Posted by: jkirkby8712 | October 18, 2011

Monday, 17th October 2011 – Indigenous presence through You-Me-Unity

It’s a bit of a sad reflection, that the Australian Constitution continues to remain silent on the history, status and rights of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, despite government promises to change things like that over recent decades. I notice that the present Federal Government, presumably as a part of it’s last election ‘promises’, did in fact agree to hold a national referendum on the subject of the constitutional recognition of those peoples, with this to occur before the next scheduled election in 2013.  Certainly in the current ‘political’ climate [with the Prime Minister apparently fighting for her political future following ‘leaks’ from Cabinet discussions over the weekend, and the ongoing poor poll results for her and Labor Party] there has been little mention or reference of this subject. However, I understand that a panel is currently consulting with various communities about what the proposed referendum should focus on, with a plan to consider all relevant submissions prior to presenting their recommendations to the government.  In fact, the receipt of those submissions has been completed, and the process closed.  Over 3,400 submissions have been received by the Panel, and  over 70 public consultations held in metropolitan, regional and remote communities around Australia. The Panel is now carefully considering all submissions, and the outcomes arising from the consultations, with the aim of submitting it’s Report to the Government by December, this year.

The Panel, which goes under the title of  YouMeUnity, is described as the national conversation about updating our constitution  to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture for the benefit of all Australians.  ‘We acknowledge and respect the vision of a nation that recognises the culture and history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, values their participation and provides equal life chances for all’.  I was going to list the members of the Panel, but there is quite a team of them – a broad mix of Indigenous and Non- Indigenous representatives, including politicians such as the Independent Rob Oakeshotte,  and prominent Indigenous academic, Marcia Langton  – a lady who didn’t really impress me in earlier, felt she was too aggressive, a real rebel rouser – perhaps she was in her younger activist days, but these days, after having listened to her on various panels, etc, I have quite a deal of admiration for her views and attempts to push the cause of her people.

 

 Meanwhile, from the organisation’s website, we read a little more about it’s aims and hopes:-

‘The Constitution is the basis for our laws and political system.  A lot has changed since the Constitution was written in 1901.  Nowadays many Australians would be surprised to know that the Constitution still includes the possibility for discrimination based on your race, and ignores Australia’s first peoples and their role as custodians of the world’s oldest continuing culture. The Australian people have the power to update the Constitution through a referendum so that it better reflects our shared values.  In light of this, the Panel has been appointed by the Government to consult with the people and lead a nationwide discussion on the issue.  By December 2011, after a period of consideration, discussion and consultation with all Australians, the Panel will advise the government about the options for formally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution. You Me Unity is the national conversation about updating our Constitution to recognise our first peoples and define equality for all Australians’.

“For many years, governments, communities and individuals across Australia have viewed reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Non-Indigenous Australians as an important national objective. The Federal Parliament’s National Apology in 2008 was seen by many as a major step towards national reconciliation. ‘Closing the Gap’ has become pressing business for Australians across the country, to reduce discrimination and disadvantage, but much remains to be done. Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples now has wide support and is seen by many as an important further step that should now be taken towards full recognition of the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 21st Century Australian society. There are several reasons for this.

First, many people would be surprised to know that not all citizens are treated equally under the Australian Constitution. While racial discrimination is no longer accepted in our community, in our workplaces and in our daily lives, the Constitution permits laws that discriminate on the basis of race. While over 90 per cent of voters in the 1967 Referendum approved positive changes to the Constitution in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a number of questions about the way our Constitution treats the First Australians remain unresolved.

Second, while the great majority of Australians value and celebrate the unique contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultures to our national identity, the Constitution, our founding national document, gives no acknowledgement of the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our nation’s history or our contemporary society.

Third, many people believe that constitutional recognition would serve as a powerful symbol of the nation’s desire to embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a full and equal part of the Australian nation. To advance the idea of constitutional recognition and to explore how it might be achieved, in December 2010 the Australian Government, with the support of the Opposition, the Greens and Independent members of Parliament, appointed an Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians. The Panel’s task is to consult with the community and make recommendations by December 2011 on options for constitutional change that could be placed before the people at a future national referendum.

The Public Discussion Paper is designed as a starting point for the national conversation that the Panel will be conducting across Australia over coming months. It sets out background information about our Federal Constitution and how it can be changed, the potential benefits of constitutional recognition both for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and for all Australians, and possible ideas for recognition that will be discussed and developed during the Panel’s community consultations.

Ideas already raised by constitutional experts for constitutional change include:

• A Statement of Recognition in a Preamble to the Constitution, or in the body of the Constitution, acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ distinct cultures, identities and heritage, their prior ownership and custodianship of the land, and their ongoing contribution to Australian society.

• A Statement of Values in a Preamble or in the Constitution itself, which would include both recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and also set out the fundamental values of our society such as our personal freedoms, the rule of law, racial and gender equality, and our commitment to democratic government.

• Repeal or amendment of provisions in the Constitution currently based on racial discrimination.

• Creation in the Constitution of a new guarantee of non-discrimination and racial equality.

• New powers for the Australian Government to legislate to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage, and to redress historical disadvantage.

These and other ideas are explained in detail in the Paper.  The Panel has no preference for any of these ideas.  Before making its recommendations to Government, the Panel wants to hear the views of a wide cross-section of the Australian community.  We therefore, invite and welcome comments and contributions from all Australians.

Well, that’s the serious part of today’s contribution, lol, but I’m also reminded that it’s Maureen’s birthday today, the 17th October!!  Now Maureen is a friend from years back, we’re never met, not in person anyway, but there are plenty of stories along the way of our association of friendship. I met Maureen many years before the internet came on the scene – through that now ‘old fashioned’ medium of the pen friend club!!  Was it the late 80s, maybe even earlier – I still have her first letter from England here somewhere!!! Perhaps it was me who eventually introduced her to the eventual joys of emailing, and the ‘new version’ of the penfriend friendship. Anyway, our birthdays have always been just one day apart, though around 10 years gap [I’m the old one]. Ah yes, we have had some interesting occurrences between us throughout those years, I wonder if it’s just me who can recall them!!! J  Anyway Mo, have a wonderful day, for this 17th October – and thankyou for your Face Book greeting, one day early, lol, and for the repeat follow –up, just read a few minutes ago, after my return from my  Monday night radio show!!  A bit disappointed actually – not one phone call, though I loved the show!!  But yes, there was a call – on my mobile, from a friend in Singapore who never forgets me, and always wants top be the first to wish this guy a Happy Birthday.

It’s now 12.36 am on the 18th October. Goodnight all!!

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