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Jim Poulter Author of Books on Aboriginal Culture and Child Protection
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Why does our Constitution not regard all Australians as born Free and Equal?

-It is time that our constitution reflected our national democratic values of mateship and the right to a fair go

The Australian Constitution came into effect in 1901 through an agreement between the colonies to delegate certain powers to a national government. Our constitution therefore provides the rules by which Australia is governed, but those rules do not include the inherent equal worth of all its citizens.

Australia does not have a Bill of Rights as part of its constitution, but our society is nonetheless underpinned by strong democratic social values. We are probably the most egalitarian society in the world. Our ideals of mateship and the right to a fair go are fundamental values that esteem the intrinsic equal worth of all Australian citizens, regardless of status, wealth, power, influence, gender, religion, race or creed. However, in reality our constitution does not reflect this fundamental belief in the intrinsic equal worth of all Australian citizens. It retains the ability to discriminate on the basis of race.

For instance, 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’. Section 25 of the constitution also allows State governments to prevent any particular racial groups from voting.

These anachronistic racial provisions in the Australian Constitution have no place in a modern, plural, democratic society. We were one of the first nations to embrace the idea of adult suffrage and the ideal of one vote one value, but these racially based constitutional provisions contradict our democratic ideals. It should be a matter of deep offence to all Australians that our constitution allows laws to be made solely on the basis of race.

The greater good for any society cannot be achieved by arbitrary injustice to any particular individual or group. An injustice to one is an injustice to all.

Surely the preamble to our constitution should enshrine the idea that all Australian citizens are born free and equal and that all our laws must be consistent with that proposition. Why not have a preamble stating:

‘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’

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