Australia’s parliament has unanimously voted in favour of an Act of Recognition, which commits Australia to amending our Constitution to properly acknowledge Indigenous Australians.
The Bill has been passed through the lower house on the the five year anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation.
This means that at the next election, we will all have the chance to cast our vote in a Referendum to incorporate the changes in thi Act of Recognition, into our Constitution.
This is a historic moment for Australia and a huge step forwards for reconciliation and the appropriate recognition of the culture, customs and history of Indigenous Australians.
By JULIA GILLARD
Speaker, this Parliament is the gathering place of our nation’s representatives.
But we stand on land that was, from time immemorial, the gathering place of the Ngunnawal people.
So I speak here today, as I always do, in a spirit of friendship and respect for the First Australians, and with honour to Elders past and present.
I’m also conscious that on this special anniversary, we acknowledge the courage that enabled Kevin Rudd to offer the Apology and the generosity of spirit that enabled Indigenous Australians to accept it.
We are only able to consider this Act of Recognition and constitutional change because the Apology came first.
Speaker, the Constitution of our Commonwealth came into force on January 1, 1901.
It was the start of a new century and a new year.
Alfred Deakin wrote that “Never on this side of the world was there a New Year’s Day with such high expectations.”
Those expectations were high because with the Constitution had come Australia’s birth as a nation.
But not all our people shared those expectations.
In the decade of deliberation that created our Constitution, there were conventions and debates across this land.
But there is no record of any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person taking part.
Indigenous people did not ordain our Constitution nor contribute to its drafting.
They had no opportunity to vote for it, and yet all were affected by what it said and what it failed to say.
They were affected by provisions that even by the standards of the time seem questionable and strike us now as harsh and inhumane.
But they were also affected by the “great Australian silence” which fell upon our founding document.
Because among the 128 sections of the Constitution, there is no acknowledgement of Australia’s First Peoples.