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How about we start again on race and the Constitution?

Peter Brent writes in Inside Story (28.6.17) that efforts to remove “race” from the Constitution have become tangled up with the campaign for Indigenous recognition. Instead, the author argues, we should take these issues one at a time.

‘When Malcolm Turnbull was communications minister he had a favourite joke he lovingly, repeatedly, used to deflect the blame for problems with the NBN onto the former Labor government. It’s the one where an Irishman, upon being asked for directions to a particular place, replies, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here”.

‘To me, this hokey gag also applies to the task of excising references to “race” from the Australian Constitution. It’s a good idea, it shouldn’t be too hard, and for the vast majority of Australians it would be a no-brainer. In the twenty-first century, the word “race” obviously doesn’t belong in our legal architecture. But unfortunately we’re starting from here: a decade of entanglement in the issue of constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. De-racing our Constitution didn’t have to be seen from that perspective.

‘Last month’s Uluru Statement from the Heart eschewed any merely symbolic constitutional amendments, instead recommending something much more ambitious: the creation of a representative Indigenous body. Last week, Labor senator and former Reconciliation Council chair Pat Dodson gave a speech in which he urged that, notwithstanding that Uluru development, the “stubborn stains in our racist Constitution must be erased. Australia cannot move forward,” Dodson said, in the biennial Mabo Oration, “while our founding document, our birth certificate, embodies our racist past”.

‘He’s right. The two lingering, almost nonchalant constitutional references to “race” really should go. But this need not be an issue that is exclusively, or evenly predominately, about the place of Indigenous people in this country. ‘

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