A statement about the First Peoples of Australia

A statement about the First Peoples of Australia could acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived on the continent and its islands before the British arrived.

A statement about the First Peoples of Australia could acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived on the continent and its islands before the British arrived.

It could also say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still have a relationship with their lands and waters. It could talk about the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Some people have suggested making a broader statement that acknowledges:

  • Australia’s ancient Indigenous heritage
  • the rules and form of government that we inherited from the British
  • Australia’s multicultural achievements.

Some people say that making a statement would be a big step on the way to reconciliation. People have suggested different ways of making a statement. One option would be to put the statement in the Constitution. Another option would be for the Australian Parliament and all the state and territory parliaments to make a declaration in new laws.

Question 1: Should we have a statement that acknowledges the First Peoples of Australia?

Question 2: Should a statement of recognition be inside the Constitution or outside it?

Question 3: If the statement goes in the Constitution, where is the best place to put it?

Question 4: What should the statement say?

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A statement in the body of the constitution is important as it goes towards righting the wrongs of the past. The 1967 Referendum the most successful referendum in the history of Australia captured the mood of the nation in recognising the First Peoples of Australia. The Mabo decision also changed the legal doctrine of "terra nullius", the fallacy that allowed all of the lands of Australia to be claimed by a foreign country. From 1788 to present day, the original occupants of this land have told the same story to every head of power coming onto Indigenous lands. 229 years later the story is the same. In honour of our ancestors, our great grandparents, and every generation since, we have a responsibility to ensure a "happy ending" to this story and capitalise on the bi-partisan agreement by governments to hold the referendum that positions us as the legal First Nations People of this country and gives us back the respect and status of being the original occupants of this great country. The words that capture this may include:Prior to the British occupation of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples walked this land for 60,000 years living in harmony with each other and the environment. In Modern Australia, we recognise, acknowledge and respect the continued culture, language and heritage of the First Nations People.
Peter Fisher
Tue, 02/05/2017 - 12:45
You are absolutely correct Andrew. It was an exclusionary legal instrument and this has been well documented as being so.Virtually every speech given by incoming Prime Ministers up to 1930 stated very clearly that it was the intention of the Constitution to maintain the "White Australia" policy. The intention of the Constitution cannot be changed by adding in some little piecemeal clauses. As justice Kirby stated, the Australian Constitution is the legal universe of Australia. That means that everything and every law within Australia all rests on this very insecure foundation called the Australian Constitution. Even current Prime Ministers have stated there is a mistake in the Constitution. Should you use a legal document if you know there is a mistake in it? Is it not a dereliction of duty to use a flawed legal document, knowing full well it is flawed?
Andrew Byron
Mon, 01/05/2017 - 15:15
The whole contitution should be rewritten to include our rich indigenous heritage and it should be written inclusive of all people. It's pointless adding a statement out of gesture it needs to be more. It was an exclusive constitution and it needs to be an example not only of reconciliation but relative for all of us to follow. Our constitution is the most important reflection of our existing society and a rewrite would give our whole nation a fresh start.
I believe there should be a frontispiece to the Constitution acknowledging that Australia was not terra nullis on arrival of the first fleet. That is all that is required.
No special statements for any ethnicity. Everyone should be equal.
Though all have their unique identity and family background, all Australian citizens should all be equal before the Constitution and the law.Modifications to the Constitution should remove all racial powers, leaving no distinction among citizens.Incorporating special provisions for any ethnic group within the Constitution is retrogressive for Australian society.Elevating a specific ethnic group will create a de facto aristocracy in Australia, with special rights above and beyond that of other citizens.Indeed, I believe that is the implicit intent of the proposed referendum.Doing so will not advance the cause of 'Reconciliation', but calcify the underlying differences in the very structure of the Constitution. It is a pathological proposal.
What's the point? Won't change anything just make some virtue signallers feel good about themselves. How about putting time and money towards protecting abused kids in aboriginal communities.
If they really want it, put the statement in and anywhere they like. They defiantly deserve it and it's not hurting anyone else nor the original authors.
Angus Witherby
Sat, 29/04/2017 - 16:35
A statement is needed in the body of the constitution that enshrines land rights and which recognises prior and current ownership. It should explicitly provide for a treaty.
Brad Watson
Sat, 29/04/2017 - 12:55
One country one nation. No more division.
We should not include a statement of recognition in the Constitution. It is well known already that Aboriginals were the first people to Australia. Australia has committed huge resources to help Aboriginals integrate into our society and a move to ammend our constitution would seem like a waste of time and resources that would be better spent on real issues like improving our economy, planning infrastructure and increasing diplomatic relations.
Lucy van Kessel
Fri, 28/04/2017 - 10:42
We should have a statement acknowledging the First Peoples of Australia as the original inhabitants of this country with their own civilization of over 60,000 years before the arrival of the British in the Constitution Introduction after point 4 and before point 5
Peter Fisher
Wed, 26/04/2017 - 16:32
The so-called preamble to the Australian Constitution describes who the people were that agreed to unite under the Crown and Australian Constitution at Federation. It is these people that agreed to the Australian Constitution, and on the way they excluded the Indigenous people from being allowed to participate in the life of the newly conceived Commonwealth of Australia.Citizenship is contractual in nature and if you read the preamble of the Citizenship Act 2007 you will notice that it is membership.The initial groups of people excluded the Indigenous peoples from obtaining membership and as such they were excluded as if they never existed on the claimed territory of the Commonwealth of Australia.How can the very mentioning of their race change the intention of the "White Australia" Constitution? It simply cannot change the intention.There is a great book released by Prof. Davis and Prof. Williams titled "Everything you need to know about the referendum to recognise indigenous Australians"; it is a must read to comprehend this issue, especially pages 120 and 121.What would a statement anywhere in the Constitution achieve if the indigenous Australians are in fact not Australians (due to the exclusion) but indigenous people living pursuant to their continuing pre-1770 laws and customs?We Australian citizens must supply a good enough reason for the members of the continuing pre-1770 societies to unite with us under the Constitution.

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