Thursday, 20 September 2012

We're not getting the real deal - First Nations recognition in the Australian Constitution - just another Act of Parliament.

Hello all,
The Government announced today plans to introduce an Act of Recognition into the Australian Parliament before the end of the year, as an interim measure to holding a referendum on Constitutional Recognition. This means that a referendum will not go ahead by the next election, as was the original commitment. The ‘Act of Recognition’ would have a two-year sunset clause, in the expectation that a referendum will be put by the next government, irrespective of who wins (see The Age and Australian articles below).
RecVic’s initial response to this announcement, largely consistent with Reconciliation Australia and ANTaR responses, is:
  • We welcome today’s commitment to legislate an Act of Recognition as a step on the road to Constitutional Recognition
  • We await further detail about the proposed Act of Recognition, but hope that it reflects all elements of the Expert Panel’s package, including the inclusion of a prohibition on racial discrimination.
  •  We urge the Parliament to provide a firm and bi-partisan commitment on the timing of a referendum.
  • What we’ve learnt from the ’67 referendum campaigners is it took 10 years to reach out to the majority of Australians to touch their hearts and minds. We don’t expect it to take that long but the research conducted by You Me Unity suggests that awareness isn’t high enough to hold a successful referendum yet.
  • We support the Expert Panel’s advice that careful consideration of the timing of a referendum on this issue is crucial to ensure the best chance of success.
  • We are happy that the Government, Opposition, Greens and Independents are talking to one another because for a referendum to be successful we need the support of the whole Parliament, along with states and territories and the Australian people.
  • We must continue our efforts to engage more people in the conversation.
  • Building up recognition of the histories and contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the LOCAL level will create a foundation for achieving recognition at the national level.

PM plan for indigenous recognition

Michael Gordon
Published: September 20, 2012 - 3:00AM
THE Gillard government has embraced a new strategy to recognise the ''unique and special place'' of indigenous Australians after conceding that a referendum proposing constitutional change could fail if it is put at or before next year's election.
It now plans to legislate an ''act of recognition'' before Parliament rises this year in the hope that it will build momentum for constitutional recognition of indigenous language and culture in the next two years.
The legislation will have a two-year sunset clause in the expectation that a referendum will be put by the next government, irrespective of who wins.
The retreat is likely to be endorsed by indigenous leaders who feared a referendum campaign would be overwhelmed by the political contest between Labor and the Coalition in the lead-up to the election due this time next year.
''The last thing you would want is for this to fail,'' Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin told The Age last night.
The Prime Minister agreed to the goal of a referendum before or at the next election in separate minority government agreements with the Greens and with independent MP Rob Oakeshott after the 2010 election.
But, in a report to the government late last year, a 22-member expert panel urged caution on the timing of the referendum, saying a failure to have it passed would result in ''confusion about the nation's values, commitment to racial non-discrimination and sense of national identity''.
Ms Macklin said the decision to hold back followed strong advice from indigenous leaders that there was not yet sufficient awareness or support to ensure the success of a referendum, which needs to be passed by a majority of votes and a majority of states.
A preliminary report prepared by Reconciliation Australia found that while there was strong awareness among indigenous Australians, only 39 per cent of the non-indigenous community had heard about the proposed referendum.
Ms Macklin said she had held preliminary discussions with the opposition, Greens and independents on the planned legislation and would continue to work with all parties to develop the legislation.
''We are committed to recognising indigenous people in Australia's constitution and want meaningful reform that reflects the hopes and aspirations of indigenous people.''
The panel proposed changes to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and languages, prohibit racial discrimination and remove the last vestiges of racism in the nation's founding document.
Co-chairman of the expert panel, Patrick Dodson, said the change in strategy made sense. ''There should be a clear distinction between the election and the need for statesmanlike behaviour to resolve a 200-year problem - the lack of recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.''
For extended article:
You can also vote in today’s Age Poll at

Julia Gillard switch on first peoples

  • From:The Australian 
  • September 20, 2012 12:00AM
THE referendum to acknowledge indigenous Australians has been shelved for at least three years amid fears the failure to build community support before the deadline of the next election would see it defeated.
The Gillard government will instead ask parliament to pass an "Act of Recognition" to acknowledge "the unique and special place of our first peoples" as an "interim" measure until there is enough support for a constitutional change.
Julia Gillard has talked to Tony Abbott and the Greens about Labor's intention to introduce the symbolic act in a formal admission that a referendum would fail if it were put to a vote next year as planned.
As part of Labor's 2010 power-sharing agreement with the Greens and independents, Labor agreed to hold a referendum on indigenous constitutional recognition before or at the 2013 election.
The Greens are understood to be disappointed at the delay, but acknowledge it is necessary.
It is understood all parties are prepared to follow Labor's path towards an act. They want the act passed by the end of the year.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said a sunset clause on the act would force the parliament not to neglect the issue.
"We have a sunset clause in the bill of say two or three years so that the next parliament really has to look at it and make sure that we maintain the community awareness and continue to have a discussion for the need for constitutional change, not just in the area of recognition but on the other matters the expert panel raised," she said.
"Whoever is in charge in the next parliament will have to either decide to continue it or the parliament will need to discuss it."
The government will today reveal that the Act of Recognition will be worded to reflect as closely as possible the recommendations of the expert panel the government had develop options for constitutional change.
In January, the panel recommended that the Constitution be altered to remove racist sections Continued on Page 4
and create power for the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the protection of language and culture. It also called for a clause against racial discrimination.
The panel wanted the constitution changed to empower the government to make laws for the "advancement" of indigenous Australians.
The government is keeping an open mind on the introduction of a specific non-discrimination clause in the Constitution arguing it is too early to decide whether it would gain support at an election. And instead of a clause for the "advancement" of indigenous Australians they prefer the Constitution to be changed to acknowledge that laws can be made to "close the gap". The recommended insertion of a clause to prohibit racial discrimination was described by Tony Abbott as a "single-issue bill of rights".
Ms Macklin said a preliminary report prepared for the government by Reconciliation Australia found only 39 per cent of the non-indigenous community had heard about a proposed referendum. "The Australian government agrees with the findings of the expert panel that it is important a referendum is held at a time when it has the most chance of success," she said.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis said the vote should not be held under Julia Gillard, arguing that the Prime Minister's advocacy would ensure defeat of a referendum.

The RecVic Team

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