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Issue #1770      March 22, 2017

Constitution focus of regional dialogue

The Referendum Council has been hosting a series of First Nations regional dialogues around the country to discuss possible changes to the Constitution.

Late last month in Darwin, more than 100 Indigenous people attended a meeting and discussed treaty, removal of race powers and Aboriginal governance.

Referendum Council co-chair Patricia Anderson said common themes were emerging from the meetings in regional areas, which have been scheduled to enable Indigenous people have a say in any constitutional change processes that would affect them.

“People don’t want endless consultations,” she said. “People want change.”

The Darwin group suggested a new, elected Indigenous voice could have a say in Parliament, similar to Maori seats in New Zealand. The racial non-discrimination clause was high on the agenda during the Darwin dialogue, with many people pointing to the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act by the Howard government in order to implement the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007.

Participants pointed out that removing the word “race” from the race power and inserting “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” does not in fact remove racism. Rather, in the absence of words of limitation in the power or a guarantee against racial discriminatory laws by the Federal Parliament, racist laws could continue to be made.

Euahlayi man Ghillar, Michael Anderson, said Aboriginal people at a meeting organised by the Referendum Council in Dubbo, western NSW, had rejected constitutional recognition in favour of Aboriginal sovereignty and treaties.


“The enormous amount of money being spent on brainwashing the public to accept constitutional change, so as to include Aboriginal people in the colonial Constitution, is indicative of the quandary the Commonwealth government is in,” he said.

“Our predicament, on the other hand, is our difficulty in defending ourselves against dictatorship. We know full well the complex nature of getting out from under the rule and dominance of a 200-plus years occupying power, which now rules by force and not by consent.”

Wiradjuri woman Lynda Coe was one of 10 delegates elected from the Dubbo meeting to attend the National Indigenous Constitutional Convention at Uluru from May 24-26.

“Proud to say the agenda in Dubbo was sovereignty/treaty,” she said. “The dialogue around constitutional reform and recognise was squashed by the grassroots movement. The consensus from those who attended agreed that the process of invite-only meetings did not provide clear representation of nations in NSW nor did the process give authority of those attending to speak on behalf of their nations as per our procedures.”

Delegates at the Darwin dialogue expressed concern about what happens after the National Indigenous Constitutional Convention. They do not want the Aboriginal package to be handed to the Referendum Council and then to politicians without a further negotiation period. They want to ensure that First Nations people are not excluded from final negotiations on a question that “recognised” them.

A discussion paper has been released by the Referendum Council. Submissions and comments can be provided through

Koori Mail

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