This submission is lengthy and addresses many issues, however highlights include:
- A referendum should not be scheduled without allowing sufficient time for a sustained and
widespread education program and advocacy campaign.
- AIATSIS recognises that in the period leading up to an eventual referendum, an act of Parliament containing a statement of recognition may positively contribute to the momentum of such a campaign.
- Constitutional recognition of Australia’s first peoples is one critical part of reconfiguring the relationship between Australia’s dominant political and legal system and the Indigenous polities which preceded it and which continue to exist today.
- Recognising the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s political and legal system is necessary to combat the current Constitution’s damaging effects on the ‘self-esteem [and] sense of self-worth’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- AIATSIS commends the government’s proposal to further this process through an act of Parliament, and strongly encourages the Committee to consider the concerns and recommendations put in this submission. Strong national leadership and a sustained public campaign are critical to building the necessary public awareness and support for a constitutional referendum to succeed.
- Some of the concerns about the Bill that should be addressed:
- The Bill should recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples possess distinct collective identities whose origins predate the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty. In doing so, the Bill should emphasise that Australia has a hybrid political and legal history, reflecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous traditions. So much is already acknowledged in the native title decisions of Australian courts and in the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), but there is value in the Parliament making such recognition voluntarily rather than in response to litigation.
- Consistently with Australia’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Bill should recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are Indigenous peoples having the right to self-determination, and that by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
See the full document for all recommendations and conclusions.