Friday, 20 January 2012

News on the Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia

Yesterday, January 20 [yes! it was yesterday in Australia], the Expert Panel appointed to investigate the possibility of a constitutional amendment to the Australian Constitution Act published its report (available here). In it, the Expert Panel, composed of constitutional and international lawyers, aboriginal leaders, members of Parliament and Australian human rights authorities, recommend changes to the Constitution in order to exclude (or at least modify) the powers of the federation to legislate on race matters, and a formal recognition of the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the making of the Australian nation. The panel drew on a wide range of experiences in comparative and international law to back up its proposals.

In an opinion piece published in a prominent Australian newspaper earlier this week, George Williams, a leading constitutional law scholar in Australia, said that “[t] he starting point for political parties is that the constitution should respect the place of indigenous people in society. It should recognise their long occupation of this continent and their continuing relationship with traditional lands and waters”, and expressed hopes that a referendum would actually be won on this matter (Australia has a bleak record of successful attempts at constitutional amendments).[Read the full piece here].

We should keep our eyes open as to what happens in Australia, a country that has only reluctantly accepted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that has struggled to offer recognition and protection to its indigenous populations.

Written by Lucas Lixinski.

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