The Recognise campaign has sparked controversy within the Indigenous community, with some excited by its possibilities and others nervous at its potential failure. The Recognise campaign, which calls for indigenous recognition in the Australian Constitution, has been included in Reconciliation Week activities this year, and is featured in the NRL and AFL’s Indigenous rounds.

Josephine Bourke, a proud Torres Strait Islander and ex officio expert panellist on the board for the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians (Recognise), likes the idea, but is skeptical of its execution and implications. The PhD candidate said if a referendum goes ahead next year, and there is a ‘yes’ vote for constitutional recognition, it could be a step back for the progression of Indigenous rights in this country.

“If we are given symbolic recognition, imagine how the Australian people will feel, they’ll feel great,” she said.

An anti-recognise banner.

“It’s harder then to fight for the rights based stuff. I feel like we are creating a nation that is ticking boxes.”

Ms Bourke said the nation needed to be educated about what the planned referendum is about and why it is happening.

“If it was an education campaign yes, because we need it, but what they’re doing now is creating a lot of confusion,” she said.

The campaign uses athletes from NRL and AFL to promote the idea of constitutional recognition.


“It’s a growing fear inside me about what they’re going to sell to the other 97 per cent of Australia.”

The Recognise campaign is a now government-run campaign that is hoping to change the national Constitution to recognise Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s first people. The campaign also wants to eliminate section 25 and 51 (xxi) from the Constitution as they allow racial discrimination from the government. The planned referendum will allow constitutional recognition to occur if more than 50 per cent of the nation vote yes, and the majority of the States vote yes. Ms Bourke is worried about the implications if the vote doesn’t pass.

“I think it won’t be successful. Just sit back and imagine, what that would do to a nation, what kind of damage would that do to Australia?” she said.

“We still never get what we need to thrive, we are surviving.”


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