill, others suggested it was an appropriate
means of indicating that the Bill is only an interim step toward constitutional
recognition, rather than an end in itself.
Several submissions argued that parliamentary recognition of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples would have value independent of
constitutional recognition, and therefore the sunset provision should be
removed. Ms Elisa Arcioni, for example, argued against the inclusion of the
sunset clause, noting that the two forms of recognition are different. Ms
Arcioni noted that to 'have the legislative recognition rendered ineffective
through the sunset clause may signify that recognition has been removed, and at
a time when there is no alternative (ie constitutional) recognition yet in
place.' Ms Arcioni also queried the view that the existence of legislative
recognition would work against any future constitutional recognition.
Similarly, AIATSIS told the committee that it believed a parliamentary
statement of recognition would have value independent of constitutional
recognition, not least because it would be 'volunteered by the parliament
rather than being a legislative reaction to something that the courts have
already done, as was the case in the Mabo decision.'
On this point, AIATSIS suggested the sunset clause:
...might undermine or dilute the value of that piece of
legislation, which... could be forever on the books as a sign of the commitment
for legal leadership and intent of the Australian parliament towards its
AIATSIS also argued that, if the intent was to prompt further action
toward constitutional recognition, the withdrawal of parliamentary recognition
would not in itself be sufficient to prompt further action toward a referendum.
As such, if the intent is to create a 'commitment mechanism' to prevent
momentum toward a referendum slipping, a better option would be to set a date
for a referendum, with the option of extending this date later if necessary.
Like Ms Arcioni and AIATSIS, Professor Helen Irving also argued that parliamentary
recognition would be valuable in itself, and the sunset provision is
'unnecessary and should be reconsidered.' Professor Irving suggested that a
mandatory expiry date:
...may, in reality, work against the Act's capacity to
effectively 'pre-constitutionalise' ATSI recognition. That is to say, it may
create a sense that the issue is temporary, or encourage a view that the Act
The St Vincent de Paul Society made a similar point, suggesting:
...it is not clear to us how the sunset provision will best
ensure that parliament will reconsider the issue, or ensure that legislative
entrenchment will not supplant Constitutional reform. In fact, it seems to
create a risk that – unless the review gains significant attention and
publicity – there will be nothing keeping this important issue in the
parliament's mind at all, and at the end of 2 years the recognition could
simply lapse without any significant progress being made.
The St Vincent de Paul Society further suggested that even if the review
gains significant publicity, there will only be a five-and-a-half month period
between the review being tabled and the Act ceasing to have effect. It is
therefore likely the Act would lapse before any referendum could take place,
and the issue could again fall off the political radar:
Instead of a sunset provision we propose that if no
referendum to amend the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Peoples has taken place at the end of a certain period (say, 2 or 3
years) after the commencement of the Act, then the Minister must cause another
review to be undertaken, in the same terms as Clause 4. This will ensure that
the issue definitely remains on the political landscape past the 2-year period.
The AHRC, meanwhile, told the committee that the sunset clause should 'either
be deleted or made clearer. We are not entirely sure what its purpose is. And
we think that there is no logical connection between the sunset clause and the
rest of the bill's content.'
In contrast, HRLC expressed support for the sunset clause in it
submission, in the 'context of the need to build and maintain momentum towards
Similarly, the New South Wales Reconciliation Council commended the inclusion
of the sunset clause, 'which will prevent the legislation becoming a substitute
for a referendum... [and] provide the impetus for Parliament to maintain momentum
towards a successful referendum.'
The Central Land Council also suggested the sunset clause was
'understandable given the need to take further steps to secure constitutional,
rather than legislative, recognition.'
Reconciliation Australia/Recognise told the committee that it supported
the sunset provision as a means of ensuring people understood that the Bill was
not a replacement for constitutional change, but instead just one step forward
toward that end. Moreover, it provides a clear timeframe in which Recognise can
plan its campaign activities to build community support and awareness of the
Asked to explain the reasoning behind the sunset provision, FaHCSIA told
the committee that:
...the answer to that lies in the government's intention that
this act is not seen in any way to be a replacement for constitutional change
or for a referendum. It is intended that the sunset clause, if you will, will
force parliament to reconsider the issue, not to let it lie and not to let the
legislation act in perpetuity as some sort of, 'This was all we could achieve
and therefore this is all we are going to do.'
