Submission: In response to the Discussion Paper, A National Conversation about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Constitutional Recognition

RLC has a priority access policy for ATSI clients. In 2010, we provided legal services to some 3000 individuals from Redfern and surrounding areas, approximately 200 of whom identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. 

Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, which is auspiced by RLC, assisted female clients who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander with 869 service events in 2010; these service events involved providing information, advocacy and referrals in domestic violence proceedings. 

On 15 September 2011, Redfern Legal Centre participated in a community consultation in Redfern about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recognition in the Australian Constitution. The consultation was organized by Redfern Legal Centre in partnership with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Mudgin-gal Aboriginal Women’s Corporation and Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre.  The Indigenous Law Centre at the University of NSW presented on the topic of Australia’s current Constitution and how to change it; the Gilbert + Tobin Centre for Public Law at the University of NSW presented options for changing the Constitution to recognise Indigenous people; and Mudgin-gal Aboriginal Women’s Corporation presented a personal view on the proposed Constitutional changes.

The opportunity was welcomed by those in attendance. The aim was to provide a forum for discussion and to inform one another of possible options, opportunities and concerns. 

In summary, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander attendees who are involved with Constitutional, legal or political issues on a day-to-day basis displayed significant knowledge about the options for Constitutional reform, but held differing opinions on whether and what kind of Constitutional change should be pursued. There were approximately 4 attendees who fell into this category.

Both the non-Aboriginal participants and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander attendees – members of the local Redfern community and representatives of Aboriginal community organisations – were generally unaware of the options for Constitutional reform.  There was also a degree of confusion and concern over the possible effects of Constitutional reform. There was, however, a general feeling that opportunities for Constitutional reform should be seized and that any changes should be substantive and not just include a symbolic recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first people of Australia.