Leibler Panel Calls for Constitution Change

January 20, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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Melbourne lawyer Mark Leibler is Co-Chair of the Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and has called on all Australians to work for change citing the effect of the Holocaust on his own family.Delivering the report of his expert panel in Canberra to a group which included Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, Leibler said:

Mark Leibler

“When it was approved one hundred and twelve years ago, the Australian Constitution established the rules for governing one of the most prosperous, peaceful and democratic nations in the world.
However, the Constitution understandably reflects the values and beliefs of the time it was drafted.  The Founding Fathers deserve our gratitude and respect.  But their perspectives – including those on race – were of the 19th Century, not the 21st.
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers had the foresight to realise that changing times would necessitate changing the Constitution.  They gave future generations the ability to alter the Constitution that they had taken such care to craft.
The most pressing needs for change are removing the sections in the Constitution dealing with race and ending the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the document.
So today, after visiting 84 communities across regional, remote and metropolitan Australia, holding more than 250 consultations and considering more than 3600 submissions we are pleased to present our 22 member Panel’s unanimous report.
Throughout this year, our deliberations have borne most heavily on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, because it is their communities and their families who have felt most hurt by their exclusion from the Constitution.
But racism casts a shadow over many lives, including my own.
It was racism and its off-shoot Nazism that caused my parents to flee Belgium in 1939.
It was racism that saw my maternal grandparents murdered in Auschwitz.
Racism turns your life into a lottery.  To stay or go becomes a matter of life or death.  Racism reduces your ability to control your life’s destiny or make decisions for yourself.
My family has never forgotten our debt to Australia.  We owe our freedom, prosperity and the very lives of our children and grandchildren to this country.
For me, one way I can help repay this debt is by working to change our Constitution for the better.
All of our Panel members come to this task with different experiences and histories.  But for all of us this has become a personal quest.
Prime Minister, we know that you are already committed to Constitutional recognition.
Today, we invite all Australians to join with you and the members of the Panel in pledging to work for Constitutional change.”

In response, the Prime Ministe, Julia Gillard, said: “Thank you very much to Mark and Patrick for presenting this report to me.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard

I’d like to say a few words to the panel firstly – I know we did not send you on an easy journey.

We drew people from all different walks of life, we added to you people from across the political spectrum and of course Rachel and Rob are here today, Ken couldn’t be with us, and we asked you to work together to prepare this report.

We were very specific about what we wanted done. We wanted you to bring forward a proposal that could contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation, that could be of benefit to and accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums and be technically and legally sound.

It was a pretty big mission.

So thank you very much for your labours right around the country and having done it in such a consultative way and having found the unity to give this report to me today, I genuinely do thank you for that work.

Today this report goes from being the property of the panel, to the property of the nation and that is appropriate, because for constitutional change Australians have to understand and be persuaded of the case for change. It’s our nation’s Constitution, out people’s Constitution, not our Constitution.

And we know that Australians have been slow to change their Constitution, that out of the 44 referendum proposals put, only eight have succeeded. But we should take hope from the fact that of the referendum most successful when presented to the Australian people, it was the 1967 referendum, when people decided that they wanted to say yes to change.

And I acknowledge the young Freedom Riders here today, who are out there once again living that journey and getting people to say yes to change. Thank you for what you’re doing.

And of course we learned when Kevin Rudd delivered the apology on behalf of the Stolen Generations, that that moment had meaning; it had great meaning, because around the nation Australians said yes to that moment.

They wanted the apology said, they wanted it said for them and Kevin Rudd delivered those beautiful words.

So now we are looking to the Australian people again, to get involved and to find it in themselves to say yes to change.

So I’m here today to say to all Australians they should get on the You Me Unity website, they should familiarise themselves with the contents of this report, they should start discussing in their homes, with their neighbours, in their community meetings, in their workplaces, in their trade unions, in their churches, this case for change.

They should consider it deeply, because it’s so important to the Australian nation. And as the Australian community considers it deeply, it falls to us, to the political leaders of the nation to make sure that we consider it and respond well too.

It is going to take the deepest and strongest sword of bipartisanship, it is going to require each and every one of us involved in politics, whether it be in the Federal Parliament just down the road, whether it be in State Parliaments, indeed whether it be as local government members or other sorts of community leaders, to find it in ourselves to be our best selves, to advocate this case for change, with the maximum degree of unity.

But I am an optimist. I’m taking it as a good open that as I walked in today I met a small girl and she told me her name was Hope. I think that’s a good thing and having met that small girl called Hope I think we are joined here today in a hope for the future.

So, as Prime Minister, I am here to receive the report and I am here to say that as a nation we are big enough and it is the right time to say yes to an understanding of our past, to say yes to constitutional change and to say yes to a future more united and more reconciled than we have ever been before.”

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