Questions proposed for Indigenous referendum

Ken Wyatt watches as House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop accepts a boomerang from Cairns local Norman Miller. AAP/Alan Porritt

The parliamentary committee on constitutional recognition of Australia’s first people has put forward three possible propositions for change. It has also said the vote should be “at or shortly after the next federal election in 2016”.

The committee, which previously urged the referendum be before or at the election, has accepted that the government will not have it this term. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to set the vote for 2017; he has said he will make an announcement soon.

The final decision on the wording of the question will be up to the government.

The committee says in its progress report tabled today that to be successful any proposal must recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australia’s first peoples; preserve the Commonwealth’s power to make laws for them, and ensure that in making such laws, the Commonwealth does not discriminate against them.

Option One would have a broad prohibition of racial discrimination. Option Two would provide a limited prohibition of discrimination by the Commonwealth against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Option Three would allow the Commonwealth to make laws for these peoples with the option of enacting an Act Of Recognition.

The committee has recommended that each house of federal parliament set aside a full day to debate concurrently its recommendations, seeking to achieve “near-unanimous parliamentary support for and building momentum towards a referendum”.

Committee chair Ken Wyatt, tabling the report, said: “national active leadership is needed now on this issue”.

Here are the options in detail:

OPTION 1 – New section 51A with a broad prohibition of racial discrimination incorporating a section 116A amendment:

51A Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples:

Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

Acknowledging the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters;

Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

116A Prohibition of racial discrimination

The Commonwealth, a State or a Territory shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin.

Subsection (1) does not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group;

OPTION 2 – New section 51A with a limited prohibition of discrimination by the Commonwealth against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

51A Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

Acknowledging the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters;

Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

(1) The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but not so as to discriminate adversely against them.

(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

OPTION 3 – Redraft section 51(xxvi) to allow the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the option of enacting an Act of Recognition:

51 Legislative Powers of the Parliament

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

(xxvi) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.