Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page
Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians
As discussed in Chapter 2 of this interim report, following public
statements by the Coalition, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian
Greens in support of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples, Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed an expert panel
in December 2010 to consult on the best possible options for a constitutional
amendment to be put to a referendum.
The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians
(Expert Panel) was intended to have broad membership across the social and
political spectrum, informed by nominations from the public.
Led by co-chairs Professor Patrick Dodson and Mr Mark Leibler AC, the
Expert Panel conducted over 250 consultations around Australia, with the aim of
building public awareness of constitutional recognition.
The Expert Panel provided its comprehensive report to government in
January 2012, recommending repeal of sections 25 and 51(xxvi) of the
Constitution and insertion of new sections 51A, 116A and 127A. The Expert
Panel's recommendations are set out in Appendix 2.
As noted by the committee in Chapter 2, strong multi-partisan support
for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
has been in existence for the last four Parliaments.
The Prime Minister the Hon Tony Abbott MP expressed his commitment
to honour the pledge of previous parliaments to the recognition of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution in his 2014 Australia
We will also begin a national
conversation about amending our Constitution to recognise Aboriginal peoples as
the first Australians. This should be another unifying moment in the history of
The previous Coalition Prime Minister the Hon John Howard OM AO had
proposed a 'new Reconciliation' in an address at the Sydney Institute on
11 October 2007. The former Prime Minister proposed a
...to formally recognise Indigenous
Australians in our Constitution—their history as the first inhabitants of our
country, their unique heritage of culture and languages, and their special
(though not separate) place within a reconciled, indivisible nation.
Former Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd accepted a statement of intent
from over 8000 Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land in 2008, and pledged his
support for recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Constitution.
In 2010 former Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard signed agreements
with the Australian Greens, Mr Andrew Wilkie MP and
then independent Member of Parliament Mr Rob Oakeshott, committing
to a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in
the Constitution during the 43rd Parliament or at the following
The need for bipartisanship is one of the 'five pillars to a successful
referendum' discussed by Professor George Williams AO and Mr David Hume,
alongside popular ownership, a sound and sensible proposal, comprehensive
public education and the distribution of information using a range of media.
Activities in the 43rd Parliament
43rd Parliament first appointed a Joint Select Committee on
Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples on
28 November 2012.
43rd Parliament committed to 'placing before the Australian people
at a referendum a proposal for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples,' passing the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Recognition Act 2013 (Recognition
Act) on 14 March 2013.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Recognition Act 2013
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 (the bill)
was introduced into the House of Representatives on 28 November 2012. The bill
contained three substantive parts:
- a statement of recognition by the Parliament, on behalf of the
people of Australia, of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (clause 3);
for the Minister with responsibility for Indigenous Affairs to commence a
review of support for a referendum to amend the Constitution within a
particular timeframe (clause 4); and
clause, which provides that the Act should expire two years after enactment
bill and the committee were intended to build community awareness and support
for constitutional change and momentum towards a successful referendum. The
Explanatory Memorandum stated that:
This Bill reflects an intention to pursue meaningful change
to the Constitution that echoes the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples and unites the nation. It is one part of the
ongoing conversation that needs to happen in the lead up to constitutional
change. In particular, the Bill will enable all Australians to become familiar
with formal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ahead
of constitutional change.
The former committee’s
inquiry into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Recognition Bill 2012
The former Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was required by its establishing
resolution to inquire into the bill, and a goal of its inquiry was to secure strong multi‑partisan
parliamentary support for its passage.
In 2013, Prime Minister
Gillard, the Opposition Leader the Hon Tony Abbott MP and Leader of the
Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne all supported Indigenous constitutional
recognition in speeches during the debate on the bill.
committee tabled its report on 30 January 2013, with a recommendation that the
bill be passed.
