Date: 
Monday 8 November 2010

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the announcement today by Prime Minister Julia Gillard that the Australian Government will establish an expert panel to work towards including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Constitution.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, said formally recognising the special and unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s Constitution was central to developing stronger and deeper relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the rest of Australia.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement today is great news and a positive sign that we can really move towards a truly reconciled Australia,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“I firmly believe the time is right and that the Australian commitment to reconciliation is strong enough for us to be able to build the momentum, the understanding and the support that is so necessary for us to bring about this Constitutional recognition.”

Commissioner Gooda said the extent of the reform needed to be worked out in consultation and partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader Australian community.

“The call for nominations for the expert panel is a sensible approach and I believe will ensure we get the broad cross section of views we need to reach a consensus on Constitutional recognition for Australia’s First Peoples,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution will not only mark the beginning of a new relationship, it will also be a point at which we can say we have made great progress towards a relationship built on mutual respect.

“Constitutional recognition will address a history of exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the life of the nation and put the final piece of the Australian jigsaw puzzle in place to complete our national identity,” he said.

“This announcement today has the potential to be history-making and is the first step in Constitutional reform which will provide us with a solid foundation for future discussions about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participate in the life of the Australian nation.”

Commissioner Gooda said Constitutional recognition was not only about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but about the nation as a whole.

“Constitutional recognition can only improve the trust and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia and for that reason alone it has the potential to make a real difference to peoples’ lives,” he said.

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597