Australian Catholics should support constitutional recognition of our indigenous people as one of the “great moral issues” of our time, according to Australian Catholic University (ACU) vice-chancellor Professor Greg Craven.
“Constitutional recognition and reconciliation is a fundamental moral issue and something that we have to put in place,” he said.
“We’ve got something at the heart of our nation that we feel uncomfortable about and we have to face that moral question.
“The fundamental answer to recognition and reconciliation is going to be when Australians of European descent are as proud of Aboriginal history in Australia as Aboriginals are proud of European history in Australia, so you get a fusion.
“I think that level of goodwill exists on both sides and that it’s really incumbent on us as a Catholic community to play our part in that great debate.”
ACU has taken a lead in developing options for how our constitution could be amended to ensure indigenous voices are represented in Parliament.
Last month Dr Craven, a constitutional lawyer, with former High Court judge Michael Kirby, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, and filmmaker Rachel Perkins launched a set of proposals outlining options – within and outside the constitution- for empowering indigenous Australians to have a formal say on the laws and policies that affect them.
Titled Upholding the Big Ideas the series of four pamphlets contains the options along with draft legislation demonstrating how each one might be implemented by Parliament.
It is hoped they will facilitate further consultation with indigenous leaders as well as inform parliamentarians of constitutionally conservative options for realising their aspirations as expressed in last year’s Uluru Statement From the Heart and final report of the Referendum Council.
Justice Kirby said that he originally was opposed to the idea of a special provision in the constitution for indigenous voices, but “after our indigenous peoples told us in the Uluru statement that they believe this is necessary, I came around to their way of thinking”.
“It’s not asking much that, on important issues affecting them directly, Parliament should have a simple means to hear their voices.”
Dr Craven said that each of the proposals could be implemented “without breaking the constitution”.
“That’s important because if people see a proposal and think it’s going to be inconsistent with the constitution they’ll vote against it at referendum,” he said.
“Among this raft of proposed measures there are some that would have to go to a referendum that are hard, but there are other things that could be done, such as a great declaration of reconciliation, without a referendum which potentially would make them quicker and easier.”
“As Catholics, we should examine our hearts and we should see what well of generosity there is towards these people that have been displaced and discriminated against for 200 years.”
For information on the proposals visit upholdandrecognise.com