Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

So much for the “Freedom Commissioner”

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Less than three years after the Coalition government appointed Tim Wilson as the “Freedom Commissioner“, Attorney-General George Brandis has now appointed someone from an organisation which has repeatedly been on the wrong side of debates on freedoms, and public policy more generally.

This is just some of what the Public Interest Advocacy Centre – led by the new Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow – has said in recent years:

Freedom of speech:

PIAC has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act…

‘Freedom of speech is a crucial human right but so too is the right not to be vilified on the basis of your race or ethnicity. Serious race-based insult, offence and humiliation can be deeply wounding and threatens important aspects of Australia’s liberal democracy,’ said Edward Santow, PIAC’s CEO.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders:

PIAC generally supports the proposal for a statement of values or recognition, which appropriately recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution… PIAC submits that constitutional protection is imperative to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians against racial discrimination.

Freedom of religion:

We oppose, in particular, the granting of blanket exemptions to churches and religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws.

Suing Coles for its “discriminatory” website:

“Ms Mesnage relies on a screen-reader to use the internet. Like many people who are blind or have a vision impairment, she has had ongoing problems using the Coles website to do her shopping since 2008,” PIAC CEO, Edward Santow said.

Pro Bono Australia News reported in October 2014 that after negotiations with Coles failed to bring about a solution, Mesnage brought legal proceedings against the supermarket chain under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

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One-clause bill of rights loses support

Interesting to see one of the more ardent supporters of constitutional recognition suddenly revise his expectations downwards:

Influential Yawuru leader Patrick Dodson has signalled his willingness to back a referendum proposition without an explicit constitutional ban on racial discrimination, if the newly formed Referendum Council he co-chairs decides that is in the best interests of the nation.

That’s from this weekend’s Australian. You might recall that Dodson (and others) exclaimed in August that this was a non-negotiable imperative. So that a leader is willing to drop a ‘one-clause bill of rights’ is certainly a good sign. However, any referendum option that inserts more race into the Constitution should still be rejected. As my colleague Simon Breheny explains in the same article:

However, it would be unlikely to appease the Institute of Public Affairs, which wants the Constitution to be “colour blind” and reacted to the Referendum Council’s creation by launching a new campaign website.

“Any constitutional proposal that divides Australians according to race, ethnic background or skin colour will be rejected,” said the IPA’s Simon Breheny.

“The two sections which refer to race should be deleted, and nothing new should be added.”

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IPA welcomes Indigenous recognition council announcement

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The Institute of Public Affairs welcomes the announcement of a bipartisan advisory council on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The IPA believes that all Australians are equal. The Australian Constitution should make no reference to race or ethnicity,” says Simon Breheny, Director of Race Has No Place at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Two current sections in the Constitution refer to race – sections 25 and 51(26). These sections should be deleted, and no new sections referring to race should be added into the Constitution.”

The IPA has produced a booklet – Race has no place – which outlines the positive case for equality in the Australian Constitution.

“Australia’s success as a free and prosperous country is founded on the idea that all humans are of equal worth. All Australians, regardless of their ethnic background, must be treated equally by government and the law. The Australian Constitution should reflect this,” says Mr Breheny.

The IPA is looking forward to actively engaging with the council ahead of a potential referendum regarding the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

To find out more, visit www.racehasnoplace.org.au.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Race Has No Place, Institute of Public Affairs, sbreheny@ipa.org.au or 0400 967 382.

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Shorten backs removal of constitutional provisions referring to ‘race’

Michelle Grattan in The Conversation today reports:

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said that Indigenous recognition in the Constitution cannot just be “empty poetry” but must lay to rest “the ghosts of the discrimination” haunting the document.

Its “so-called race powers” were crafted for Australia’s past, he said.

In the Northern Territory for the 30th anniversary of the handover of Uluru to its traditional owners, Shorten said the proposed referendum was very important and reiterated that the change must be one of substance.

“We want to make sure the change is not just symbolic. We don’t need more flowery poetry in our Constitution – we just need to be straight.”

The race power refers to Section 51 (26) which gives the Commonwealth the power to make laws for people of any race. There is also an anachronistic reference to race in Section 25.

Shorten is right about removing sections of the Australian Constitution that refer to race. This would be a positive step. The nation’s founding document should be free from references to race for the simple reason that race is irrelevant – we’re all Australian, and we’re all equal.

The IPA supports the removal of the two provisions to which Shorten refers: sections 25 and 51 (xxvi).

To find out more, visit racehasnoplace.org.au.

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Paul Keating calls for a “Indigenous treaty”

Former prime minister Paul Keating is pushing for a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

Paul Keating has backed a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, describing it as the “unfinished business of the nation” and suggesting it could precede Indigenous recognition in the constitution.

… In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Keating says the push for Indigenous constitutional recognition has lost direction and needs to be given shape and form “by someone who believes in a treaty, someone who believes that the Aboriginal peoples need to be dealt with as a nation”.

… In the interview, to coincide with the release of Keating, by Kerry O’Brien, Mr Keating has played down the importance of a prohibition on racial discrimination in “our very vanilla, horse-and-buggy constitution”.

