As Prime Minister Tony Abbott
is moving to hold a referendum to recognise Aboriginal peoples
in the Australian Constitution, here’s three things you may not know
about the Australian Constitution. These are things that make
this debate pressing and important. Number one.
The Australian Constitution makes no mention whatsoever
of Aboriginal peoples. If you read the document,
you’d probably get the impression that the history of
this continent began in 1788. Number two.
The Australian Constitution still contains a power
that lets the Federal Parliament pass laws based upon a person’s race.
That power can be used to stop people living in
certain areas reserved for whites, or stop people having jobs,
again, reserved for whites. According to Australia’s
first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton,
this power was put into the Constitution to enable
the Federal Parliament to “regulate the coloured and
inferior races” within the Commonwealth. Three. The Constitution
in Section 25 also recognises that the states can stop
people voting because of their race. I’m not aware of any other constitution
in the world today that still contains a clause of this kind.
These clauses about race were based upon discredited
19th century thinking about how race can determine everything
from a person’s suitability for certain roles or even
their intelligence. These are the sorts of policies and ideas
that underpin the White Australia Policy. Unfortunately, this thinking about race
still remains embedded in Australia’s Constitutional DNA.
Tony Abbott has a rare opportunity to fix this. He can hold
a referendum to recognise Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution,
and in doing so, can create a Constitution that will
treat all Australians equally.