• 'Iʼm urging everyone to take a wider view': Tanya Hosch. (Supplied)
By
Tanya Hosch

Source:
The Point
16 Mar 2016 - 1:06 PM  UPDATED 16 Mar 2016 - 7:14 PM

The announcement of Patrick Dodsonʼs move to become a senator for Western Australia is another significant moment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

He is a leader of great integrity and intellect, whose advocacy commands enormous respect.

With the potential move of another experienced leader, Linda Burney, to the Canberra corridors of power, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Federal parliamentarians is moving towards population parity,
although I am sure before too long we will exceed this base line. They will join current MPs including Ken Wyatt, Nova Peris, Joanna Lindgren and Jacqui Lambie.

This is a big shift in our nationʼs politics, importantly across both sides, and the stage is set for even more movement, as it should be.

In the 25 years since the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Patrick Dodson has been instrumental in maintaining momentum for the recognition of our peoples in the Constitution.

Now, we are moving ever closer to ending the silence on 40,000-plus years of Indigenous custodianship of this country, and addressing racial discrimination in our Constitution.

Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have reaffirmed their commitment to having a referendum next year.

The next chapter will soon begin, with the start of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander conventions. Communities across Australia will be invited to come together to discuss the model for constitutional change.

Watch Stan Grant's interview with Tanya Hosch on The Point:

Some are cynical about it, and thatʼs understandable. I, too, have spent years watching reports, inquiries and recommendations come and go with little to show for it.

As far as constitutional recognition goes, none of the numerous reports and their related recommendations have received a direct response from any government.

But right now, Iʼm urging everyone to take a wider view.

We are at a crucial and positive stage in the decades-long campaign for recognition and dealing with racial discrimination in our Constitution.

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We now have the opportunity to change this. And if we miss this chance it may never come again.

Recently there have been renewed calls for a treaty and positive steps towards an agreement with the Victorian
Government. This is a good thing and itʼs not at odds with the push for recognition.

Recognition is not a substitute for a treaty. Itʼs a separate issue and a separate process.

Recognition is something weʼre absolutely entitled to, and there is a huge amount of support for it, across politics and all walks of life.

We can seize the opportunity thatʼs in front of us right now and make it happen.

Fixing the Constitution will be great for the nation and doesnʼt require anyone to put aside the pursuit of other social, cultural, economic or political rights.

Activists, leaders, friends – Professor Mick Dodson, Pat Turner, Noel Pearson, Professor Larissa Behrendt, Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue, Mick Gooda and many others – have supported work towards constitutional recognition and treaty simultaneously.

Thatʼs because the two are not an either/or proposition. Working towards constitutional recognition doesnʼt stop us working for a treaty. Repeated legal advice makes that clear.

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The release of the State of Reconciliation report in Canberra has sparked conversations about treaties with First Nations.

Treaties and agreement making can and do already take place, but the process of constitutional change is separate.

And the only way to be recognised in the Constitution is through a referendum. 

Constitutional recognition could be just over a year away from completion, and we need to conclude this piece of work.

Constitutional recognition is a distinct process – via a referendum. And despite what some may say about dealing
with racial discrimination via a clause in a treaty – you canʼt.

Sections of the Constitution that allow for racial discrimination can only be changed through a referendum.

No-one is saying this conversation is straightforward; but right now we have the opportunity and the momentum
we need to finally bring a resolution to this decades-long issue, and not leave it for yet another generation of our young people to deal with.

Tanya Hosch, a Torres Strait Islander woman, is joint director of the Recognise campaign.

This article first appeared in the Koori Mail.