Australian Constitution to Protect Vulnerable People

This article is about changes to the Constitution.  The indigenous people do not want superficial cosmetic changes they want protections.

What most Australians don’t realise is that the Australian Constitution is an extremely important document as it enshrines protections and rights for the Australian people.  If the Constitution is replaced by another type of system then rights become null and void.

The indigenous are the most vulnerable and like all vulnerable people they are the ones who require protections as they are unable to defend themselves. They are besieged with poverty and projections of inequality which render them powerless.  Structural violence typically depicts systems that shut out, shut down or exclude people on the basis of perceived differences.

We have to be very mindful of the Australian Constitution and any changes or if there are attempts to remove it.  In my view it is not in the public interest.

An interesting link:


Indigenous Australians know removing race from constitution is pretend change

A minimalist model – removing references to ‘race’, tinkering with the race power and inserting some symbolic words – would be pointless

A wire fence in front of an Indigenous flag mural in Darwin
‘Amending the race power is a superficial, cosmetic change. It’s not real reform.’ Photograph: Jonny Weeks for the Guardian

This weekend at Ross river, 87km from Alice Springs, Aboriginal people of central Australia gathered at the Referendum Council’s regional dialogue to discuss constitutional recognition. We reflected on our history and the struggles that have brought us to this point.

The delegates remembered the Coniston massacre of 1928, in which people of the Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye were killed. It was payback for the death of a dingo hunter, Frederick Brooks, killed by Aboriginal people at Yukurru.

It’s sadly true that our country’s history has at times been painful and divided. Constitutional recognition can mean a new start – a fresh chapter in this relationship. It can mean healing and renewed unity, so all Australians can move forward together.

For while black and white Australians have at times fought each other, delegates also remembered times we have fought side by side, as allies. We recalled our Aboriginal countrymen who fought for Australia in the Vietnam and other wars, but who remain unrecognised for their service. They were denied the rights of other veterans because they were black.

Things are now better than they once were, but people still feel powerless. Decisions and policies are still imposed by governments without proper consultation with our people.

Delegates spoke about the injustice felt under the Northern Territory intervention. The intervention in its original form suspended the Racial Discrimination Act and was implemented without consultation. Constitutional recognition must help fix this, so that future policies are fairer and more effective.

We are all savvy enough to understand, however, that removing the race power and replacing it with some form of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander power, on its own, fixes nothing – just like removing section 25 (a now defunct provision that talks about banning races from voting) will do nothing.

The constitution gives parliament many other powers to make laws about our people and our rights. The intervention was an exercise of the territories power, not the race power.

That is why we Territorians understand that a minimalist model – removing references to “race”, tinkering with the race power and inserting some symbolic words – would be pointless. Without a substantive constitutional guarantee like a racial non-discrimination clause or a constitutionally mandated First Peoples body, it’s just pretend change.

That is also why the Recognise “recognition in, racism out” slogan does not resonate with us central Australians. Because removing section 25 and amending the race power is a superficial, cosmetic change. It’s not real reform. The proposed section 51A power might contain some nice words which tell a good story, but it is basically just the race power dressed up in fancy clothes and wearing a frilly symbolic hat.

Our people see past the disguise. We are not fooled.

Only a racial non-discrimination clause or a constitutional body can make the exercise of all relevant powers in relation to our people fairer – the territories power included. We therefore join our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters around the country in rejecting minimalism. We want this change to make a difference.

Culture and language was a recurring theme at the dialogue. Many of our people are worried our languages and cultures will be lost. We want all Australians to value the ancient heritage of this country, for this is what makes our country unique in the world. This is the history and heritage of all Australians.

Delegates viewed the constitution as a way to provide our people with some security and stability in a world that changes too fast. White law changes all the time, but our lore stays forever in our hearts and minds. The Tjukurrpa is our own constitution; it connects Aboriginal people to our creation and gives us our authority.

The constitution is similar: it is enduring. It gives power and authority. The constitution can enable increased security, power and authority for our people, so we can live more fairly in this system. We no longer want to be powerless, forgotten people in our own land. We want our grandchildren to be able to participate and walk in two worlds. We want them never to forget the old ways, and also to excel in the new ways.

There is much contemporary talk of a treaty, but many delegates felt that a treaty is not a quick fix. Treaties in other countries have not solved everything – Indigenous rights still get ignored. Treaty may be part of the picture, but it is not a catch-all solution. It is unwise to get excited by words like treaty before properly understanding what these words mean.

The same goes for the “racism out, recognition in” slogan. It may sound good, but it is actually code for minimalism – cosmetic change rather than real reform.

Real reform could include a racial non-discrimination clause or a First Nations land based representative body guaranteed by the Constitution, accompanied by a statement of acknowledgement, recognising our place as a First Peoples of this country and recognising the importance of our culture, language and history.

We now ask Australians to hear our voices and to keep open hearts and minds. We ask all of you, especially you politicians, to come on this journey with us. Aboriginal people are now talking to each other about the reforms we want. After Uluru, we want to sit down and talk to you – respectfully, face to face, as equals and as allies who have fought side by side in world wars in defence of our shared country.

If we work together now, we could achieve something great for all Australians. Through constitutional recognition we can guarantee a fair place for the First Peoples of this country, and in doing so celebrate that which makes us truly Australian.

David Ross and Barbara Shaw were co-convenors of the Referendum Council’s First Nations regional dialogue in Alice Springs.

  • Building on long-term work focused on the need for constitutional reform and the form it might take, the Referendum Council is holding a series of 12 First Nations regional dialogues around the country to gain an understanding of the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in relation to constitutional reform. Dispatches from each of the remaining dialogues will be published in the Guardian over the coming month. The dialogues culminate in a national convention in Uluru in May. To get the full picture and join the conversation visit
Mohandas Gandhi

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”