Reconciliation, Aboriginal Rights and Constitutional Paradox in Australia

Paul Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As Australia celebrates the centenary of the Federation of its colonial states to form a Commonwealth in 1901, the status of its indigenous peoples remains a constitutional paradox and a moral flaw at the heart of the nation. Australia is unique among former British colonies in never having signed treaties with its indigenous peoples and the present Constitution was formulated exclusively by representatives of the European population without consultation with Australian indigenous peoples. In its 1901 version, the constitution explicitly denied the
Commonwealth power to make laws regarding 'Aboriginal natives' and excluded them from being counted in the census. While these exclusions were removed by referendum in 1967, other remnants of early 20th century racism remain in the document.l As well as the beginning of the Centenary of Federation, the 31 December 2000 saw the end of a nine year process of reconciliation. In 1991 the Commonwealth Parliament unanimously passed the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 ( Cth) to establish a Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation
(CAR), in recognition of the occupation of the land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for thousands of years before the arrival of the British, and in recognition of the fact that these peoples had been dispossessed as a consequence of settlement. The Preamble to the Act noted that there had been no formal reconciliation between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the European peoples, and suggested that it would be 'most desirable' that by the centenary of federation in 2001 there be such a formal reconciliation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-40
Number of pages16
JournalAustralian Feminist Law Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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