Constitutional recognition of Australia’s original inhabitants needed to come before referendums on other issues were held, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson argued on Thursday.
Mr Pearson, a member of the expert panel on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and the referendum council, said Indigenous recognition had to come before a referendum on a republic or four-year parliamentary terms.
“I would just urge that those issues be definitely put back to another term and a time in the future,” he said.
“It would be grossly unfair if the Indigenous recognition referendum is not first cab off the rank for a referendum.”
Speaking at the Queensland Media Club, Mr Pearson said if a referendum on the issue of recognising Indigenous people in the constitution was not dealt with in this term of Parliament, “we will definitely be kicking this can down the road”.
“This is our best chance to deal with it,” he said.
Mr Pearson, who has previously described the National Party as “salt of the Earth” people, said the best supporters of Indigenous issues tended to be conservative.
“I go around Parliament House and the best reception I get is from National Party politicians, because I hunt down at that end of the clock, I got to neglect the left side of the clock a bit and they go AWOL on us,” he said.
“We have this strange situation where our best supporters came from the right and the left, the Labor (Party), were sending very inconsistent messages after the Uluru statement.”
Mr Pearson said he was “dismayed” that some people were not on the same page on the Uluru statement, which called for a representative body to be enshrined in the constitution and treaties to be written.
“I think that has now diminished over the past two months and we’re getting a very clear message from the leader of the opposition about where Labor stands over this,” he said.
Mr Pearson said there was an assumption that everybody to the “left of the right” should have been easy to get on board.
But Mr Pearson accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of being “frozen” on the issues.
“Turnbull’s problem is that he’s worried that the people on the right of the party are going to pull the rug out from under him if he takes a kind of courageous stand on recognition and he’s frozen, he’s frozen by that, as he is in relation to a host of other issues,” he said.
Mr Pearson said his faith was in the Australian people, not the politicians, and he said the political process was causing confusion and dismay.