THE Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s “Roadmap for Reconciliation”, a document which names racial discrimination as part of our Commonwealth’s “unfinished business”, recommends the removal of Section 25 from the Australian Constitution. This is indeed a seminal step. Seminal because, if successful, it would break a cycle of inertia towards the reform of racism’s most repugnant legitimacy.
Because Section 25 is so seldom talked about, the reason why it is utterly indefensible to retain this section in the Constitution, is not widely known. Its inclusion, at Federation, was to contemplate the disqualification of persons of a race from voting.
Since 1901, this section’s entrenchment in the Constitution seems undisturbed by the passage of time. Specifically, the repeal of Section 25 failed at the referendum in 1974; and an opportunity to put a proposal on it to another referendum held in 1984 was not grasped – the relevant question having passed both Houses of Parliament in 1983 for submission to the people.
Bewilderingly, as recently as 1975, the High Court interpreted Section 25 in McKinlay’s Case, to mean that people today might constitutionally be denied the franchise on the ground of race. The speed with which the court delivered its judgment – interestingly a mere three weeks Ð is remarkable. And as the High Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution, we may deduce from McKinlay that the court is not yet ready to dignify inalienable rights to all and sundry.
Such constitutional review, in my opinion, does not sit well with the Whitlam Government’s Racial Discrimination Act – a bold initiative proclaimed on October 31, 1975, immediately prior to the commencement of McKinlay’s Case, and one clear month before its Reasons for Judgment were handed down.
It is true that the Senate significantly amended the bill, by excluding safeguards prohibiting the racial incitement of groups as distinct from individuals. Nevertheless, the high objectives achieved for the Racial Discrimination Act, enshrine Australia as a multicultural nation, a nation of indigenes and migrants.
So, manifestly there is some “unfinished business”. The apology of Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba with the simple words, “We are sorry”, for the “denial of basic human rights” to indigenous peoples (CL 23/4/00), is a profound and cathartic start. His Lordship notes, however, we now need an “earnest desire for reconciliation and for justice”. I do not hesitate to give my support to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in seeking the repeal of Section 25 promptly.
J.F.A. SUTHERLAND Norman Park, Qld