‘’Enhancing Representation in the Democratic Parliamentary System’’
By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney Australia
On March 23, 2023, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made a significant announcement regarding the recognition and empowerment of Australia’s First Nation (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) peoples. The proposal entails the establishment of a dedicated House that represents the First Nation, providing them with constitutional rights to participate in crucial democratic and political decisions. This move has sparked a divisive debate within Australian politics, as it necessitates amending the long-standing Australian Constitution, which has undergone only eight changes since its inception in the mid-1890s.
The Process of Amendment in the Constitution: Amending the Australian Constitution is a complex and democratic procedure. It involves the formation of a team comprising jurists and senior politicians well-versed in constitutional law, tasked with drafting the proposed changes. The draft is then subjected to discussions and recommendations in the National Assembly and the Senate, where all members of the House participate. This thorough process can span several months, allowing for revisions and refinement of important recommendations. Ultimately, the Prime Minister has the authority to call for a referendum, allowing the Australian people to make a popular decision on the proposed constitutional changes.
Current Debate and Political Stances: The National Assembly is currently debating a draft that aims to grant greater constitutional powers to indigenous representatives. The ruling Labor Party introduced the draft, garnering strong support from government members. The Green Party, Australia’s third-largest political force, also endorses the bill. However, opposition to the proposed changes arises from the Liberal Party, the National Party representing the southern regions, and Pauline Hanson’s right-wing party, One Nation.
As discussions unfold among members of the federal parliament, including the Australian Labor Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, and One Nation, the prevailing majority held by the Labor Party and the Green Party suggests that the bill is likely to pass in the House. Subsequently, as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has already announced, a national referendum is expected to take place in October or November this year (2023), enabling the Australian public to voice their opinion. If the majority of Australians support the bill in the referendum, it would mark a fundamental change in the Australian constitution since 1977.
The proposal to grant constitutional power and representation to Australia’s First Nation in the democratic parliamentary system has generated intense debate among political parties and the wider public. With the amendment process underway and the bill being considered by the National Assembly, the future of this transformative constitutional change will soon be in the hands of the Australian people. The outcome of the forthcoming national referendum will shape the course of Australia’s democratic system and reflect the nation’s stance on recognizing the rights and voices of its First Nation peoples in the political landscape.
A Transparent Representation of the Nation: Australia stands out among democratic nations worldwide for its transparent and efficient democratic system, where the parliament faithfully represents the Australian people. The assembly sessions commence at 10 AM and continue until 10 PM, with a few breaks in between. Notably, the proceedings of these sessions are broadcast live on Australian National Radio, captivating the interest of the populace. By tuning in, citizens can witness firsthand how their elected representatives champion their concerns and interests on crucial matters. The resolutions passed in parliament are subsequently reported by print and electronic media, further reinforcing the notion that Australia’s democratic system and parliament genuinely represent the nation when it comes to making amendments or enacting new legislation.
Recognizing the First Nation: Upholding Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Rights
Delving into Australia’s history, it is essential to acknowledge the ancient inhabitants of the land, whose roots stretch back an astounding 65,000 years. These individuals continue to exist in tribal form, preserving their unique cultures, languages, customs, and way of life. However, the arrival of the British in 1788 had a profound impact on their lifestyle and cultural freedom. Special laws were enacted to govern the ancient inhabitants, oftentimes subjecting them to inhumane treatment. Those who dared to raise their voices for their land and freedom were either dismissed or punished. Heartbreakingly, children were forcibly separated from their families, with the misguided intention of providing them with a better life. Yet, the consequences were far from positive. Today, educated members of the First Nation, along with their political representatives and community leaders, can openly voice their concerns. Indigenous representatives in national and provincial parliaments tirelessly advocate for their rightful voice, demanding recognition of their thousands of years of culture, livelihoods, and land rights.
A Multicultural Australia: Embracing Diversity and Constitutional Protection
In 1975, the Constitution Against Racial Discrimination was amended, effectively dismantling racial discrimination and segregation, and officially designating Australia as a multicultural nation. Since then, people from over 150 different ethnicities and countries have found a welcoming home in Australia. The country has gained a reputation as an intercultural or multicultural society. Within this diverse fabric, the majority of Australians recognize and value the ancient heritage of the Aboriginal people, affording them constitutional protection. They strongly support the inclusion of Aboriginal voices as an integral part of the parliament and national decision-making. The final verdict lies with the Australian people, who will determine the outcome of this historic referendum through a national and public vote, expected to take place in the coming months.
Potential Challenges and Global Impact
However, it is important to acknowledge the potential challenges that lie ahead. Senior Anglo-Saxon (white) Australians from previous generations, primarily residing in rural villages and small towns, may vote against the proposed constitutional power for the First Nation. Their influence could significantly sway the outcome of the referendum. Should this historic referendum yield a negative result, with the proposed draft not approved, the repercussions will extend beyond Australia’s borders. It would reflect a regrettably limited extent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander freedom and decision-making within Australia, sending a negative message internationally.
The Changing World and the Importance of Equal Human Rights
In today’s rapidly evolving world, no nation, social class, ethnicity, race, or religion can exist in isolation. Decisions that infringe upon the basic rights of any section or country spread rapidly across the globe. The present generation, regardless of their nationality, colour, or race, unequivocally understands their fundamental human rights. The youth of today firmly believe in meritocracy and equality within their respective countries. However, in many developing nations, the oppressive actions of class discrimination and the suppression of basic rights and political freedom continue to evoke shame and disdain from the international community.
Returning to the topic of the referendum; Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, upon assuming office, made an important announcement during a significant traditional Garma Festival of the Indigenous Peoples. He pledged to grant them a meaningful role in parliamentary and legislative decision-making processes. Presently, the Australian Parliament is engaged in ongoing debates to fulfill this commitment. It is anticipated that once the draft legislation is passed by both houses, it will be subjected to a national or public referendum, with hopes of gaining majority acceptance from the Australian population.
(The author is the editor Tribune International, Australia and Sydney-based Journalist and Column Writer. His email is email@example.com and mobile +61 479 143 628)