The bill was passed with the unanimous support of both houses of Parliament in
March 2013, and received royal assent on 27 March 2013.
committee in the 43rd Parliament indicated its support for the
report of the Expert Panel:
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
The committee agrees that the work of the Expert Panel
provides a solid foundation for the process of constitutional reform.
former committee was satisfied that the mechanisms currently in place provided
a good approach for moving toward a referendum
and identified a number of areas that could be considered further, including:
inclusion of the word 'advancement' in the proposal for
the wording of the statement of recognition in the Constitution;
concerns about Australia's referendum machinery identified by the House Standing
Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in its 2009 report on the Referendum
(Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.
of the above matters were addressed in the former committee's June 2013
progress report (discussed below). However, in that report the committee
indicated that further consideration of these matters may be appropriate during
the 44th Parliament.
Progress report in June
former Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Peoples tabled a progress report in June 2013 with a
summary of the committee's consideration of the recommendations made by the
former committee's progress report 'emphasises the strong bipartisan support
that already exists and urges the next Chair of the committee to leverage this
support to ensure a successful referendum takes place during the next
progress report recorded the outcomes of a round table discussion held in
Redfern, New South Wales on 30 April 2013. The former committee received four
submissions and nine people attended the round table discussion.
need for engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was an
important theme at the roundtable and the committee welcomed the enthusiasm and
activism of younger
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The committee noted
that it would be unlikely to be able to achieve the same level of engagement as
the Expert Panel.
relationship between the committee's work and the Expert Panel's
recommendations was discussed at the round table, and its Progress Report
There was broad agreement from roundtable participants that
the Expert Panel's work should serve as the foundation for the committee's
consideration of a proposal to put to the Australian people in a referendum,
but that its recommendations should not necessarily be seen as 'set in stone.'
At the same time, roundtable participants argued that the committee should not
seek to re-do the Expert Panel's work, and to the extent that any proposal it
recommends departs from the Expert Panel's recommendations, the committee
should consult further with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 
former committee indicated that the Expert Panel's four principles to guide the
assessment of proposals for constitutional recognition were appropriate to its
namely, that a proposal should:
contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation;
be of benefit to and accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples;
be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of
Australians from across the political and social spectrums; and
be technically and legally sound.
former committee described the work of the Expert Panel as a 'strong
foundation' for its work. The committee expressed a view that 'some of the Expert Panel's
recommendations require further consideration, and as a result of this may need
to be refined.'
The committee indicated that if its recommendations departed in form or
substance from the Expert Panel's recommendations, it would consult further
with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their representative
Committee's work in 44th Parliament
considering draft wording on constitutional recognition and other matters
related to its work, the committee has met with a range of advisers. The
committee has held private briefings on:
21 February 2014 at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence
in Redfern, New South Wales;
21 March 2014 at University of New South Wales in Kensington, New
South Wales; and
19 May 2014 at the University of Sydney in Camperdown, New South
committee has received private briefings from RECOGNISE, RECOGNISE THIS and the
National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.
The role of the states and territories
the support for a referendum proposal from the state and territory governments
was a goal of the former committee. This committee will seek the views of state
and territory governments and note the results of this consultation in their
committee notes the states that have so far recognised Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples in their constitution acts:
New South Wales (2010); and
South Australia (2013).
Commonwealth policy activity
committee is advised that the Attorney-General's Department has coordinating
responsibility for Indigenous constitutional recognition within government.
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has specific responsibility for the
Review under the Recognition Act. The Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet administers the government's funding to Reconciliation
Australia. On 13 February 2013, Prime Minister Gillard announced $10
million funding to Reconciliation Australia to continue to build public
awareness and community support for change.
Reconciliation Australia seeks:
an Australia that recognises and respects the special place,
culture, rights and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
good relationships between First Australians and other
Australians become the foundation for local strength and success; and
enhancement of national wellbeing.
committee has continued to engage with the Recognise movement, governed by the Board of Reconciliation Australia. One of the key
strategies of the Recognise movement
is the Journey to Recognition which is designed to build momentum to recognise
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page