Source: Rev Dr Barry M Craig
Amending the Constitution is always a serious matter, so it is disappointing when politicians and others misrepresent the process.
It is straightforward:
- the government brings a proposed amendment to Parliament in a bill;
- it is debated and possibly amended before being voted on;
- only when the bill is passed do we have the exact wording for the referendum.
The proposal, revised 23 March, currently reads, and may yet change slightly:
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
Why is a dignified recognition of Australia’s first peoples in the Constitution important? Because it is poor that there has never been a positive mention, and currently there is no acknowledgment at all.
There used to be two mentions:
“51. Legislative powers of the Parliament. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to: … (xxvi) the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws;” and
“127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.” Both italicised parts were removed in 1967.
Some say that more detail on the Voice is needed. This is absurd. Parliament will legislate the exact form, just as it does the 43 areas detailed in sections 51 & 52 that have the same above words that “The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to…”
If details were demanded first in those, drafting the Constitution would never have finished, or would have locked us in to provisions that would be very difficult to change and make Parliament useless. The current proposal adds to Parliament's capacity to provide needed legislation, and to more easily change it when needed.
The above proposal simply enshrines acknowledgment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and provides a means for permanent advisory representation. It has the full support of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.