Noel Pearson has slammed the futility of “selective outrage” and called on Australia to get practical about closing the gap during a debate about constitutional reform at the Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land on Saturday.
The emotive orator said making the move to change the constitution was a crucial first step in casting new light on “the dark soul of old Australia”.
Surrounded by government representatives and leaders from all sectors Mr Pearson said now was the time to funnel energy into doing more than talking.
“We have enormous funds of outrage and sympathy in relation to the problems,” he said. “But in relation to the ultimate problems we have no support for the solutions.”
Mr Pearson said recasting the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people was the key to forging forward and putting an end to a “misery that has gone on for decades”.
He said symbolism was not sufficient and an amendment needed to act as a hook on which to hang cascading reforms and make practical improvements to the lives of all first peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda said the nation-wide community consultation about the referendum was crucial but meant it was unlikely a vote would be held next May.
But he stressed it was about “doing it right, not doing it right now”.
Referendum Council’s chairman Michael Rose said gaining the double majority necessary in each jurisdiction to pass the changes meant Australians, from all walks, needed to see this as more than “the majority giving a gift to a minority”.
“What we are talking about is something for our whole nation,” he said. “The process of recognition can, if it’s handled well, provide the necessary mind shift.”
Senator Pat Dodson said while legal minds would be preoccupied with the detail, the vote was “for all of us, not some concession to the natives.”