The Committee was established to inquire into and report on steps that can be taken to progress towards a successful referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition, with the resolution stating
a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples be appointed to inquire into and report on steps that can be taken to progress towards a successful referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition, and in conducting the inquiry, the committee:
- work to build a secure strong multi-partisan parliamentary consensus around the timing, specific content and wording of referendum proposals for Indigenous constitutional recognition; and
- the creation of an advisory group whose membership includes representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to assist the work of the committee;
- the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians; and
The Expert Panel advising the Committee made the following recommendations:
- mechanisms to build further engagement and support for the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across all sectors of the community, and taking into account and complementing the existing work being undertaken by Recognise.
Recommendations for changes to the Constitution
That section 25 be repealed. That section 51(xxvi) be repealed.
That a new ‘section 51A’ be inserted, along the following lines:
Section 51A Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
Acknowledging the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters;
Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
Acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Panel further recommends that the repeal of section 51(xxvi) and the insertion of the new ‘section 51A’ be proposed together.
That a new ‘section 116A’ be inserted, along the following lines:
Section 116A Prohibition of racial discrimination
The Commonwealth, a State or a Territory shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin. Subsection (1) does not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group.
That a new ‘section 127A’ be inserted, along the following lines:
Section 127A Recognition of languages
The national language of the Commonwealth of Australia is English. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage.
Recommendations on the process for the referendum
In the interests of simplicity, there should be a single referendum question in relation to the package of proposals on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples set out in the draft Bill (Chapter 11).
Before making a decision to proceed to a referendum, the Government should consult with the Opposition, the Greens and the independent members of Parliament, and with State and Territory governments and oppositions, in relation to the timing of the referendum and the content of the proposals.
The referendum should only proceed when it is likely to be supported by all major political parties, and a majority of State governments.
The referendum should not be held at the same time as a referendum on constitutional recognition of local government.
Before the referendum is held, there should be a properly resourced public education and awareness program. If necessary, legislative change should occur to allow adequate funding of such a program.
The Government should take steps, including through commitment of adequate financial resources, to maintain the momentum for recognition, including the widespread public support established through the YouMeUnity website, and to educate Australians about the Constitution and the importance of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Reconciliation Australia could be involved in this process.
If the Government decides to put to referendum a proposal for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples other than the proposals recommended by the Panel, it should consult further with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their representative organisations to ascertain their views in relation to any such alternative proposal.
Immediately after the Panel’s report is presented to the Prime Minister, copies should be made available to the leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Greens, and the independent members of Parliament. The report should be released publicly as soon as practicable after it is presented to the Prime Minister.