The committee is satisfied that the sunset provision provides a useful
and appropriate mechanism for ensuring legislative recognition of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples does not become entrenched at the expense of
constitutional recognition. The committee's view in this respect is underpinned
by its understanding of the Bill as essentially an interim step toward the more
important objective of constitutional recognition.
Committee processes and a possible advisory group
In the course of its inquiry into the Bill, the committee also heard a
range of views on how the committee should engage with Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples in undertaking its broader work of investigating and
reporting to the government on the options for constitutional recognition.
The nearly unanimous view put by witnesses was that it was imperative
that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were closely involved in the
work of the committee and in the reform process more broadly. As Reconciliation
Australia/Recognise told the committee:
...it is self-evident that the involvement and support of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in finalising the model is
another prerequisite to a successful referendum. This must occur as the model
is finalised and must not be an afterthought.
In this respect, most witnesses supported the idea floated in the motion
establishing the committee that the committee consider creating an advisory
group whose membership includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Congress, however, cautioned that while it supported the creation of an
advisory group, it was important that the group's input was supplementary to
'proper engagement with the community. It is not as an alternative to or a
substitute for engagement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Reconciliation Australia/Recognise suggested that the committee consider
appointing at least two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals from
outside the Parliament to the committee as 'parliamentary commissioners':
We recognise this as an unusual step but it is an exciting
opportunity to ensure our road to success for constitutional change has the
best possible chance. The inclusion of the First Peoples in every part of the
process of developing the model for consideration by all Australians is an
important principle. It offers a model of genuine partnership and ensures
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' views are never far from the
deliberations of the committee.
Reconciliation Australia/Recognise told the committee that it did not
envisage that the appointment of several parliamentary commissioners would
remove the need for an advisory (or 'reference') group:
We are talking about three things here. One is a couple of
parliamentary commissioners. One is a reference group of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples representatives. As to how big that is, I think we
would have to go away and have a think about that and take that on notice. Off
the top of my head, I would have thought at least a dozen people. Then there is
the broader community engagement, which I think the committee should undertake.
It is a sort of ripple from that.
The idea of appointing individuals to the committee as parliamentary
commissioners elicited in-principle support from a number of other witnesses,
including Congress, ANTaR and AHRC.
The committee recognises the need to closely engage with Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples in undertaking its work. The committee intends
to further explore the options for establishing an appropriate mechanism or
mechanisms for this engagement, and will consider the various options for an
advisory group and further investigate the 'parliamentary commissioner' idea
put forward by Reconciliation Australia/Recognise. In considering the
appropriate mechanism(s) for engagement, the committee also intends to consult
further with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies and individuals
on this issue.
The suitability of Australia's referendum machinery
In the course of its inquiry on the Bill, the committee also heard
arguments from Professor Williams that in order to properly prepare the ground
for a referendum, the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 needed
to be updated.
Professor Williams argued that Australia currently has 'archaic'
referendum machinery that was put in place in 1912. He suggested, for instance,
that the current requirement for an information booklet to be sent to every
elector was wasteful, and did not take account of changes in communication
So at the moment we have got people receiving information in
a lengthy written form that the evidence suggests they do not even read and it
is not even permissible as a matter of law to do it in other more effective
ways. It is actually a gross waste of taxpayers' money, frankly, the way [it] is
structured at the moment, let alone the fact that it harms chances of success.
In this regard, Professor Williams suggested that the recommendations
contained in the 2009 report of the House Standing Committee on Legal and
Constitutional Affairs should be implemented.
In addition to addressing the current requirement or every elector to receive
an information booklet, there were:
... many other things that that committee dealt with, for
example setting up proper yes and no processes as occurred in 1999 should there
be opposition within parliament and really just streamlining it in a way that
meant that we had sensible processes providing a level playing field, better
use of taxpayer money that reflects the technologies of today, not 1912.
The committee notes the concerns raised about Australia's referendum
machinery by the House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
in its 2009 report on the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984. In
the course of conducting its work in the period ahead, the committee may give further
consideration to this issue, noting that it remains to be seen whether the
concerns raised would in fact have any bearing on the success or failure of a
referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
The committee recommends that the Bill be passed.
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