He said a treaty, or compact, that dealt with Aboriginal people as a nation would complete the process he called for in his Redfern Park speech of 1992. “I think a constitutional recognition could follow the formality of such a compact or treaty. In other words, it would affirm and or acknowledge, rather than being the primary vehicle for it,” he said.

The idea behind a treaty is a divisive one. Rather than acknowledging all Australians as equal, a treaty would divide Australians into groups based on race. The idea that Australians should be separated into different nations is a dangerous one, and should be rejected.

To learn more about the IPA’s Race Has No Place project visit racehasnoplace.org.au.

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Recognising bias in the debate on indigenous recognition

recognise-large-logoSimon Morgan has an important piece published in the most recent edition of The Spectator. His thorough analysis of Recognise – the taxpayer-funded organisation responsible for promoting the referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution – can be read online here. I’ve excerpted the opening paragraphs:

There is a tremendous cache to be found in portraying oneself as an ‘underdog’ in contemporary Australian society, whether that be in the cultural, the commercial or the political arena.Australians love the notion of a scrappy band of outsiders banding together and taking on powerful interests. The emotional appeal of insurgency is a key aspect of the public campaign being waged by ‘Recognise’ – which badges itself as ‘the people’s campaign to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution.’ The use of the term ‘people’s campaign’ is no doubt deliberate, and meant to evoke romantic images of a mass uprising that forces ‘the system’ to bend to its will.

There are a couple of minor problems with this narrative. The first is that a genuine ‘people’s campaign’ is an organic uprising, often social protest against the established order. In contrast, Recognise is possibly the first ‘people’s campaign’ to be not only birthed by the State, but also financed by it, around $15 million thus far.

The second, more troubling, aspect of Recognise’s evolution was its decision last month to burst into partisan politics.The catalyst was the WA Liberal Party State Conference, which among 52 policy motions listed for debate, included one that proposed the Party ‘oppose any move to recognise a single race to the exclusion of all others in the body or preamble of the Commonwealth Constitution’.

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PM must live up to his promise of a government “committed to freedom”

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Malcolm Turnbull’s promise to lead a “thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market” must be backed up with policies. This is an argument put forward by the IPA’s James Paterson, in an article for The Australian, which is well worth a read.

In particular, Paterson had this to say on freedom of speech, and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975:

A core issue for the free-market Right is freedom of speech… Turnbull is on the record as supporting a compromise measure proposed by Family First senator Bob Day, and co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Liberals Dean Smith and Cory Bernardi. Day’s bill would remove the words “offend” and “insult” from 18C, meaning it would still be an offence to “humiliate” or “intimidate” someone on the basis of their race. It’s a proposal so reasonable many on the Left support it. An announcement that it will vote for Day’s private member’s bill would be a powerful demonstration of the values of the Turnbull government.

Regarding constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, he says:

Many Australians hold the view there is no place for race in the Constitution. They may be willing to support the removal of outdated provisions that refer to race, but they will not accept any new references to race being inserted because they believe all Australians are equal and should be treated as such in the Constitution. The Constitution should be changed – to remove all refer­ences to race and the power for federal government to enact laws based on people’s race.

Check out the whole article here.

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Email: The IPA’s Chris Berg and Simon Breheny give expert evidence to senate Nanny State inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra

Last Friday 11 September 2015, the IPA’s Chris Berg and Simon Breheny appeared as expert witnesses before the Senate Economics References Committee inquiry into personal choice and community impacts, colloquially known as the Nanny State inquiry.

The three key points we made were:

  • Paternalism is deeply undemocratic
  • Policy makers are as prone to making mistakes as consumers
  • Politicians and bureaucrats do not know what is in our best interests

Click here to read the media release the IPA published on the day of the hearing, and click here to read the IPA’s written submission.

Continue Reading →

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Taxpayers are already being billed for promoting division in the Constitution

Earlier this month, I gave the Prime Minister credit for rejecting calls for taxpayer funded conventions or conferences to assist advocates of constitutional recognition and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come up with a proposal.

Clearly, I spoke too soon:

On Friday, [Prime Minister Tony] Abbott reversed his opposition to taxpayer-funded conventions for indigenous ­people to try to build consensus on constitutional recognition.

The chairman of Mr Abbott’s indigenous advisory council, Warren Mundine, told The Australian yesterday he was relieved the conventions would go ahead.

It is entirely inappropriate that the government would assist one side of the debate in their quest to change, and entrench division, in the constitution.

However, this merely carries on a trend of taxpayer funding for the cause. Reconciliation Australia is funded predominantly by the federal government, and on at least two occasions has pledged extra taxpayer money for the express purpose of promoting constitutional recognition. In July 2012, Reconciliation Australia entered into a $10 million, two year funding agreement with the then ALP government, while the Coalition government promised to top up RECOGNISE (which is a part of Reconciliation Australia) with another $5 million last November.

Some groups have even been required to demonstrate what they are doing to advance constitutional recognition to justify government funding, as this segment on Four Corners highlighted:

Unlike the local government referendum, where the official ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases were funding by significantly different degrees, constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is being rigged before the referendum campaign has even begun.

Proponents for constitutional recognition are free to conduct their own conventions – and should do so at their own expense.

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