Originally published at Right Now : Human Rights in Australia
Book review by Maya Borom
No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia | UQP
In 1967, a successful referendum was held to determine whether the Australian constitution should be altered to remove references that discriminated against Aboriginal people. Momentum has since been gathering around a proposal that the Australian constitution be changed to positively recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A new referendum has been proposed for 2017, some 50 years after the initial 1967 referendum.
Frank Brennan’s No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia is a comprehensive look at the path to constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians. Brennan takes the reader on a journey, which includes analysis of the lead-up to the 1967 referendum; the socio-political manoeuvrings of state ministers and government officers around Aboriginal affairs; frank discussion around perceived promises springing from the change to the constitution; and the tabled concerns of Aboriginal advocates around legislative protections and the constitutional framework.
Brennan, a law professor at the Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, displays an expert understanding of the issues that indigenous Australians face in contemporary Australia. This is evidenced by him receiving an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to Aboriginal Australians.
His father is esteemed High Court Justice Brennan, who famously rejected the notion of terra nullius in the Mabo case (1992), though Brennan himself notes in the preface that his own introduction to the complexity of Aboriginal issues first emerged as a junior barrister in 1981 in Queensland.
Deftly written and all-inclusive, No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia is a must read for those interested in Aboriginal issues in the Australian socio-political landscape, particularly the teasing out of Aboriginal concerns around discrimination and adverse treatment arising from the changes to the constitution in 1967.
These issues most recently played out through inconsistent laws dealing with native title, while the treatment of Adam Goodes is further proof that overt racism continues to pose a real threat to indigenous Australians’ mental and physical health.