I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Aborigines and the Australian Constitution

Australian Aborigines request recognition in the Constitution.  Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, stated last August (see theguardian.com) that such a recognition would complete our constitution.  This is obviously nonsense, as our constitution is not incomplete, and any addition to it would be an amendment.

All politicians make favourable noises concerning such an amendment.  Therefore, it is almost certain that we will arrive to a referendum, so that all Australians will have their say about it.

As I don't care a little bit about political correctness, I will state straight away that I will vote against such an amendment.

I am not racist (I know: most racists would state exactly that, and you are free to think that I am one of them if it pleases you; I know I am not), but I cannot see what the presence for 40,000 years of Aborigines on this continent has to do with the Australian Constitution.  A constitution is the basic law of the country and, as such, there is no need for it to state that somebody was present before the modern state was formed.

The Aborigines were mistreated, abused, and killed.  Still today, they clearly represent a disadvantaged minority and are often discriminated against.  I consider it a moral duty of all Australians to work towards redressing centuries of injustice and to make possible for Aborigines to have the same opportunities that most Australians take for granted.  And it is not only an altruistic attitude, because there would be great benefits for the whole society.

We should also be prepared to support the Aboriginal communities for as long as necessary, but the constitution shouldn't mention any particular section of the Australian nation.  It should be equally valid for all of us.  I would rather create an Australian Bill of Rights and then focus on ensuring that all Australians, Aboriginal or not, enjoy them.


  1. Hi, amendments to the constitution would not only insert sections it will also remove sections that are considered racist (historically used against one minority group), a section giving governments the power to suspend human rights that are in complete contrast to the international human rights obligations Australia has signed up to, we are a fast evolving society and i find it logical to update our constitution to reflect our society, I personally dont see how it affects anything except promoting national unity, im open to others opinions if they are logical and dont ignore historical facts, im unsure about inserting new sections but to feel part of a modern independent society we all need our human rights protected by removing that part of the governments powers, I want to see them run the country properly first

  2. Hi Shan Sam. Thanks for commenting on the article. I agree with you that the constitution should not contain what is no longer acceptable in a modern society. I also agree that it should promote national unity. I just don't see the relevance of recognising the presence of a group of people who occupy the land before the Commonwhealth of Australia came into existence. Moreover, it is difficult to change anything with a referendum, as people, when in doubt, tend to leave things as they are. Therefore, any referendum should address a single, simple issue. Any proposal to make several changes is almost destined to fail, as only those agreeing with all of them would vote yes.

  3. Thanks for the response, I dont agree with the word Australia making this continents history exclusive to the arrival of the brittish, the word Australia derives from the latin term terra australis which was coined long before any europeans sighted Australia, in fact the theory of terra australis ( south land ) was the driver of all who tired to find the south land, I think future generations deserve an honest document, to do nothing because it might not work is not a good enough reason to not try, to leave things as they are is partly why we are still dealing with these types of issues, we agree the are humans too so let them have historical truths, failure would only contribute to more meaningful discussion, a good thing, after all if they have been here for possibly 18,500 generation they deserve a real say about this beautiful land we call home

  4. I believe we agree on the general principle that Aboriginal culture should be recognised and appreciated. Where we disagree is on what should be in the consitution. In my opinion, the constitution should exclusively focus on legal matters. It should make no references to any section of the Australian nation, particular beliefs, gender, or other potentially discriminatory distinctions. In fact, I would even remove some legal parts that have become obsolete. For example, the fact that the salary of the Governor General should be 10,000 pounds "until the parliament otherwise provides" is completely irrelevant.

    In practice though, modifying the constitution is a difficult thing to do (and I agree with that). Therefore, a modernisation of it or its "reduction to the essentials" might never take place. Still, I don't think we should add parts that are not of a legal nature.

  5. since the mabo decision I think there is a need for legal truths, Australia wasnt settled, that requires a treaty or terra nullius, it wasnt conquered as that requires an official war, im not a lawyer but think future generations deserves to get a legally honest document that doesnt require further ammendments because of something simplistic like traditionalism or fear of the unknown, I think Australia is progressive and would hope decisions are done for the national good and future prosperity, the youth of today dont have the comfort to fight for the status quo as the world needs to change and they will have too do some uncomfortable things, progression for the grandchildren

  6. I agree with the points you make. Still, I don't see what the proposed amendments to the constitution have to do with them. According to http://www.recognise.org.au/why/what-is-proposed, the following five changes are being proposed:
    1. Remove Section 25 – which says the States can ban people from voting based on their race;
    2. Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;
    3. 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;
    4. Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
    5. 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.

    I agree with 1, 2, and 4. But, obviously, if we implemented 2, it would not be possible to pass laws that discriminate in favour of the Aborigines. That's why point 3 would becomes necessary if we wanted to keep passing laws to support them.

    Clearly, the Aboriginal communities need to be supported, and I am all for it. But why is it necessary to do it with a racist law or replacing racist articles of the constitution with other racist articles? Shouldn't we be able to provide the necessary support to disadvantaged communities regardless of their ethnicity? If there were a clearly identifiable group of non-Aboriginal people with poor school attendance, shorter life-span, and poorer health, shouldn't they get the same support?

    Concerning point 5, I confess I don't see its purpose. Despite the fact that the Aborigines have been on this continent for so long, Australia is a new country, in which the Aborigines are a minority. They and their culture deserve our respect (and they have mine), but so do the other ethinicities and communities that constitute our nation.