Australia panel calls for recognition of indigenous population in constitution

[JURIST] A panel of Australian citizens on Thursday proposed that the country's Constitution [materials] recognize the Australian indigenous population [report materials], including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Currently, although Aborigines make up almost three percent of the Australian population, they are not mentioned in the constitution. The panel, consisting of Australian business executives, political leaders, Aboriginal leaders and legal scholars, produced the report recommending that the Australian government make changes [CNN report] to the constitution in an effort to decrease racial discrimination and foster "a sense of national unity." The panel suggested that recognizing the indigenous population in the constitution conforms with the nation's evolution:

The consultations the Panel undertook were a reminder of how far Australia has come since the nation's legal and political foundations were laid down in the late nineteenth century. Then, in line with the values of the times, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were excluded from the deliberations that led to the adoption of the Constitution. The text of the Constitution excluded them. It was not until two-thirds of the way through the nation's first century that the exclusion was removed and the Constitution shifted closer to a position of neutrality. The logical next step is to achieve full inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution by recognising their continuing cultures, languages and heritage as an important part of our nation and by removing the outdated notion of race.
The Australian government expressed its appreciation for the panel's work and said it would carefully review the recommendations [press release].

In recent years, the Australian government has recognized the long history of discrimination and disadvantage among its native citizens, although its efforts have not always resulted in better conditions. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard [official website] announced a national referendum [JURIST report] that sought to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Australian Constitution in November 2010. In August 2010, Amnesty International Australia (AIA) criticized the racial discrimination [JURIST report] that exists in Australia, which, according to AIA, violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [texts]. In June 2010, the Australian government reinstated its previously suspended Racial Discrimination Act [JURIST report] in the Northern Territory, which allows governmental authorities to regulate how welfare money is spent by the indigenous people of the country. In March 2010, UN special rapporteur James Anaya condemned the law [press release], calling it problematic from a human rights point of view. Australia endorsed [JURIST report] the aforementioned Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which reversed the position held by previous Australian governments. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd championed the cause of improved living conditions for and relations with Australia's indigenous population during his term in office, and offered and official apology on behalf of the federal government in February 2008 for past mistreatment to the nation's indigenous population.

 

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