Campaign for indigenous recognition - the next step

CONSTITUTIONAL referendums don’t often get up in Australia, but there’s one that sticks out at which people overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’.

The year was 1967, the Beatles were top of the charts and more than 90 per cent of voters opted to amend the constitution to include Aboriginal people in the census.

It was seen as a turning point in bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Now there is a campaign for a new referendum to insert a section recognising indigenous people and their languages in the constitution, something the founding document fails to do. 

It will also look to remove a section which says the states can ban people from voting based on their race.

It is also being proposed that a section be included banning racial discrimination by government.

Ballarat Aboriginal elder ‘Uncle’ Murray Harrison sees constitutional recognition as a very important step for the whole country, not just indigenous Australians.

He rates it as being just as important a step in reconciliation as the stolen generation apology in 2007.

“You just can’t go past how good the apology has been for the stolen generation and people recognising and understanding what it’s all about,” he said.

Mr Harrison said the recognition of indigenous people in the constitution would show that there was “no division between us”.

“We are just people. The more people that understand this, the better it will be,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned this is what it’s all about, just being recognised would put the icing on the cake, mate.”

The deputy director of the Recognise campaign,Tanya Hosch, said it was important for Australia’s constitution to fully reflect the part of indigenous people in the nation’s history.

“Being the first people in this country and to be excluded from our founding document is just wrong,” she said. 

“It is important to look at those elements of the constitution that are discriminatory to be finally dealt with once and for all.”

To help spread the word, Recognise has organised a ‘Journey to Recognition’, in which campaigners will travel to destinations around Australia.

Ms Hosch said she thought the referendum would be put to the people within two years and believed there was real momentum behind the change.

“Absolutely there is, that’s why this journey is really important because it gives us the chance to talk to Australians in as many places as possible,” she said.

Murray Harrison says recognition in the constitution would be as important as the stolen generation apology.

Murray Harrison says recognition in the constitution would be as important as the stolen generation apology.

tom.cowie@fairfaxmedia.com.au