Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has predicted a “noble compromise” will be reached on Indigenous recognition in the constitution, with a referendum question hitting a “sweet spot” between ambition and realism, and between conservatism and liberalism.
The Cape York leader believes a clear position will emerge from next week’s Indigenous constitutional convention at Uluru and has challenged the nation’s political leaders to have the courage to deal with it and “put a winnable proposition to the Australian people”.
Mr Pearson has also applauded a proposal from Warren Mundine to recognise local and regional Aboriginal bodies in the constitution as a “crucial contribution” ahead of the four-day convention.
“Warren is thinking practically about how to win a referendum on substantive constitutional recognition. His contribution is important, and takes the discussion to the next level,” Mr Pearson will say at an event to launch the idea on Friday.
Mr Mundine, the former head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, has proposed a variation on the more contentious idea of enshrining a national Indigenous body in the constitution as a voice to Parliament.
Conservatives are more likely to embrace the Mundine variation because it would not involve setting up a new apparatus and it aims to empower existing bodies. Whether it will meet the expectations of convention delegates is unclear.
It has support from Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who described it as “a much closer representation of what mainstream Australian would support and accept”.
In an essay outlining his proposal, Mr Mundine writes: “Each of our mobs needs to get governance in place. It’s got to be transparent, and it has to be very clearly directed.
“Then the government should start negotiating with the mob to reach an agreement which could be the basis for the Parliament establishing a local body for each mob according to the agreement it has reached with the government.
“The constitution should require the Parliament to do this. That would provide true recognition for each of our mobs.”
Mr Pearson said the Mundine proposal resonated with his long-held belief that self-determination, correctly understood, is about our peoples’ right to take responsibility. “That is what constitutional recognition should structurally encourage and enable,” he said.
He told Fairfax Media he had attended at least seven of 12 Indigenous dialogues leading up the the convention and is “staggering pleased” with what has emerged, and with the leadership shown at the dialogues by Pat Anderson and Megan Davis.
“We’ve had very significant Indigenous female leadership over the decades, but I think this is the one time where I think two women have really carried the leadership on this process,” he said.
“I see next week as 12 pieces of the jigsaw from all parts of the country coming together into a united position, a single whole. The outcome I’m hoping for is a very clear statement of what Indigenous Australia wants in a reform agenda.
“The process following Uluru has got to involve Indigenous representatives sitting down and negotiating with the parliamentary parties about what specific referendum question is to be put in a bill and put to the Australian people.”
Pressed on the Mundine proposal, Mr Pearson said there had been overwhelming support for a representative body or voice to the Parliament at the dialogues and he expected there to be varied views on what form it should take.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have “respectfully declined” an invitation to attend next week’s historic convention, wary that their presence could reduce the prospects of a successful outcome.