Constitutional referendum: the indigenous recognition tightrope | Law

Constitutional referendum: the indigenous recognition tightrope

Associate Professor Sean Brennan comments in The Australian (30 May 2015) on Andrew Bolt's belief that constitutional recognition of Aborigines would institutionalise social divisions on the basis of race.

“I strongly disagree with the suggestion that it is racist or racially divisive to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution,” says Brennan, who is director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of NSW.

“In terms of history, the land was taken without consent or ­treaty. And the authority of Aboriginal groups to determine their own futures, as they had for thousands of years before the British arrived, was overridden.

“That is a massive process of dispossession and disempowerment. It creates a legacy of deep inequality. Racism — the deliberate disregard for the value of a human society on the basis of assumed racial superiority — helps explain that history.

“Undoing racism today includes accurately acknowledging the true state of affairs and restoring the first peoples of the continent — its first landholders, its first legally regulated societies — to a constitutional position that more accurately reflects their status in Australian society and history,” says Brennan.