The Australian Constitution should be amended to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and prohibit racial discrimination in line with key recommendations of an Expert Panel appointed by the Federal Government. “All political parties should show principled leadership and support the Expert Panel’s recommendations. The evidence is clear that Australians support equality, fairness, recognition and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” says the Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of International Human Rights Advocacy, Ben Schokman.
“Not all citizens are treated equally under the Australian Constitution. While it is commonly accepted that racial discrimination has no place in the Australian community, our Constitution continues to allow discrimination on the basis of race.”
“Given the Australian Constitution was drafted in the 1890s, it is not surprising that our foundational document still reflects some the racist attitudes of the time,” Mr Schokman said. “The Expert Panel’s recommendations provide us with a rare opportunity to update the Australian Constitution to better reflect our community’s contemporary values.”
The Expert Panel, which consists of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, constitutional experts and politicians from all parties, carried out an in-depth community consultation process, travelling to 84 urban and remote locations to host public events and also receiving 3,600 public submissions.
“Throughout the consultation process, Australians have made it clear that they want meaningful recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution and that they want any racist elements removed. The Human Rights Law Centre also strongly considers that the Australian Constitution should promote equality and prevent and protect against racial discrimination,” Mr Schokman said.
In its submission to the Expert Panel in September 2011, the Human Rights Law Centre identified gaps in Australia’s compliance with its international human rights obligations, highlighting the need for constitutional reform.
“In recent years, a number of highly respected, independent international human rights bodies and experts have made specific recommendations in areas where Australia is failing to meet its legal obligations, particularly the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Expert Panel’s recommendations show that Australians agree. Recognition and equality in the Australian Constitution would be a small but crucial step to help address the serious disadvantage and discrimination that is experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
A copy of the Human Rights Law Centre’s submission to the Expert Panel is available here.