Constitutional Amendment: Anti-Discrimination Won’t Make It
Nobody in Australia can write an interesting article about federalism – except Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University. He also produces refreshing good sense when it comes to constitutional reform. His article in today’s Financial Review is no exception.
His counsel is that we simply “forget the one-line Bill of Rights against discrimination.” That is, the proposal from the so-called Expert Panel that we lift anti-discrimination laws that affect indigenous Australians out of statutory law and plant them in the constitution.
The people are not going to vote for it because they will see straight away it raises too many questions. As Craven says, “the sweeping guarantee against discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity or colour is a one-clause Bill of Rights.”
At the crudest level, what on earth does it mean? The answer is, whatever the judges say. The examples of negative potential that will be used by the “No” case are so hideous they cannot even be responsibly canvassed, but they will be deployed to devastating effect.
If the Australian people have doubts about what it means and, more specifically, how judges might interpret it, they will vote no. As Craven says, that would be a tragedy because “it will look like a repudiation of every step of progress over the past 50 years. It will be the final insult to our indigenous people.”
He says “this is not some Carlton cocktail party debate, where the ultimate prize is to call your opponent a racist but no one actually gets hurt.” It’s more serious than that.