Indigenous Constitutional recognition about respect
A brief glance at Australia’s history shows that changing our constitution is never easy. Only eight of 44 referendums held since Federation have been successful.
But I am optimistic that we can achieve nation-wide consensus on the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.
Constitutional recognition of Indigenous people will be a significant step towards building an Australia based on strong relationships and mutual respect.
It will help to show that as a country, we are united in acknowledging the unique and special place of our first peoples in our history and in the life of our nation, and by doing this, help to strengthen the identity of our nation. .
In turn, this can help to inspire action from all sections of our community to help work towards an improved quality of life for Indigenous people.
I expect constitutional reform will build upon the foundations of trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that were generated by the National Apology.
Importantly, it will also help to build the respect that is needed to continue the work the Government is doing to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage – work that includes making major reforms and investment in early childhood education, health, jobs, housing and services, and infrastructure.
Being able to successfully close the gap does not just come from physical infrastructure such as better houses and better services. It also comes from how we treat each other – and that is what this process is about.
Making a difference to Indigenous disadvantage is likely to happen faster if we can work in an environment of mutual understanding and respect.
I have seen time and time again how people who feel respected are more likely to have the confidence and motivation to participate fully in our society.
It is important that achieving this historic reform is tackled in the right way, so that we can develop the broad community agreement necessary.
This process will need to be about all Australians. We know that without the support of the majority of Australians, this reform will not succeed.
That’s why the Government is moving to establish an expert panel, including Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts, and parliamentary members, to help lead the process and work towards consensus.
The Panel will provide possible options on what sort of change could be presented for people to vote on at a referendum.
Broad parliamentary support is also essential for the long-term success of the panel and this referendum.
Recognising Indigenous people in our constitution should be something that all Australians can be proud of. I see this process as something that can bring Australians together, not something that will divide us.
History shows us that achieving this reform will be challenging and it will require hard work.
We are not underestimating the challenge. But the chance to make this reform may not come around again in our lifetimes, and so we are determined to build a robust and persuasive case for change. I am hopeful that this is an issue that will unite people and allow us to formally recognise the unique contribution Indigenous Australians have made to our nation.
The expert panel will report to the Government by December 2011. I’d encourage all Australians to start to get involved in this important process.
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