Working towards constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

There are some very big changes brewing at the Federal and Victorian State level regarding the way Parliament (Commonwealth and Victorian) will interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the future.

The Victorian Parliament passed an important Bill on Thursday 5 July 2018. The Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018 is the first substantive step towards treaty talks between Parliament and First Nations in Victoria. It is a historic moment for the State of Victoria and the nation. It is the first Bill of its kind in Australia.

At the Federal level, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a resolution in March 2018 to create a Joint Select Committee that will report back to Parliament by 29 November 2018. In very broad terms, the Committee’s job is to recommend to Parliament how the Constitution could be changed to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live better in their own country.

To arrive at its recommendations, the Committee must consider submissions by various individuals and organisations. We have made a submission to the committee, which you can read about in detail below. The Committee must also consider a past report by the 2015 Joint Select Committee, and a pretty remarkable document called the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Uluru Statement

The Uluru Statement talks plainly of the powerlessness of First Nations people and asks for constitutional reforms to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament and a Makarrata Commission to oversee agreement making with governments and truth-telling about our nation’s history.  It was produced after a series of ‘dialogues’ held around the country where a total of 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people met to discuss changes to the Constitution. The process culminated in a National Constitutional Convention held at Uluru in May last year. Following the Uluru Convention, the Uluru Statement was written.

The Uluru Statement represents a significant shift in thinking around constitutional reform from the now defunct Recognise campaign.

History suggests that the Australian public will need time to digest the Uluru Statement. Once digested, it is my hope that the Uluru Statement is respected for what I believe it is: a request for change to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to finally be included in the discussions regarding their own future, without enduring further harmful interventions by government such as those that already blemish our nation’s history.  

Maurice Blackburn’s submission to the Joint Selection Committee

We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the process of changing the constitution to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people achieve the goal they set out in the Statement: "We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to the country".

Our submission was prepared by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights committee, made up of staff who assist in public interest litigation, in maintaining and building relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, and in implementing internal policies and projects aimed at promoting reconciliation in Australia.

Our submission:

  • supports the Uluru Statement;
  • asks the Committee to call on Parliament to build community support;
  • asks the Committee to consider other constitutional amendments in conjunction with the Uluru Statement;
  • asks the Committee to outline ways to meaningfully consult with key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during the reform process;
  • asks the Committee to address how the Voice to Parliament or other reform proposal will, in practice, provide genuine engagement and effective consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We urge the Government to reconsider the Uluru Statement in an informed and respectful manner, so that our nation may take up a historic invitation to walk with our First Nations Peoples in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

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Michael Thorne

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Michael Thorne is a public and product liability lawyer in Maurice Blackburn’s Melbourne office. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Sydney and Juris Doctor from the University of Melbourne. Michael is a technical, lateral thinking person who ...

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