First nations calling for inclusion in Australian constitution

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

In Australia’s capital, Canberra, a gathering at the aboriginal tent embassy outside the old parliament house is one of the world’s longest-running protests for the rights of indigenous people.

With Australia’s general election taking place on Saturday, the country’s indigenous people are calling for inclusion in the nation's constitution.

Australia's original inhabitants, who number around 700,000, can trace their roots back 65,000 years before British colonialists arrived. But the country's constitution doesn't reference them at all, and they track near the lower end of almost every economic and social indicator.

A research fellow in indigenous diplomacy at the University of Australia, James Blackwell (Wiradyuri), says the intention of the protest was about land rights.

“They’ve been there for 50 years. The goals are more broadly narrowed to greater indigenous rights. The key push for the tent embassy is, and always has been, about land rights.”

Making their case

Blackwell says that activists are campaigning across media and social media, writing to political parties and MPs to make their case to the government, as the general election draws near.

“What Black Fellas are looking for in Australia with this election is a government that takes our issues seriously and prioritises them. For too long we’ve been neglected on everything, from education to health, to housing, to foreign policy.”

James says that although some Australians don’t want to see change for Aboriginal people, “the general mood here is that it’s time for a change.”

“The general Australian public is positive towards change. I do think that if a referendum were to be held, it would be quite overwhelming support from the Australian population.”

However, James says that the current Australian government “has a poor track record” when it comes to Indigenous issues.

“I don’t think they’re doing much to engage with us on our terms. The opposition party has a better track record, and it appears to be more heavily campaigning on Indigenous issues this time around.

"We have a lot of minor and independent parties, all of which are more left-leaning than the current government. I do think there is a bigger push from most political parties than most for greater rights to First Nations people.”