in brief: Abbott to draft amendment granting indigenous people constitutional recognition
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to finalise a draft amending the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people as the first Australians.
Abbott has labelled this recognition as a ‘national crusade’ which should be of importance to everyone. Despite this date for the proposed change, Abbott has warned against rushing the changes.
‘We have to be comfortable with it as a nation: black and white Australians, old and new Australians, Australians from everywhere have to be comfortable with it and they’ve got to appreciate that this will be, and should be, a unifying moment,’ Abbott stated to reporters at Australia Day celebrations in Canberra. ‘We want it to happen as quickly as possible but a rushed job might be a botched job.’
This follows directly from two Indigenous advocates winning Australian of the Year awards; hence lending support and publicity to the case for constitutional recognition.
The Senior Australian of the Year for 2014, former federal politician and founding co-chairman of Reconciliation Australia, Fred Chaney, has welcomed the proposed change, and has stated that it is of extreme importance to work in collaboration with the indigenous community: ‘…if we do that then the political firepower that’s being directed, the bureaucratic firepower and the community firepower, will enable the Aboriginal people of Australia to have their rightful place in this country.’
Prime Minister Abbott also stated that the sentiment of recognising Australia’s first people would be completing the constitution rather than changing it: ‘If we had known in 1901 what we know now, if our hearts had been as big then as now, we would have acknowledged Indigenous people in the constitution back then.’ He noted that the nation’s founders were products of their era, but believed that it was time to ‘complete their great dream.’
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also advocated for constitutional recognition, stating that change is necessary in order to ‘rectify the wrong’ of not recognising Indigenous Australians: ‘Doesn’t matter what your politics, doesn’t matter what football team you barrack for, what state you live in – today’s the day we should say, enough is enough, let’s recognise Indigenous Australians in our constitution.’
In early 2013 federal parliament passed an Act of Recognition, intended to pave the way for constitutional change by allowing time to build community support for a referendum.