RECOGNISING ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE IN THE AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION
Underpinning our work in Indigenous Affairs is our commitment to working towards the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution. Constitutional recognition is an opportunity for us to make a clear statement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can share in every opportunity this great country has to offer, as well as being proud of their culture and history.
Constitutional recognition is about acknowledging there was a flourishing Indigenous culture here when Europeans arrived, and it is a vital, living, breathing component of our national identity today. As a country we need to acknowledge the long and enduring history of the First Peoples, the original inhabitants of this land, while at the same time recognising theirs is a living culture, with an ongoing connection to the land and the water.
Recognition can acknowledge the past, and affirm our commitment to a future built on true reconciliation. At a meeting between the then Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and 40 important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders on 6 July 2015, a bipartisan commitment was made to progress the national conversation about constitutional recognition. This commitment included the establishment of a Referendum Council, and a significant national conversation about recognition.
On 7 December 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with the Leader of the Opposition the Hon Bill Shorten MP, announced the establishment of a Referendum Council. The Referendum Council will lead a national discussion on constitutional recognition, including a series of Indigenous-designed and led consultations. The Council held its first meeting on 14 December 2015.
The Referendum Council comprises 16 eminent Australians who bring expertise, experience and commitment to the table. Professor Patrick Dodson and Mr Mark Leibler AC are Co-Chairs of the Referendum Council. Professor Dodson and Mr Leibler were the Co-Chairs of the former Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians, and will provide consistency in this important process. The Referendum Council will draw on the work undertaken by the Expert Panel, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Act of Recognition Review Panel and the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The other members of the Referendum Council are: Ms Pat Anderson AO; Professor Megan Davis; Mr Andrew Demetriou; Mr Murray Gleeson AC QC; Mr Mick Gooda; Ms Tanya Hosch; Professor Kristina Keneally; Ms Jane McAloon; Mr Michael Rose; Ms Natasha Stott Despoja AM; Mr Noel Pearson; Ms Amanda Vanstone; Ms Dalassa Yorkston and Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM.
The Referendum Council considers consultation and community engagement is paramount. The Council will ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to share their views about constitutional recognition. This will include a series of Indigenous-designed and led consultations, to give First Australians an opportunity to address this issue.