The Referendum Council was jointly appointed by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten on 7 December 2015.
The Council’s job is to advise the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on progress and next steps towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution. Pat Anderson AO and Mark Leibler AC chair the Council.
They have completed the first phases of consultations with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The council will hold 12 First Nations dialogues over November and December and into early 2017, and will culminate in a national convention of Indigenous leaders at Uluru.
Currently the Referendum Council are seeking feedback on the following proposals via their nationwide consultations.
drafting a statement acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, and inserting it either in the Constitution or outside the Constitution, either as a preamble in a new head of power or in a statutory Declaration of Recognition
amending or deleting the ‘race power’, section 51 (xxvi) and replacing it with a new head of power (which might contain a statement of acknowledgement as a preamble to that power) to enable the continuation of necessary laws with respect to Indigenous issues
inserting a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination into the Constitution providing for an Indigenous voice to be heard by Parliament, and the right to be consulted on legislation and policy that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
deleting section 25, which contemplates the possibility of a State government excluding some Australians from voting in State elections on the basis of their race.
For more information on the Council, their members and their current activities, please visit their website.
The Council met with the PM Turnbull and leader of the Opposition the Hon Shorten on the 25thNovember following the release of their Discussion Paper. Both leaders reaffirmed their strong, bipartisan commitment to work towards Constitutional Reform. The Council’s final report is due by June 30, 2017. To read the communiqué from the Council follow this link.
Recognise’s role is to raise awareness of the need to end the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the Australian Constitution and deal with racial discrimination in it. Visit their website for more information.
The Journey to Recognition has travelled 39,772 kilometers in the past 3 years an have had 301,795 Australians sign up and show their support for this campaign.
New flyers have been released, check them out here.
The Expert Panel
In 2010 then PM Gillard appointed an Expert Panel to conduct extensive consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and non-Indigenous people and present a proposal for Constitutional Reform. The Expert Panel presented its Report to the Prime Minister and Parliament in January 2012, and its recommendations are clearly similar to those of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation more than a decade earlier.
The Expert Panel recommended:
- Deleting Section 25, permitting States to disqualify people from voting on the basis of race, and Section 51 (26), which allows the Commonwealth to make laws on the basis of race;
- Adding a new Section 51A Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, that recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first occupants of Australia; acknowledges the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters; respects the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and acknowledges the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- Adding a new Section 116A Prohibition of racial discrimination that says Governments shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin; and
- Adding a new Section 127A Recognition of languages that recognises English as the national language of Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages as the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage.
What is the Status of these Recommendations?
The Expert Panel’s Recommendations remain the cornerstone for discussion and debate on this issue. Although there has been multi-partisan support to move towards a referendum, the Federal Government, neither former nor current, have responded to both the Panel’s recommendations and the proposals put forward by the Joint Select Committee.The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Recognition Act 2013 was passed on 13th February 2013 with a two-year sunset clause, allowing time to build public awareness and support for constitutional reform prior to a referendum on the issue. The Act has now been extended til March 2018.