Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and member of the expert panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, writes: Re. “Why Aboriginal Australia should reject constitutional recognition” (July 11, item 4). Chris Graham makes some very strong and emotive points in Wednesday’s Crikey piece about the value of constitutional recognition in the face of a continued political inability or unwillingness to deliver better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
As a member of the expert panel, which included politicians of all stripes as well as community leaders and lawyers, and that consulted widely with both communities and legal experts, I believe that if we let the chance of failure stop us from trying, then we wouldn’t ever try to change anything.
Our constitution remains a document that embodies the mindset and values of Australia in 1900, and not those we hold today.
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Graham powerfully points out the litany of past mistakes and failings made in respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how simply amending the preamble of the constitution is inadequate.
It’s very true that without appropriate commitment in the long term, words and deeds can quickly fall flat. I am sure that no member of the expert panel would think, for a moment, that proper reform of the constitution would, by itself, be a panacea that will change lives and communities overnight. But the concern or expectation that follow up steps will not be taken can’t become a reason for total inaction.
In fact, the chance that reform could be watered down into a preamble amendment and that wider polices won’t immediately change is the very reason that we need to campaign extremely hard to remove race powers and make the expert panel’s proposed changes to the body of the constitution.
Our history is laden with examples of where the governments of the day have failed to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and mistakes are still being made on an all too frequent basis.
To have an overwhelming majority of people to vote yes to the referendum proposed by the expert panel would require the majority of Australian people to understand that they are being asked to remove the last racist elements of our constitution while also ensuring that as a nation we aren’t closing the door on future action such as further reforms to native title, which can deliver significant long-term economic and social benefits.
This would help signal a shift away from simple answers and quick fixes, and provide the political will to ensure that programs, policies and funding extend beyond party lines and electoral cycles.
Aboriginal people can use this opportunity to directly ask all Australian people to reflect on the future of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations in this country and to clearly signal their support for reconciliation. I can only hope that, despite the political rhetoric we’ve seen recently, Aboriginal peoples will not let anyone take away this opportunity to ask every Australian to send a clear message to future governments.
Queensland coat of arms:
Kirill Reztsov writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Friday, item 7). Crikey raises the issue of whether it is appropriate to eat one’s own crest. I have eaten kangaroo and emu. I would also wager that the good folk of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have eaten beef, though possibly not ones wearing crowns.