‘Racist’ Australian Constitution should be changed to recognize Aborigines as original inhabitants, experts say

Australia should change its Constitution to remove racist overtones and acknowledge Aborigines and Pacific islanders as the country's first inhabitants, a panel of experts has recommended.

"We're talking about a 200-year-old document which started off on the basis of excluding the Aboriginal people," panel co-chair Pat Dodson, an Aboriginal leader, told Australia's ABC News radio Friday.

In a report handed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard the 19-member panel proposed that a clause be added to the document recognizing that the territory was occupied long before its discovery by the British along with a separate clause prohibiting racial discrimination.

Gillard's Labor government has reportedly pledged to hold a referendum on the constitutional changes before the next general election, due in 2013.

Specifically, the panel recommended inserting a new section in the Constitution to recognize "the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," the Australian Associated Press reported.

The new section will also acknowledge the continuing relationship of indigenous people with their traditional lands and waters.

It will also respect the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of indigenous people and acknowledge the need to secure their advancement.

A separate new section would ban racial discrimination.

Only eight of 44 referendums have been approved in the 111 year history of the Australian Commonwealth.

Constitutional lawyer Greg Craven told ABC that the proposal to address discrimination based on race was a "dog" of an idea — one that was too broad and complex, and would "frighten" voters at a referendum.

"The point is, if you have a general racial discrimination provision, which I recall stops discrimination on not only race but ethnicity and color … handed over to a court, it's broad enough to mean whatever a court says," he said.

"The fact is that provision will never get up in a referendum. It will frighten voters off because the history of referendums show they will not vote for proposals that they do not understand and they can't see how they will work."

Gillard reportedly said Australia was "big enough" to back changes. 

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