Politicians needs to show moral leadership instead of being dismissive and unwilling to acknowledge the constitutional rights of Indigenous people, says a Border-based constitutional expert.
Charles Sturt University senior law lecturer Bede Harris told a joint select committee uncertainty about how to achieve the acknowledgment was not preventing action, instead the obstacle was the government’s unwillingness to effect change.
Dr Harris called for constitutional change, and suggested a treaty between the government and Indigenous people was a ‘useful first step’.
“Australia is – one would hope – a less conservative country than it was at the time of the 1967 referendum,” he said.
“Surely it would therefore not be too difficult a task – if our politicians could display moral leadership of the type that existed in 1967 – to overcome opposition to measures which Indigenous people have requested?”
Dr Harris gave evidence to the committee on the Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, following a written submission.
He criticised the government’s rejection of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“The proposed body would have had only an advisory role, the request for its establishment was modest, and the government’s curt rejection of the proposal was dismissive,” he said.
“Because a treaty itself would not change the law, anything agreed to in a treaty would have to be put either into the constitution or into statute.”
Dr Harris recommended the constitution be amended to prevent ethnic discrimination and also so the Commonwealth could enter into agreements with indigenous people and enact legislation to give effect to the treaty.
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