The Government’s announcement to introduce an Act of Recognition bill into Parliament to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a welcome step on the path towards a referendum to change our Constitution, Oxfam Australia said today.
Oxfam Australia’s Indigenous Rights Policy Advisor Andrew Meehan said it was an important move to ensure the multiparty commitment to hold a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our nation’s Constitution was maintained and strengthened.
“A referendum won’t succeed unless this political support is maintained,” Mr Meehan said. “Holding a referendum at the next election runs the risk of testing that cross-party commitment at a time when there is still work to do to educate the Australian public about this issue.”
All parties have agreed to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in our nation’s founding document, and the Expert Panel set up by the government last year found high levels of support for such a move.
“Momentum is starting to build on this issue,” Mr Meehan said. “There’s a real desire for change emerging. But it is critical that broad-based support is built across the community so that we ensure a successful referendum.”
Mr Meehan said the Act must reflect the recommendations of the Expert Panel, which held extensive consultations across the country last year.
“The recommendations to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution, remove outdated discriminatory provisions and prohibit discrimination, and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, are changes that are long overdue and in the national interest,” he said.
“The Panel’s changes should appeal to Australians’ sense of fairness. They would mean our Constitution is brought into the 21st Century to reflect our modern, liberal, democratic country. They would also ensure that all Australians are protected from racial discrimination
“Changing the Constitution is a way all Australians can join together to acknowledge our history and the great contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“The announcement today will hopefully move us further towards that goal.”
Oxfam Australia has supported opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to exercise their rights to basic social services, sustainable livelihoods, a strong voice and cultural diversity, for more than 30 years. By addressing the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the nation’s founding document, Constitutional recognition has the potential to improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
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