Reconciliation Australia welcomes the release of the interim report from the Joint Select Committee for Constitutional Recognition as an important step in the long journey towards constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and towards reconciliation more broadly.
The Committee received 381 authorised submissions and heard evidence at hearings around Australia since it was appointed in March.
The high level of interest in the inquiry is yet another indication of the broad public support for progress on the issues under consideration by the Committee and of the widespread desire for the Australian Parliament to make real progress after years of political drift.
Reconciliation Australia is encouraged by the Committee’s acknowledgement of the frustration caused by the length of time taken to advance constitutional recognition and its commitment to secure cross party support for a way forward.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have participated in good faith in each of the inquiries leading up to this point, including the Referendum Council Dialogues (2017), the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2015), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act of Recognition Review Panel (2014) and the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians (2012).
Each of these processes was designed to identify and forge agreement on a proposal to take forward to a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
However, none of the calls or aspirations outlined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in previous inquiries have been adequately addressed by our nation’s parliament to date.
Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said the Committee must seek to rectify this history of inaction and address the unfinished business of reconciliation.
“What we need is for the Committee to produce a clear path forward in relation to constitutional recognition,” she said.
“This process cannot finish with the delivery of the report. We need the committee to forge a path for the parliament to negotiate and deliver on the reasonably held aspirations and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Ms Mundine said the significant public engagement with the inquiry showed that Australians have not given up on the proposals put forward by the Referendum Council.
“The lack of progress on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not due to an absence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspirations being put to Australian governments,” she said.
“And it’s also not the result of a lack of support for constitutional change among the broader community.
“Despite the disappointment felt at the rejection of the Voice to Parliament proposal last October, the level of engagement with the inquiry shows that people remain hopeful the Committee will progress constitutional reform and complementary measures to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a genuine say in the matters that affect our lives.”