Australia is unique in the post-colonial Western world for not acknowledging their indigenous population in their constitution. While the United States recognises the sovereignty of Native American tribes in trade and diplomacy, and the Canadians outline the various indigenous groups that lived and continue to live in the area, the extent of the Australian constitution and the Aboriginal people is, as of 1967, no longer denying them the right of citizenship.
The Recognise movement is attempting to redress this omission. A part of Reconciliation Australia, Recognise is a movement to include references to the first people of Australia – the Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders – in the Constitution, and to remove existing discrimination.
Examples of discrimination in the Constitution outlined on their website (http://www.recognise.org.au) include:
Remove Section 25 – which says the States can ban people from voting based on their race;
Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race.
On the other hand, the Recognise movement also wants to insert new clauses into the Constitution in order to protect Indigenous rights and preserve the history of the first people:
Insert a new section 51A – to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.
One of the Sydney University Students’ Representative Council’s Indigenous Officers, Chloe Wighton, works for Recognise. She told Honi that:
“I did know about the recognition movement, but not how it affected me as an individual or as an Indigenous person … It blew me away that these discriminatory sections still exist in a country as developed as this.”
Chloe also noted that, despite bipartisan support, “It can’t go ahead unless we have support across Australia and there are some parts of Australia that have more racial issues.”
However, in a briefing from Recognise, it was noted that the movement is achieving many successes across Australia. 135 000 people have signed on to the movement, and in 2013 77% of Australians support recognition in the Constitution, 15% more than in 2012.
Recognise doesn’t propose an explicit position on Indigenous sovereignty or on a treaty, but assures people that Constitutional recognition does not negate either of the former proposals.
But the Recognise movement currently has a broader base than Indigenous sovereignty and a treaty, and this will be demonstrated in the Journey for Recognition at the end of May. Campaigners will walk and cycle across the whole of Australia in order to garner support for the movement. Considering the breadth of the movement right now, however, there’s no doubt this will boost the movement’s prominence and bring Australia one step closer to recognising the real history of this country.