A partnership between Anglicare and the Flinders Law School will see students learning how to promote understanding of the issues involved in recognition of Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution.
With the Government taking up an expert report recommendation to further reconciliation through explicit recognition of Aboriginal people in the Constitution, Anglicare is running a public information campaign called Count Me In. Its aim is to enable Australians to cast an informed vote in the next Constitutional referendum.
Professor Elizabeth Handsley, who teaches the skills-based topic of The Constitution and the Australian People [Indigenous and Social Justice I], will give projects to her students that involve identifying and explaining the issues in various forms suitable for the broader community.
Until its amendment by referendum in 1967, the Constitution specifically excluded Aboriginal people from Commonwealth legislation. In its current form, the Constitution carries no specific mention of, or provision for, Indigenous people, although the races power has effectively taken that role, Professor Handsley said.
“The races power in the Constitution has only been used to pass laws relating to Indigenous people: it’s never been used for any other race,” she said.
Professor Handsley said there has long been debate on whether the inclusion of clauses in the Constitution to prevent the enactment of discriminatory legislation is necessary.
“We have been teaching students about these debates for years, and now we have a particularly interesting social and political context in which to teach that material,” she said.
“The role I see for Flinders and that Anglicare sees for itself is just in making sure that people have accurate information and feel confident to make a decision as to how they will vote.
We know that if they don’t feel well informed, they’ll just vote ‘no’, and rightly so.”
The form of the question that Parliament will finally put to voters is a crucial consideration, Professor Handsley said, because no constitutional reform has ever been achieved without bipartisan political support.
“Historically, the Right side of politics has been suspicious of anything that involves anti-discrimination guarantees, and has tended to think that we don’t need special protection for groups like Indigenous people in the Constitution,” she said.
“The challenge is to get something put up in the referendum that will have bipartisan support.”