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Jim Poulter Author of Books on Aboriginal Culture and Child Protection
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Why not enshrine our national values of ‘Mateship and the Right to a Fair Go’ in the Australian Constitution?

Monday, February 29th, 2016

If readers refer to the ‘Posters’ section on my website, you will see a poster I have created on this issue. The poster was created in response to the 'Recognise' discussion leading up to the proposed constitutional review in a couple of year's time. Quite rightly the ‘Recognise’ movement has led the push for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people as the First Australians.

However this has perhaps also had the effect of unintentionally directing attention away from an even more fundamental issue, that of removing the current constitutional power that enable Federal and State governments to make laws solely on the basis of race. Because of the continuing existence of this constitutional power, the federal Racial Discrimination Act can be overridden at will by the federal government.

For instance, Section 25 of the Constitution allows State Governments to prevent any particular racial group from voting. We loudly proclaim the principle of 'One Vote One Value' in Australia, but our constitution puts the lie to that! But even more hideous than that, Section 51, Part 26 allows for laws to be made for ‘the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws’. These race based provisions reflect the racist assumptions prevalent at the time of Federation, but which have no place in a modern, plural,multi-faceted democratic society we are today.

These discriminatory provisions were included in the Constitution after Edmund Barton, who became our first Prime Minister, had successfully campaigned on the slogan 'Australia for the White Man' and so created the 'White Australia Policy'. People mistakenly believe that the White Australia Policy is dead, but it is not. It is engraved in our constitution and it is a national shame that this is so!

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln it could be said that: Five score and fifteen years ago in 1901 our constitutional fathers brought forth on this continent a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all white men are created equal, -but certainly not blackfellas and chinamen. And like Martin Luther King, I have a dream that this will soon change

I feel that the answer to this problem is not just remove these race-based Apartheid clauses, but to also enshrine a proposition in the constitution to the effect that: All Australian citizens are born free and equal within our plural democratic society, and remain so subject to the rule of law.

By this I mean that any infringement on your equal rights as a citizen can only be on a proportional basis to any criminal acts you might commit. The intrinsic equal worth of all human beings is the proposition from which all other rights flow. Freedom of association, assembly, speech, religion and so on. So we do not need a Bill of Rights such as in the American Constitution, only an affirmation of that one foundational value, the inherent equal worth of all citizens, subject to the rule of law.

If the Australian constitution contained the basic proposition that ‘Australia is a plural democratic society founded on the proposition that all Australian citizens are born free and equal and remain so subject to the rule of law’ then it would be impossible to allow any arbitrary discrimination on the basis of race. In effect this would enshrine our national values of Mateship (equal worth) and the Right to a Fair Go (equality under the rule of law) within the Australian constitution. As it stands, Australian citizens have no such constitutional rights.

Perhaps a new social movement is needed called something like ‘Citizens for Proposition One’, which would pursue the constitutional adoption of a proposition such as above.

Does anyone out there have any thoughts on this issue? I would love to receive any thoughts or ideas through the feedback option on my website.

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