Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

Greetings from the Australian National University where Professor  Mick Dodson is speaking on Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. He pointed out that the Australian constitution "was not exactly a centerpiece in our daily lives" although surveys indicate the Australian population supports constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. He said the Australian constitution was an exclusionary document with regard to indigenous people. Section 25 contemplates excluding people from voting on the basis of race. He is the author of books and academic papers on the topic, including "Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians" (Dodson, Parliament of Australia, 2012). The
Interim Report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. was issued in July 2014. This proposes recognition of indigenous peoples and prohibiting of discrimination.

Professor Dodson pointed out that th Australian constitution was one of the most difficult in the world to change, requiring a majority of voters nationally and in every state. He asked if we wanted to retain entrenched parliamentary power to discriminate and suggested that just one question need be put to the referendum: "Do you agree with the repeal of Section 25 and subsection 26 of section 51". The advantage of this, he suggested, was that leaves the question of discrimination to the courts. He suggested other measures should be in a bill of rights, but this was not politically feasible in Australia at present: "Politicians would scurry away in all directions, except the one we want them to go in". If recognition in the Constitution was required for symbolic purposes, Professor Dodson suggested this could be in the readable, where a future parliament could not use it as the basis of discriminatory law.

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