THE peak body representing Australian lawyers is calling for a change to the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Law Council of Australia is hosting a discussion forum in Canberra today to discuss the importance of symbolic and substantive change to our nation’s Constitution to recognise indigenous Australians.
The Law Council is using the forum as a board from which to launch its reconciliation action plan, which seeks to provide practical measures to improve Indigenous participation in the legal profession and promote understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the legal sector.
President of the Law Council of Australia, Alexander Ward said the forum, Constitutional Change: Recognition or Substantive Rights?, is the first of its kind hosted by the Law Council.
Discussions at the Forum commenced this morning with a keynote address by former High Court judge, the Hon. Michael Kirby, AC CMG.
Kirby’s address was entitled Constitutional Law and Indigenous Australians: Challenge for a parched continent, looked at the issue of recognition versus substantive rights.
“Wrongs have been done to our nation’s Indigenous peoples, including in the Constitution that binds all Australians.
“The road to equality for Indigenous Australians is an ongoing journey—part of that journey must include Constitutional reform that acknowledges the important role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and is inclusive of all Australians,” Kirby said.
Law Council president Ward said the Law Council is pleased to present an eminent panel of speakers and a comprehensive agenda, which it hopes will stimulate "frank and robust discussion about modernising our Constitution to reflect an inclusive, tolerant and modern Australia—an Australia that embraces and acknowledges its first peoples.
“It is time Australia acknowledged our Constitution was not created for Indigenous Australians, or for the rich array of cultures now residing here.
“The vast majority of Australians now recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s first peoples, but what they may not realise is there are provisions in our Constitution that are divisive and discriminatory,” Ward said.
The discussion topics developed for the Forum explore a number of possibilities for reform.
“Options for reform range from recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a new preamble to the Constitution, to recognition of substantive rights giving practical effect to that recognition,” Ward said.