Last week we witnessed a rare sight: bipartisan agreement on a national issue. Leaders of the major parties spoke movingly in favour of a referendum on recognition of indigenous Australians in our Constitution.
Such oratory and good works rarely get the attention they deserve, let alone the votes.
President Obama’s State of the Union address last week was also a marvel. It had everything: gun reform, Burma, increasing the minimum wage - yet, the oratory that moved me left the Republicans cold.
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We are about to embark on the final parliamentary sitting week of the year, and it promises to be ugly. Speaker Anna Burke will earn her money.
The complete collapse of the Government’s measures to discourage boats loaded with asylum seekers from reaching our shores has the Coalition even more fired up than usual.
Julia Gillard no longer seems to have any defence against the charge that Labor opened our borders to people smugglers when it dismantled the Howard government’s policies.
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During the negotiation stage after the 2010 election, one demand from the Greens was a referendum to incorporate indigenous people in the Constitution before the 2013 election. Julia Gillard signed up.
Now she has stated that the referendum will not be held, as she feels the people are not yet sufficiently in support. Whose fault is that? In essence, it is the task of a government which is seeking to change the Constitution to devote resources necessary to convince the public.
It is no easy task to get enough support to satisfy the requirement of a double majority. Only eight of the 44 referendums put to the people since 1901 have passed. Obviously, the voters need to be convinced. Apparently they haven’t been, so the promised referendum is postponed.
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It will be a shameful day for Australia if it does not change its Constitution to both prohibit racial discrimination and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The proposed changes are, individually, both worthy and overdue. But together they become complex enough to threaten the success of any referendum.
The recommendations are to remove the “race power” section, prohibit racial discrimination, but allow positive discrimination “for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group”, to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution itself (rather than in a preamble), and to acknowledge indigenous languages.
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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.
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Prince William’s coming visit seems to have resulted in the dramatic conversion of a republican celebrity. This is none other than the editor and media personality Ms. Ita Clare Buttrose AO OBE, who campaigned for the politicians’ republic during the 1999 referendum.
Readers of the Wentworth Courier, which circulates in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, were surprised then by her harsh dismissal of the No case and indeed of constitutional monarchists.
Ms Buttrose was the founding editor of Cleo which, with its nude male centrefolds, was aimed at young single women. She later edited the more conservative Australian Women’s Weekly and the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs.
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