January 20, 2012
Australia is poised to make historic changes to its constitution, recognising Aborigines as the country’s original inhabitants and removing the last clauses of state-sanctioned racial discrimination.
The amendments could be put to the Australian people in a referendum before the next general election in 2013, after the prime minister, Julia Gillard, endorsed the unanimous findings of a panel of 19 experts.
Section 25 of the constitution recognises that states can disqualify people, such as Aborigines, from voting. Section 51 says federal parliament can make laws based upon a person’s race. Both were put in the constitution in 1901 to prevent certain races from living in areas reserved for white people or from taking up certain occupations.
The prime minister, Julia Gillard, welcomed the report. “We are big enough and it is the right time to say yes to an understanding of our past, to say yes to constitutional change, and to say yes to a future more united and more reconciled than we have ever been before,” she said.