Constitutional recognition

Wondering what the current debate over constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is all about? Find the answers to your questions here.

Constitutional recognition: one step in the journey towards reconciliation

Reconciliation through building respect, recognition and relationships, is profoundly important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, and all Australians.

Currently the Australian Constitution provides no recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ occupation of lands, waters and sea for more than 40,000 years before Australia was founded as a nation in 1901. It also permits negative discrimination based on a person’s race, which includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

Australians have an opportunity to change this situation. Constitutional recognition is a core element of Australia’s reconciliation journey and an important step towards a more respectful society which embraces and celebrates our collective national story. 

We encourage every Australian to learn more about constitutional recognition and join in the national conversation. 

Constitutional Recognition

World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers speaks about the prospect of a referendum on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia's Constitution, and the important role this plays in the journey of reconciliation.

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One of the things that Australians will soon be asked to consider is recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution. At World Vision, we fully support this change, to end the silence in our founding document and to start the healing process. We are awaiting Indigenous Australians’ views on how best to do that and we will respect what they choose.

Claire Rogers, CEO World Vision Australia

FAQ

At this stage World Vision Australia is not supporting a specific model of constitutional reform. Change of this nature must be led by Indigenous people and so World Vision would only support a form of recognition which was supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.
All Australians are acknowledged in the Constitution as “the people of the Commonwealth”. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not given a voice in public debates that led to the drafting of the Constitution and the creation of a new nation on their ancestral lands. Few were able to vote in the referendum that enacted it.

The Constitution is silent on Australia’s long and impressive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history before 1901. Recognition would acknowledge our full story, celebrate our collective history and build a greater sense of shared heritage.
While constitutional recognition will not be a single solution for the disadvantage and exclusion faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it is still important and will make a difference.

We know there is a direct relationship between Australia’s colonial history and poor outcomes in health, wellbeing and life opportunities for Indigenous children. The evidence is clear that building respect, recognition and relationships improves people’s health and wellbeing.

Together we must do a range of things to overcome racism and disadvantage, including symbolic gestures, practical initiatives and major reforms that acknowledge and empower Indigenous Australians to lead their own development.

World Vision is also bringing our community development expertise and working alongside Indigenous people in their communities, making a difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families today.
At a national political level, there is wide multi-party support for constitutional recognition. There is also strong backing from a wide cross-section of organisations across the Australian community – including peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, churches, business, unions and community organisations.

However, some Indigenous and non-Indigenous people do not support constitutional reform, or not at this time. There is not yet a consensus about the form of words that should be used, or the extent of recognition - whether it should be a symbolic recognition, or substantive changes.

Too little change may not gain the support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while too much may not gain the support of mainstream Australia. The Referendum Council is building on the extensive consultation work of the Expert Panel, seeking views on how the Constitution may best be changed. The council will report to the Government and the Opposition on what people say and on how the Constitution might best be changed. 
Visit the Referendum Council website for extensive information on the possible changes and the opportunity to share your views.

Visit the Australian Government’s Constitutional Recognition page on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website.

Visit Frequently Asked Questions on the Recognise website. Recognise is Reconciliation Australia’s campaign to raise awareness and understanding of constitutional recognition.

Listen to and read public commentators on the issue.

Have a conversation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in your community.

Talk with your family and friends.
Constitutional change requires an Act of Parliament, and a referendum approved by a national majority and by a majority of the States. Only eight out of 44 referendum proposals have succeeded in gaining a majority of votes in a majority of state since 1901. In order to have a good chance of success, it is important that the referendum question has sufficient consensus support among Indigenous leaders and representatives, as well as support from all major political parties.
No date has yet been set for a referendum on constitutional recognition.
The referendum question was whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be included in the national census and to allow the Federal government to make laws on behalf of Aboriginal people (thereby taking the power out of the control of States). The 1967 Referendum was hugely successful, with more than 90 per cent of Australians voting Yes. This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.
Our commitment to reconciliation reflects World Vision’s role as an Australian organisation that seeks to engage Australians to transform their world.

As a community development agency working on the ground with Indigenous Australians, we understand the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders include racism, exclusion and institutionalised negative discrimination. Changing our constitution is part of the solution.

Change of this nature must be led by Indigenous people and so World Vision would only support a model of recognition which was supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.

We hope everyone involved in the process will find a workable model and referendum question capable of widespread support.

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