The lessons learned from this are, for referenda to succeed, there must be widespread political and popular support; the government has therefore called on 18 Indigenous, parliamentary, legal and community representatives to assist in progressing the debate on constitutional reform for Indigenous peoples. While initially it was suggested that the constitutional recognition may be limited to the Preamble of the Constitution, the debate has moved on to the necessity to amend or repeal s 51 (xxvi), which allows the Federal Parliament to now make laws regarding 'any race', an antiquated and possibly undefinable concept. In addition there are other areas of the Constitution that are offensive to Indigenous Australians, particularly s 25 because it anticipated for 'people of any race' to be disqualified from state voting, and thus impacts on representation in the House of Representatives.
The expert panel will be tasked with trying to find the right balance between appropriate legal reform, and 'selling' the reform message to the wider Australian community. The more topics the 'recognition referendum' includes, the greater the propensity for community and political division on the content and impact of the proposed changes, which put at risk a successful vote in favour of reform. The referendum date has not been set, but is expected before the next federal election.
Government information on the referendum and the expert panel is available at http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/indigenous/progserv/engagement/Pages/Path2Referendum.aspx
MELISSA CASTAN teaches law at Monash University.