Panel urges righting of racial wrongs in constitution

Indigenous Australians should be recognised in the  the constitution, say experts. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Indigenous Australians should be recognised in the the constitution, say experts. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

Indigenous Australians should be recognised in the body of the constitution and racist sections should be scrapped, an expert panel has recommended.

Labor has promised to hold a national referendum on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians on or before the next federal election, due in 2013.

A panel of 19 indigenous leaders, politicians and legal minds travelled the country last year holding public meetings on the issue. Yesterday they presented their report.

The panel recommends recognition should take place in the body of the constitution, rather than by inserting a new preamble. "There is too much uncertainty in having two preambles."

It recommended inserting a new section (51A) to recognise "the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people".

The new section will also acknowledge the continuing relationship of indigenous people with their traditional lands and waters.

It will also respect the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of indigenous people and acknowledge the need to secure their advancement.

The panel called for a new section (116A) to ban racial discrimination. It also proposes a section (127A) stating Australia's national language is English while recognising that "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are the original Australian languages".

The panel urged the Government to hold the referendum as a single question and pay for an extensive education programme about the issue.

AAP

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