Should we alter our constitution to recognise indigenous Australians?
6 December 2010
Most Australians will embrace the spirit behind the proposed recognition of the indigenous people in the constitution, but to achieve this will be more complex than many realise, writes Professor Helen Irving.
"Section 128 of the constitution requires support from both a national majority and a majority of voters in a majority of states for a referendum to succeed.
"Success is rare. But we should not confuse the mechanism with the reason for failure.
"Referendums fail because the majority of people reject the proposal.
"The handful of successes attracted not merely bipartisan support, but no organised opposition.
The likelihood of this happening with this proposal seems low.
"The wording will be highly sensitive, and if indigenous ''rights'' are invoked, the same objections that defeated last year's National Human Rights Consultation will arise.
"The celebrated example of the 1967 referendum will inspire hope, but it is often misunderstood.
"It did not confer indigenous ''citizenship'' or ''rights'', but simply gave the Commonwealth power to pass special laws for the indigenous people. Its relevance to the current proposal is limited."
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