Date: July 12 2012
FORMER Australian of the year Mick Dodson has thrown his support behind a proposal to insert a ban on racial discrimination into the constitution, declaring such a move would ''cast out forever the dead legal and policy corpse of White Australia''.
But he warned against rushing to a referendum, because defeat would ''set reconciliation on its arse'' and cause damage to relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that would take decades to repair.
Speaking at the University of Canberra yesterday, Professor Dodson said the Gillard government should adopt in full the recommendations of an expert panel on constitutional recognition co-chaired by his brother Pat and lawyer Mark Leibler.
In January, the panel handed a report to the government recommending recognition of the prior occupation of Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and acknowledging their continuing relationship with their traditional lands and waters, and their cultures, languages and heritage. It also recommended the removal of two racist sections and the creation of new sections banning discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin, and acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of indigenous people.
The proposed prohibition of racial discrimination has attracted controversy, with the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, saying he had ''some reservations about anything that might turn out to be a one clause bill of rights''.
Professor Dodson, the director of the national centre for indigenous studies and a Professor of Law at the Australian National University, said he had once held a minimalist position on constitutional recognition, believing incremental change was best. But he said he had been persuaded by the expert panel's report.
''Having read the report, I've changed my mind about the minimalist approach, because I think what they've presented is achievable if we put the right time and effort into it,'' he said yesterday.
He said Australia's treatment of asylum seekers showed that legislative protections of human rights were not adequate, and constitutional protections were necessary. ''When it comes to human rights, don't trust the politicians,'' he said.
The government aims to hold a referendum on the issue at or before next year's election.
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