Constitution Changes Would Improve Indigenous Mental Health

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12th October 2010, 02:15pm - Views: 1121

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12 October 2010 

Constitution changes would improve Indigenous mental health

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is calling for the recognition of

Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution. 

“It is time for Indigenous Australians to be recognised in the document that governs Australia.

Constitutional acknowledgment of Indigenous people is long overdue,” said Dr Maria Tomasic, President

of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. 

The Apology was a

pivotal moment in Australia’s history but it needs to be followed by action. The

fact that our Constitution does not recognise Indigenous Australians

is inexcusable, and it is


admirable move for the current government to move to remedy this. It has been two years since the

Apology, and with the Labor government now in its second term there is an ideal opportunity for the

Gillard government to make the next major step in acknowledging our Indigenous Australians as the

first people of the land. 

“The lack of acknowledgement of a people’s existence in a country’s constitution has a major impact


their sense of identity, value within the community and perpetuates discrimination and prejudice

which further erodes the hope of Indigenous people. There is an association with socioeconomic

disadvantage and subsequent higher rates of mental illness, physical illness, and incarceration,” said

Dr Tomasic. 

“Recognition in the Constitution would have a positive effect on the self esteem of Indigenous Australians

and reinforce their pride in the value of their culture and history. It would make a real difference to the

lives of Indigenous Australians,” said Dr Tomasic.

“The Indigenous people of Australia suffer levels of mortality, morbidity and compromised wellbeing far in

excess of non-Indigenous Australians. This reflects issues of social injustice, persistent social and

economic disadvantage and the historical legacy of colonisation with its destruction of Indigenous

culture,” said Dr Tomasic. 

“There are mental health implications from the history of contact between Indigenous Australian

communities and the dominant society. Attitudes and policies of the dominant Australian community have

negatively impacted the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people,” said Dr


“We need to recognise that social injustice and racism are still causing serious suffering and mental ill

health for Indigenous people,” said Dr Tomasic.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists calls for all parties to support a

referendum for constitutional change and for the acknowledgement of our Indigenous peoples in the

Constitution. Furthermore Section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution needs to be revisited as part of this

debate. Section 51(xxvi) is the “race power” that allows the Commonwealth to make special laws

according to race. On 3 April 2009, the Australian government formally supported the UN Declaration

on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and moving to change the Constitution would demonstrate

commitment to these principles.

“This is a critical step which will support the improvement of Indigenous mental health,” said Dr Tomasic. 

Media Release

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For further information: Kirrily Johns +61 (0)3 9601 4940

About The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) is the principal

organisation representing the medical specialty of psychiatry in Australia and New Zealand and has

responsibility for training, examining and awarding the qualification of Fellowship of the College to

medical practitioners. 

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