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Aboriginal participation before recognition



For Indigenous Australians, the effort to obtain recognition within Australia's constitutional framework has been a long-standing struggle. During that time, Indigenous advocates and leaders have continuously advocated for their full entitlement to self-determination rights, which seek the political and cultural empowerment of Indigenous colonised peoples.

Uluru Statement From the HeartHowever, Indigenous Australians are yet to experience full inclusiveness and access to the exercise of their liberal democratic rights, even as Australian citizens. In particular, there has been a lack of meaningful progress in increasing Indigenous political participation through voting and candidacy in Australian politics. That type of Indigenous democratic liberation is important both to Indigenous cultural survival and to Indigenous political advancement and standing within politics.

Where tensions arise is when the Australian system, a democratic liberal and representative regime, limits rights of its citizens unequally in both direct and indirect ways. It is only when the Australian government becomes fully compliant with its adherence to rule of law theory — equality before the law and 'responsible government' — that we will start to see change. We are yet to see such compliance when it comes to Indigenous Australians and their rights to self-determination.

A primary example of how these rights have been limited historically is the way in which they have only been recognised within government agency policies. The issue with that, aside from the lack of legislative formalisation of those rights, is that those policies are typically drafted and rolled out by non-Indigenous public servants. Further, restrictions are placed on those rights as a result of the lack of consultation between those drafting the policy and Indigenous Australians.

Such issues were noted in the Uluru Statement From the Heart, along with other circumstances where the application of current constitutional provisions have led to racially discriminatory laws.

Despite our Prime Minister's rejection of the proposal of an entrenched Makaratta Treaty Commission at the end of 2017, there is still hope for other proposals contained within the Uluru Statement to get up. There is a feeling right now that politicians and the like are gravitating to a political cosmopolitanism mindset; the view that all people are entitled to equal respect and consideration, no matter what their citizenship status or other affiliations happen to be.

As such the time seems ripe to continue finalising procedures following the Uluru Convention and Statement from the Heart so that those aspirations can become our new realities. This simply entails progressing with the final stages of the Final Report of the Referendum Council drafted in 2017.


"This is precisely the problem with progression on these issues. We seem to tick all boxes and make progress only up to the point that further progress would entail meaningful and substantial change."


Yet only months after the rejection by Malcom Turnbull there is now a second call for submissions. These will ultimately re-identify the same issues already highlighted in the 2017 Final Report. The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition in Relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs will literally canvass the same issues already recognised less than a year ago.

This is precisely the problem with progression on these issues. We seem to tick all boxes and make progress only up to the point that further progress would entail meaningful and substantial change.

From an Indigenous perspective this situation feels like a waste of time and disrespectful. The Uluru Statement highlighted the need for Indigenous Australians to be politically heard and respected, yet paradoxically, in the absence of an already established voice, progress remains stagnant.

You need to have political respect and standing in a democratic regime to vote representatives in and have your interests represented if laws are to work to your favour. Instigating structural change and law reform discussions without that political standing and respect has proven for Indigenous Australians to be a very lengthy and restrictive process.

We already know that most Australians will support a referendum that would recognise Indigenous Australians within the constitution. What we now need is to examine how the preliminary constitutional reform procedures can themselves be reformed to support Indigenous political advancement. This includes reforming electoral laws and processes that limit Indigenous political participation or obstruct constitutional reform efforts, as the current arrangements do.

Those efforts would create more value and respect for Indigenous political involvement in Australian politics, reform outdated processes built on white supremacy, and shape a renewed contemporary democratic system that is reflective of all of its citizens' wants and needs.



Dani LarkinDani Larkin is a Bunjalung woman who grew up on the Aboriginal community Baryulgil. She is an admitted lawyer and has practiced in a variety of areas of law. Dani is studying her PhD in law at Bond University with her thesis topic on 'The Law and Policy of Indigenous Cultural Identity and Political Participation: A Comparative Analysis between Australia, Canada and New Zealand'.

Topic tags: Dani Larkin, constitution, recognition, Aboriginal Australians, referendum, Uluru Statement From the Hear



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Existing comments

Dani, Thanks for your article. As a keen historian, I am really concerned that if too much is asked from a referendum there is a great danger that it will be defeated - the record of successful referendums is grim reading. Please urge all proponents to shape their proposals, good and just as they are, to the harsh reality of possible constitutional acceptance according to referendum legal specifications.

kevin treston | 09 July 2018  

I am ever hopeful that we'll soon arrive at a 'democratic system that is reflective of all citizens wants and needs'!

Patricia Langan | 09 July 2018  

Readers, please all read the ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART which includes, "Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness. We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. " And please readers decide to walk with our indigenous peoples - the First Nation of our land.

Grant Allen | 10 July 2018  

I support Grant's plea. Please read both the Uluru Statement and the final report of the Referendum Council < https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/report_attachments/Referendum_Council_Final_Report.pdf > Then ask yourself why our so-called 'Commonwealth' government has rejected the recommendation out of hand.

Ginger Meggs | 12 July 2018  

1. I've read your article and the articles you have linked, and I am still no closer to understanding what on earth there is in the Constitution or in any other Australian law which is discriminatory against aborigines and needs to be fixed. Please explain it in a few plain words. 2. You seem to want a separate parliament-like body elected by aborigines only, to provide input to the government and laws of Australia. When this is established, will aborigines lose their enrolment on the general electoral rolls, a la "Asians" and "Coloureds" in apartheid-era South Africa? Or will aborigines elect both the new body and the current parliaments? If so this appears to create a privileged class of voters according to their ethnic origin, against the principle you mention that "all people are entitled to equal respect and consideration".

Peter K | 24 July 2018  

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