July 11, 2015

Horse 1935 - Recognising Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders In The Constitution: Yes.

In Horse 1534¹, I wrote about the relative pointlessness of including recognition for Aboriginal peoples in the preamble to the Constitution. I'm not interested in mere tokens because whilst they might be symbolic, they achieve very little in reality. I think that the only way that you affect real change in a nation is through the passage of legislation and law; they only way that you affect the real lives of actual people is through the operation of those same instruments, through legislation and law.
When I heard about the Recognise campaign, I was initially hesitant; thinking that it would would produce some mere tokens and not much of lasting value but having read through the proposals by Recognise, I'm quite excited.

This is from Recognise.org :
An Expert Panel – which included Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts and parliamentarians – consulted extensively across the nation and reported to the Prime Minister in January 2012.
It recommended that Australians should vote in a referendum to:

  • Remove Section 25 – which says the States can ban people from voting based on their race;
  • Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;
  • Insert a new section 51A – to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
  • Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.
- Recognise.org website², as at 11th Jul 2015.

I read through these suggestions and immediately wondered about the mundanity of them. I don't mean to sound blasé on the issue but I think that if you put this set of proposals before the people, then they'd go through without any real opposition at all. I don't think that this would merely meet the statutory requirements required to pass a change to the constitution of a majority of voters in a majority of states but rather, I think that if you put this to the people, it would be a knock out of the park for six, thanks for coming, 90%+ in all states kind of vote.

The thing to remember is that the Constitution isn't some sacred document that was inscribed in stone from high and brought down from the mountain, it is a piece of legislation, albeit a pretty central piece of legislation, and legislation is argued, discussed and thrashed out all the time on the floor of the parliament; literally all the time. This while notion of needing to send this to committee to thrash out the wording of the referendum questions in this case is more or less pointless because really all that needs to be done is ask "do you think we should replace A with B? Yes or No?" and "do you think we should replace C with D? Yes or No?". Five Questions - done; sorted.
To that end, if you just let the people of Australia read through the questions beforehand, via newspaper publication and maybe even a six page A6 pamphlet, then it's reasonable to assume that they'll understand and make up their own minds; which is the point of taking the questions to a referendum in the first place.
Actually I would have thought that for these questions it's a fait accompli anyway because these things are so mind-numbingly obvious as to be trite.

This is why don't understand why when the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, met with Aboriginal elders to discuss the proposed changes to the constitution, why it seemed such a difficulty. If this is a matter of wording, then you could have a select committee from both houses of Parliament meet at 10am, go "bang, bang, bang, bang", have it voted for on the floor of both houses befor lunchtime and then put it to a referendum within a month. How hard is it? Not very.

Symbolically I like the idea that it be put to a referendum on Saturday 27th May 2017, which is the  anniversary of the referendum giving indigenous people the vote and I think that it's a glorious coincidence that that referendum was also held on the 27th May 1967. Perhaps we could also while we're at it, remove Invasion Day (26th January) and replace it with a new national holiday that we could be finally be proud of. 

I'd still like to see six Aboriginal Senators because I think that the only real way to properly recognise the first peoples is with representation in the parliament. If New Zealand can do it, why the heck can't can't we? Maybe the people who thrash out the referendum proposals could look at that too.

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