Recommendations on the Optimal Constitutional Recognition of the First Nations in Australia

Benjamen Franklen Gussen


This note extends my previous analysis of the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (‘First Nations’) by providing guidance on the optimal approach for this recognition. The guidance is founded on the concepts of efficiency and equity. An optimal recognition is defined as one that achieves both objectives simultaneously. Efficiency flows from a dynamic recognition that changes over time relatively easily, as exemplified by a treaty-based approach. The equity criterion has, as a proxy, legal pluralism, whereby constitutional recognition enlivens ‘Indigenous jurisprudence’ through mechanisms such as self-governance. The proposal is to combine efficiency and equity by guaranteeing the collective rights of Indigenous Australians in accordance with universally recognised principles and norms of international law, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (for which the Commonwealth of Australia announced its support in 2009). This in turn is likely to guide a treaty-based approach to the relationship between the Commonwealth and First Nations that can evolve towards legal pluralism.


Constitutional recognition; First Nations; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

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