The Law Council of Australia has released its submission to the Referendum Council’s Discussion Paper calling for constitutional change to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This week is National Reconciliation Week in Australia, when indigenous history and culture is celebrated and reconciliation discussion and activities promoted.
Council President, Fiona McLeod SC says meaningful strides towards true reconciliation should be made, to mark the anniversaries of the 1992 Mabo decision – a High Court decision that recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land, and the 1967 Referendum, in which Australians voted to amend the constitution to include Indigenous people in the census and have rights in law.
“The Law Council has long held that the Australian Constitution should formally recognise the distinct identities of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and secure them equality before the law,” says Ms McLeod.
“This is a reform for all Australians, to strengthen the Australian Commonwealth, provide due recognition and respect to the First Australians and bind us all closer in reconciliation.”
Ms McLeod says achieving reconciliation should be considered a national priority of the highest order, which runs hand-in-hand with efforts to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“There remains a critical need to address the widening justice gap. Indigenous incarceration rates are continuing to rise and all governments share responsibility.
“An intergovernmental strategy, along with justice targets, is long overdue,” Ms McLeod says.
This follows the release of a PwC report showing that annual savings to the economy of nearly AU$19 billion could be achieved by 2040 if the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates of incarceration were closed.
"The PwC report makes a range of excellent evidence-based recommendations that align with Law Council positions. These include identifying opportunities for Indigenous self-determination, designing better throughcare and reintegration programs to reduce recidivism, improving cultural awareness, investing more in prevention and early intervention, and establishing hard targets to measure national progress,” says Ms McLeod.
“These are sensible reforms that could drive real change. We just need the political will to implement them widely.”