Constitutional change needed for Australian Aboriginals?

The Vancouver BC Sun reports on the fact that neither Australia or Canada have figured out how to improve the lives of most of the Indigenous Peoples living in those countries.

The article points out, however, that “in one crucial respect Australia clearly lags behind Canada.” Australia’s Aborigines are not mentioned in the constitution. Tribes and Indians are mentioned in the United States Constitution of 1789 and were finally added to Canada’s Constitution in 1982 in this clause: “the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.”

In sharp contrast, one section of the Australian constitution even allows their states “to disqualify groups such as Aborigines from voting.  Another permits the federal parliament to create laws that discriminate against a person based upon his or her race.”

My co-author Larissa Behrendt, an Aboriginal professor, also addresses these issues in Robert J. Miller, Jacinta Ruru, Larissa Behrendt, and Tracey Lindberg, Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies 186-91 (Oxford University Press, 2010). This book is now available in paperback on

The Sun article also reports that “Australia tried in 1999 to end such discrimination but voters rejected this in a national referendum. Australians are again considering this hot potato after a report for Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government by a blue-ribbon panel of lawyers, politicians and indigenous leaders demanded the removal of those sections of the constitution that allowed indigenous peoples to be discriminated against. The report also demanded that Australia recognize for thefirst time the diverse cultures and languages of the country’s approximately 500,000 Aborigines.”

Only time will tell what becomes of this effort to bring the Australian constitution into the twenty-first century.

Read more:

This entry was posted in General, International Indigenous issues. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s