In Conversation: ANTaR Chairperson Peter Lewis
Peter Lewis is the Chairperson of the Victorian branch of Australians for Native Title and Recognition (ANTaR). The ECCV chats with him about their recent campaign for Indigenous constitutional reform, and how organisations such as the ECCV and the public can contribute.
Explain the work of ANTaR. How did you become involved with the organisation?
ANTaR was formed in 1997 as a peak body to respond to Howard’s plan to diminish native title rights. When the campaign to support native title finished, a compromised was reached in the senate. ANTaR continued as an organisation to consolidate Aboriginal rights issues and issues of native title. I’ve been here from the beginning, working for the Uniting church as a human rights worker. The Uniting church met with 50 NGOs in 1997, including the ECCV, to become part of a campaign to defend native title.
ANTaR have been campaigning for constitutional reform for Indigenous people. What has been the process so far?
In December 2010, a referendum was pledged by the Gillard government for the recognition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and an expert panel was put together to consult with the public. The panel put forward ideas such as recognition of Aboriginal culture and heritage and treaty making powers for traditional land owners. A report was released in January, and we’ve been campaigning for people’s support. We don’t want to water down the recommendations; we want people to get around suggested changes.
How do you think constitutional reform will impact both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people in Australia?
There are different levels of impact. The main impact will be protection against racial discrimination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the abolition of race powers. Recognition is not enough, more protection is needed. The impact for non-indigenous people is that it will reflect well on the community and will be a moral victory for all of us. As well as that, it protects against racial discrimination for everyone, so has the potential to benefit the entire community.
How does ANTaR respond to recommendations and submissions from organisations such as the ECCV? For example do you think ethnic communities would benefit from an education campaign about Australia’s Indigenous people?
We think it’s really positive, and a step towards building a sense of nationhood. It’s about recognising all peoples as well as first peoples, contributing to how we all get along.
How can the community become involved in the constitutional recognition campaign?
There are websites for our state and federal branches which provide information. People can invite representatives from ANTaR to talk to their organisations about issues people should be aware of. Holding forums is also a really good idea, and people can also get in contact with their local politicians. We really welcome engagement from the community.
What would be the ideal outcome for you?
The ideal outcome for me would be that politicians agree with the recommendations in general. It would be great if a referendum could be constructed within the next 3 years, and that 4 out of 6 states agree.
For more information about ANTaR visit www.antar.org.au.
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