Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister and Hon Robert Mcclelland MP, Attorney-General

The Gillard Government today announced the first step towards recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.

The Australian Constitution is the foundation document of our system of government, but it fails to recognise the special place of our first Australians.

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is an important step towards building a nation based on strong relationships and mutual respect.

Recognition will demonstrate that we are a country that is united in acknowledging the unique and special place of our first peoples.

The national apology to Indigenous Australians, in particular the Stolen Generations, helped build a bridge of respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It helped generate the trust and respect needed for closing the gap.

The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution is the next step on that journey.

The Government is pursuing an ambitious agenda to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage, including undertaking major reform and delivering unprecedented investment in early education, health, jobs, housing and services, and infrastructure.

Formal recognition in our foundation document will build on this work by publicly acknowledging our history and the significant contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to make to this nation.

This important reform commences today as the Government moves to establish an expert panel to progress the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.

This is an important issue for all Indigenous Australians, and we want Indigenous people to be involved in the process and in building broader community support.

Without the support of the majority of Australians, this reform will not succeed.

The expert panel will include Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts, and parliamentary members. It will lead a national discussion and broad consultation during 2011 to build consensus on the recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution.

It will work closely with organisations with expertise and a history of engagement on this issue, including the Australian Human Rights Commission, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and Reconciliation Australia.

The panel will consider how best to progress constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, and provide possible options on the nature of the amendment which could be put to the Australian people at a referendum.

The Gillard Government is committed to strengthening the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by holding a national referendum on this issue during the current term of government or at the next Federal election.

We do not under-estimate the challenge of achieving nation-wide consensus.

There are diverse community views and only eight of 44 referendums since Federation have been successful. To succeed, the referendum must attract the support of a majority vote nationally, and a majority of votes in a majority of states.

Achieving nation-wide consensus to achieve constitutional change will be a challenge given the history of referenda in Australia. To achieve this historic reform we must make sure we build the most robust and persuasive case for change.

The panel will therefore be asked to develop options for constitutional change which will attract broad support from the Australian community.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have expressed support for recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

The Prime Minister has written to the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Australian Greens, and Independent Members and Senators, inviting them to nominate a Parliamentary representative on the expert panel and suggest other panel members.

The expert panel will report to the Government by December next year. Fact sheets with further information on Indigenous constitutional recognition are available at:

People are encouraged to make nominations for representatives for the expert panel by emailing: Nominations are open until 18 November.