Social justice commissioners deliver five-year deadline on constitutional change

Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar

The current and all former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioners have called on Federal Parliament to commit to achieving constitutional reform in five years, saying successive governments had failed to act decisively or capitalise on public support for change.

Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar and former commissioners Mick Gooda, Professor Tom Calma, Dr William Jonas and Mick Dodson, sought the commitment in a submission today to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition.

The committee is due to report to the parliament in November on all matters relating to constitutional change.

As well as the commitment for a five-year time frame, the commissioners have also proposed Australia’s move to constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples include:

*  A regular parliamentary motion by which federal MPs can be held accountable to the Australian people, by indicating whether they support removing racism from the Constitution or not.

*  A negotiation process between parliamentarians, the government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to finalise the working of constitutional recognition.

*  A new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act to set out the framework for participation of Indigenous peoples and negotiating unfinished business.

They also proposed a national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, participation in accountability processes through Senate estimates and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation royal commission.

Ms Oscar said every social justice commissioner over the last 25 years had highlighted the need for constitutional reform to address ongoing human rights concerns faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Each process — the native title and social justice package of 1995, the reconciliation process up to 2000, and the last eight years of debate on constitutional reform — has provided the same answers,” she said.

“Each time, four complementary actions have been identified: a representative voice for Indigenous peoples; constitutional reform; truth telling processes; and an agreement or treaty-making framework.”

“We are hoping our submission, based on more than two decades of advocacy, offers a pathway forward, to address the unfinished business in this country.”

Commissioner Oscar said the removal of racially discriminatory clauses in the Constitution was critical.

“The fact that the race power has been used by successive governments in the last decade shows how this is a live, real issue,” she said.

Commissioner Oscar said the Joint Select Committee was an important opportunity for change.

“We must move on from endlessly discussing the potential reform options and committing to action that will allow Indigenous Australians to take a rightful place in our nation,” she said.

“We want to see constitutional recognition and a voice and a truth telling process being committed to by the Parliament.”

“We are at this point because of a lack of political leadership to adequately respond to the many processes that have taken place. What we now need is strong political leadership to take this forward.”

The joint select committee, set up after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s idea of an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament last year, released an interim report in July.

Mr Gooda was Social Justice Commissioner from 2010 to 2016; Professor Calma, from 2004 to 2010; Dr Jonas, from 1999 to 2004; and Professor Dodson, 1993 to 1998.

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