Executive Summary

The St Vincent de Paul Society works to build a just and more compassionate society. The Society is concerned with alleviating immediate need, as well as identifying and reforming the structures that cause poverty and disadvantage. We understand disadvantage to be an outcome of systemic factors, not individual failings. We are called to stand as equals with all people who find themselves pushed to the margins of society and to treat them with dignity, respect, love and compassion. In particular, the Society shares a vision of an Australia in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, languages, philosophies and cultures penetrate the marrow of our institutions, our organisations, our communities and the lives of all Australians.

We principally support recognition of the First Australians in the Constitution, which is our founding document of law and government. We recommend the inclusion of a statement of recognition of the first settlement of the continent by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples. This statement should acknowledge their continuing relationship with the land, and acknowledge and respect their continuing cultures, languages and heritages. Additionally, the Society emphatically recommends that ss 25 and 51 (26) of the Constitution, commonly called the ‘race powers’, be repealed.  We further propose that the path to recognition must involve significant and respectful engagement with Indigenous leaders and communities. We believe that their diverse perspectives and wishes need to be considered and reflected in any future wording.

Finally, the Society proposes that, ahead of a referendum, there should be a public education and awareness campaign. This campaign should inform Australians as to the nature of any proposed changes and the reasons for them, as well as main arguments for and against the reforms.

Inquiry outcome

On 25 June 2015, the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples handed down the Final Report of the Inquiry.