The Prime Minister has called a bipartisan summit of Indigenous leaders for July 6 to discuss the timing and wording of the referendum for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution.
The Sydney summit looms as the best chance for a consensus to begin to emerge among Indigenous leaders on the question that is likely to be put to the people in May 2017.It will come a week after a parliamentary committee lays out options for change that range from Indigenous recognition and a ban on racism being inserted into the country’s founding document to an alternative championed by Cape York leader Noel Pearson.
The summit was welcomed by Indigenous leaders last night, with Coalition MP Ken Wyatt declaring he was willing to back a new proposal if one emerged from the meeting.
“I would expect that there would be extremely good discussions around options that our report has reflected in it,” Mr Wyatt told Fairfax Media. “Equally, if the Aboriginal leadership believes there is another option that would be acceptable to the Australian people, then I don’t have an issue with that.
“The outcome has to be something that is acceptable, not only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but to all Australians so we get a majority of voters in a majority of states.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten welcomed Tony Abbott’s move, declaring it “the next step in our national journey of reconciliation”.
“It’s time to sit down with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in a serious and considered way to listen,” he said. “We must find a place of honour for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution.”
Mr Abbott said the summit would be an important opportunity for him and Mr Shorten to hear “the views of a range of Indigenous Australians as our country contemplates change”.
Among those certain to attend are Pat Dodson, Galarrway Yunupingu, Warren Mundine, Tanya Hosch, Mick Gooda, Mr Pearson, Nova Peris, Mr Wyatt and Marcia Langton.
Mr Pearson was cautious about the prospects for a breakthrough, saying there was no “magic” in the calling of the summit, and a lot of work was needed in the coming weeks if it was to be productive.
“I happen to believe that the optimal model for bipartisan support can only emerge with active Indigenous involvement in the shaping of it,” Mr Pearson told Fairfax Media.
The summit would only be an important moment if it produced answers to the criticisms of the recommendations of the expert panel that reported in January 2012, including Mr Abbott’s concern that a prohibition on racism in the constitution could amount to a “single issue bill of rights”.
Announcing the summit, Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten reaffirmed their “bipartisan commitment to constitutional recognition”, with Mr Abbott declaring: “Recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution will complete our constitution, rather than simply change it. This should be a unifying moment for our nation and this meeting will be an important part of this journey.”
RECOGNISE Joint Campaign director Tanya Hosch welcomed their statement, saying the summit would be the “next important step” in resolving a referendum model.
“We congratulate the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader for their commitment to work together and for taking this next crucial step of a leaders’ meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” said Ms Hosch.
At a RECOGNISE dinner held in Redfern last year, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader expressed their desire to work towards a referendum with a possible ballot being held in May 2017, on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.
Since then, RECOGNISE has been working with the nation’s parliamentary and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to secure this meeting so there is progress towards development of the referendum model.
“This is very good news. If we are to make this historic change before the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum we cannot afford this issue to drift any further. RECOGNISE welcomes this announcement and looks forward to working with the leaders ahead of this meeting,” Ms Hosch said.
At a meeting of Indigenous leaders in Broome last week to discuss property rights and economic development, there was discussion about the alternative models for change, but no consensus among those present.
Many leaders have supported the recommendations of the expert panel set up by the Gillard government for recognition in the constitution and a prohibition on racism, but Mr Pearson has backed an alternative he believes is more likely to win support of constitutional conservatives.
His alternative would see a new Indigenous body advise the Parliament on laws affecting Indigenous Australians and a declaration of recognition outside the constitution.