Australian Attorney-General, George Brandis, has declared that despite being a constitutional conservative, he has an “open mind” about the way the Constitution should be altered to recognise indigenous Australians, vowing to have a form of words settled by July next year.
Senator Brandis revealed that work on developing constitutional change would begin immediately and be one of his priorities.
The government will charge the joint parliamentary committee into constitutional recognition for Aborigines with the job of consulting alongside Senator Brandis, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge.
The committee, which had been led by Labor senator Trish Crossin, will need new leadership, as she has left the parliament. It will also need a new deputy chair because the role was previously held by Senator Brandis.
The Australian understands that Liberal indigenous MP Ken Wyatt is likely to be the new chairman.
Senator Brandis said he believed a referendum should be held during this term of parliament and preferably not at the same time as the next federal election.
Labor promised a referendum on constitutional recognition would occur by this year but abandoned that pledge after failing to build support and momentum.
Tony Abbott used his election campaign launch to promise to devote his efforts to recognising indigenous Australians in the Constitution.
Senator Brandis said the Coalition would not ignore the recommendations made by the expert panel Labor established as part of the referendum process.
The 22-member panel recommended that the Constitution be altered to remove racist sections and to create a power for the “advancement” of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the protection of their language and culture. It also called for a clause against racial discrimination.
“The government wants to arrive at a form of words that is most likely to be successful at a referendum by the middle of next year,” Senator Brandis said.
“In the last parliament, the joint standing committee on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did some very good work in that regard, but its work was by no means finished. That committee will have to be reconstituted as soon as the parliament resumes and the government will be looking to it to take up where the old committee left off and complete its work as a matter of priority.”
Senator Brandis said the words and the timing of the referendum would be a matter for cabinet.
“I would envisage that the referendum question will be put up . . . not later than the end of the current parliament,” he said.
Senator Brandis, who is a well-known constitutional conservative, said he would not be looking at the issue through a narrow prism.
“I am a constitutional conservative and I do have an open mind about where this should land,” he said. “We are committed to a form of recognition.
“We believe that with a secure majority in the House of Representatives . . . there is a real window of opportunity to progress this now.”Source: The Australian – Recognition of Aborigines in Constitution ‘a priority’
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