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Indigenous Australians require recognition

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Rodger Hills

Indigenous people are not a minority in the community, says Rodger Hills from Rethink Australia, they are a vital part of our society, the original occupants of this land, and they need to be recognized in the Australian Constitution.

INDIGENOUS people are not a minority within our society. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are a vital and respected part of the Australian community. Their ancestors were the original occupants and custodians, living on the land according to their own laws and practices,  functioning the way any other sovereign peoples would with a system of informal  ‘nations’,  trade structure and economic activity.  It is widely understood that Indigenous people have been injured and their culture assaulted throughout the colonisation process.

Formal recognition of the first people by our Constitution will not only affirm the unique status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within our society but inspire generations of young Indigenous people to come while helping non-indigenous people to understand the significance and culture of the original custodians of the land we call Australia.

Our Constitution should reflect international conventions on Indigenous affairs, such as the  UN  Declaration on the  Rights of Indigenous  Peoples.  Likewise,  Sections 51(xxvi) and 25 of the Australian Constitution are inconsistent with the International Convention on the  Elimination of  All  Forms of  Racial  Discrimination and should be removed. The Australian Constitution should align the fundamental sentiments which Australians of all origins hold in common. Formal recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution will also help prevent the enactment of future legislation, rulemaking
and policies that treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders unfairly.

In fact, the Australian Constitution should protect the right of Indigenous people to participate fully in all decision-making process involved with government legislation, policy and rulemaking that specifically relates to Aboriginal and  Torres  Strait Islanders. Such input is crucial to fostering reconciliation and will also lead to outcomes that enhance rather than undermine our sense of national unity.

Self-determination is not about succeeding or creating separate statehood. It is about the desire of Indigenous people to build capable governing institutions for their communities that match their culture and their aspirations for the future while working within the broader government frameworks that protect and serves all Australians. This is no different from the way non-Indigenous communities take part in and are provided for by their Local Government institutions.

Likewise, the recognition of customary law is not an attempt to usurp common law or entrench additional, special or different rights for one part of the community. Instead, it is an acknowledgement that Indigenous people have a prior and continuing
system of law that can and does work within the broader legal system in Australia. This is not dissimilar to the situation where military law is recognised as being distinct, yet part of the Australian legal system. Recognition of customary law would also ensure communal and unending intellectual property rights,  enabling  Indigenous people to protect valuable cultural and environmental treasures from exploitation.

There is strong evidence that the whole Australian community benefits when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider community reach mutual understanding and work together on joint ventures.  Cultural  diversity  enhances
Australia's ability to compete globally and adds to economic growth, employment and our standard of living.  A  cosmopolitan society that values and respects  Indigenous people facilitates  Australia's attraction as a  tourist destination and as an education export country.

The preservation and investigation of specialised  Indigenous knowledge, particularly in relation to the resources of the natural environment on which our modern society depends, is an increasingly sought-after goal.  Knowledge  of adverse
long-term weather patterns,  a  history of surviving in a  harsh and unpredictable environment, and knowledge of the interrelationships, needs, benefits and dangers of our Australian ecosystem are crucial to the prosperity of our whole society.
We do not know what challenges lie ahead for our Nation. Indigenous culture and expertise could prove vital to our survival in a rapidly changing world. A rich variety of viewpoints, experiences, and ideas helps us solve problems and come at issues from
new directions. Through partnerships and cooperation between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, we can find new and innovative solutions to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century.

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