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Next steps towards Constitutional recognition
Multi-partisan support for action in the 44th Parliament
In chapter two of this interim report, the committee noted the strong
multi-partisan support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples. 'Support from the major parties at the Commonwealth
level' is one of the 'five pillars to a successful referendum' discussed by
Professor George Williams AO, including in his book People Power, co‑authored
by Mr David Hume.
The Expert Panel recommended that 'the referendum should only proceed
when it is likely to be supported by all major political parties, and a
majority of State governments.'
To this end, the committee has committed to visit most Australian states in 2014,
towards reporting to Parliament on mechanisms for engagement that achieve
public and bipartisan support in Australian states and territories.
Review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition
On 28 March 2014, Minister for Indigenous Affairs the Hon Nigel Scullion
announced a review into public support for constitutional
recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Under the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act 2013, the Minister must initiate
a review to:
the readiness of the Australian public to support a referendum to amend the
Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and
proposals for constitutional change to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples taking into account the work of:
Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples; and
which of those proposals would be most likely to obtain the support of the
Australian people; and
the levels of support for amending the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples amongst:
- Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples; and
- the wider Australian
- the Governments of
the States and Territories; and
the Minister a written report of the review at least 6 months prior to the day
this Act ceases to have effect.
The panel appointed to conduct this review is required to
report to the Minister by 28 September 2014.
The review panel includes former Deputy Prime Minister the
Hon Mr John Anderson AO (Chair), Ms Tanya Hosch, Deputy Campaign Director of
Recognise, and Mr Richard Eccles, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the
Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Recognising their distinct roles, the committee will work
closely with the review panel where appropriate.
Consultation and call for submissions
The committee will hold public hearings at locations around Australia in
2014. The committee held its first public hearing in Brisbane on 30 June
2014. A list of witnesses who appeared before the committee is in
In Brisbane, the committee heard evidence that constitutional
recognition has considerable public health benefits for Australia, including
for the spiritual and psychological wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
The committee heard that 'acknowledging our distinctive national identity' through
recognition has the potential to strengthen Australia's international
competitiveness as a tourist destination. Witnesses emphasised that
the legal and practical impact of constitutional recognition remains a 'key
question' for government.
Some witnesses told the committee that their members supported the
recommendations of the Expert Panel on the basis of the significant community
consultation already conducted.
Other witnesses indicated that a staged approach involving further public
education may allow Australia to give effect to meaningful constitutional
recognition over the longer term.
The committee also heard that, alongside but distinct from the process of
constitutional change, the ability to engage in an ongoing dialogue with
governments about treaty and sovereignty is important to some members of the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
The committee looks forward to receiving more evidence that will enable
it to consider and report on mechanisms that would build on the work of the
Expert Panel and contribute to further engagement across all sectors of the
In presenting this interim report to Parliament on steps that can be
taken to progress towards a successful referendum, the committee notes that:
a strong community base is likely to increase popular ownership
of a referendum proposal;
comprehensive popular education has a role in countering
misunderstanding of proposals, scare campaigns, and voters' unwillingness to
'practical and substantive' proposals are more likely to succeed;
a referendum will be more likely to succeed if conducted according
to a modern process, including distributing information about
proposals using a range of media.
The committee is mindful of ensuring that the mechanisms it recommends
complement the ongoing work of RECOGNISE, the people's movement for
constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
One of the key strategies of the Recognise
movement has been the Journey to Recognition which is building momentum for
recognition around Australia.
The committee notes that the Minister for Indigenous
Affairs the Hon Nigel Scullion stated on 28 March 2014 that the
government would announce a draft amendment to the Constitution for public
consultation in late 2014.
The committee is not required to present a final
report to Parliament until 30 June 2015. The committee intends to report
on matters raised during consultation and will consider tabling a second
interim report in 2014 before tabling its final report on or before 30 June
The committee welcomes and invites submissions on steps that can be
taken to progress towards a successful referendum on the constitutional
recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples.
Ken Wyatt AM MP
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