Strong support to remove race from constitution: ANU Poll

27 March 2015

A large majority of Australians says they would support changes to the Constitution to remove clauses that discriminate on the basis of race

A major new poll of Australian attitudes on Indigenous issues has found overwhelming support to change the Constitution to remove references to race.

The ANUpoll, conducted by The Australian National University (ANU), also found strong support for Indigenous culture, language and heritage to be acknowledged in the Constitution as the basis for Australian law making.

The ANUpoll found four out of five people also believe Indigenous people should be able to decide their own way of life.

Both major Australian political parties support greater recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and the ANUpoll findings come as a bipartisan parliamentary committee considers wording for any changes to the Constitution.

Professor Matthew Gray, Director of the ANU Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, said the results were strongest in metropolitan areas and among young people, but were also strong in non-metropolitan areas and with older people.

"A large majority of Australians says they would support changes to the Constitution to remove clauses that discriminate on the basis of race and to recognise the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples as a basis for Commonwealth Law making," Professor Gray said.

The telephone poll of 1,201 people found 82 per cent of respondents either agreed (36 per cent) or strongly agreed (46 per cent) to support changes to the Constitution in order to remove clauses that discriminate on the basis of race.

Asked if they would support the recognition of the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in as a basis for Commonwealth law making, the poll found 28 per cent strongly agreed and 45 per cent agreed.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten both support a referendum and have said they will meet Indigenous leaders over the coming months to discuss the issue.

Mr Abbott has previously said he would like a referendum to be held on the 50th anniversary of the landmark May 1967 referendum, which deleted two references which discriminated against Aboriginal people. That could mean a vote in May 2017.

The ANUpoll, Australian Public Opinion on Indigenous Issues, also found Indigenous self-determination was an important issue for Australia.

It found almost two-thirds of Australians think that Indigenous people's level of disadvantage justifies extra government assistance and 58 per cent think Indigenous people should have special cultural protections. 

"This poll points to Australian's recognition of the distinctive position of Indigenous people in Australian society and that they are comfortable with this being reflected in various forms of Indigenous-specific recognition, including land rights and native title, additional assistance in the areas of education  and employment and constitutional recognition," Professor Gray said.

The full ANUPoll, Australian Public Opinion on Indigenous Issues: Injustice, Disadvantage and Support for Recognition, is available here.