Voice Sovereignty Check
The constitution makes no mention of Indigenous people. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS

No, Aboriginal sovereignty is not written into the constitution

AAP FactCheck August 9, 2023

Aboriginal sovereignty is written into the Australian Constitution.


False. The constitution does not mention Aboriginal sovereignty or imply it in any way.

It is being claimed the sovereignty of Aboriginal people is written into the Australian Constitution.

This is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck that the constitution has never recognised Aboriginal sovereignty. In fact, there has been no mention of Aboriginal or Indigenous people in the document since 1967.

A Facebook post (screenshot here) shows a video of a man speaking about the upcoming referendum on a constitutionally-enshrined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Voice Sovereignty Post
 The man in the video claims Aboriginal sovereignty is already in the constitution. 

“What they’re doing with the voice legislation, it looks on the surface like they’re trying to give rights to the Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal people in Australia or the original people in Australia are actually still sovereign under their own law, and that’s written into our constitution,” the man says (audio mark 1:01).

Professor Dan Meagher, the chair in law at Deakin Law School, says Aboriginal sovereignty is not written into the Australian Constitution.

He says no section of the constitution, figuratively or hypothetically, guarantees or implies recognition of sovereignty.

“There’s absolutely nothing of this kind written (or even implied) in the Australian Constitution,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“Indeed, there is no textual mention of or reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples AT ALL in the Australian Constitution.”

University of New South Wales constitutional law expert Professor George Williams has previously told AAP FactCheck the only two mentions of Australia’s first peoples were removed from the constitution 56 years ago.

The Constitution
 The constitution makes no references to Indigenous people at all, experts say. 

Professor Williams said the text of the original 1901 constitution made two references to Aboriginal people. Section 127 stated that “Aboriginal natives” must not be counted as part of the nation’s population. 

Section 51 (xxvi), known as the “races power”, permitted the federal government to make laws for “people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

Professor Williams said both sections were removed after the 1967 referendum.

“These negative forms of recognition were replaced with silence, meaning that there has been no recognition of any kind of Australia’s first peoples in the Constitution since 1967,” Professor Williams told AAP FactCheck.

The Verdict

The claim that Aboriginal sovereignty is written into the Australian Constitution is false. 

Experts told AAP FactCheck the constitution does not mention Aboriginal sovereignty or imply it in any way.

There is no mention of Indigenous people in the constitution at all. Two previous mentions were removed following the 1967 referendum.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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