Constitutional Recognition: what is it, and why are we rocking for it?
Rock for Recognition is a tour that kicks off on November 8, 2012, to raise awareness for the need to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian constitution.
When our constitution was drawn up in 1901, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were given no input at all. In fact, the only mention was to exclude them from being counted as members of the population.
Luckily that changed in 1967 when 90% of Australians voted to alter clauses in the constitution which excluded Indigenous people from the laws and rights that applied to all Australians.
That was a big step in the right direction, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still not acknowledged in the Australian constitution as Australia’s first people.
Changes to the constitution could secure better treatment of Indigenous Australians and stronger protection of their unique cultures, languages and spiritual connection to the land.
The Australian constitution is the founding political and legal document of our nation, so changing it is a pretty big deal. The only real way to do that is to hold a referendum – a national election.
Last month, the government got the ball rolling by introducing an Act of Recognition bill into parliament to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
An Expert Panel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders and leaders, legal experts and political people consulted with the Australian public and found overwhelming support for change. Last year, Newspoll found that 75% of Australians support some kind of constitutional reform to recognise Indigenous Australians.
What are the proposed changes?
The Panel has recommended changes to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' continuing cultures and relationship with traditional lands and waters, changes to ensure laws can be made to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and changes that prevent racially discriminatory laws being made.
These are changes that would affect all Australians, not just Indigenous Australians.
"The Panel's changes should appeal to Australians' sense of fairness," says Oxfam Australia's Indigenous Rights Policy Advisor Andrew Meehan. "They would mean our Constitution is brought into the 21st Century to reflect our modern, liberal, democratic country. They would also ensure that all Australians are protected from racial discrimination
"Changing the Constitution is a way all Australians can join together to acknowledge our history and the great contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."
How can you get involved?
All of Australia's major political parties support Constitutional Recognition, but it's important to build support across the community as well, since it's the people of Australia who will ultimately be voting on the issue.