Abbott does about-face on Indigenous recognition conferences


2015 August, 20

ELEANOR HALL: Back to Canberra now, where the four Aboriginal leaders who've have been talking to the Prime Minister this morning about recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution have now emerged from their meeting.

Earlier this month, they were rebuffed by Mr Abbott, who rejected their request for a series of Indigenous conferences, to come up with a unified position on what question should be put to the people in a referendum.

Since then, the Prime Minister had a change of heart, calling Patrick Dodson, Noel Pearson, Megan Davis and Kirstie Parker to Canberra.

Cape York leader Noel Pearson spoke to reporters in Canberra after the meeting.

NOEL PEARSON: It was a very positive and productive meeting. I think we put this show back on the rails. I was very pleased to meet the PM with my colleagues Patrick Dodson, Megan Davis and Kirstie Parker.

Essentially, the outcome of the meeting is that, over the next 12 months there'll be a referendum council oversighting a process of national consultation, which will include the program of Indigenous consultations that we originally proposed.

There will be parallel mainstream conferences and so on with the wider Australian community, but the outcome that we've got in our meeting with the Prime Minister today has been very positive.

REPORTER: Did Mr Abbott explain why he changed his mind on that front?

NOEL PEARSON: Well, you know, I think that his concern is that these consultations be national, they include the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community, and we have no truck with that.

What our concern is that there needs to be a specific Indigenous process that allows the possibility for consensus in our own community. What we've agreed on today though, is that this can happen concurrently with the mainstream conferences, and be supervised by the proposed referendum council.

REPORTER 2: How will you be able to satisfy him that that process would not amount to an Indigenous log of claims?

NOEL PEARSON: Because we were very clear about the fact that the models are quite notorious now. They've been laid out in an expert panel report in 2011. The joint parliamentary committee has discussed a range of models.

So essentially the terms of reference for the exercise going forward is well known, and there's no intention to construct some kind of log of claims or additional agenda other than the models that are on the table.

And so we were very pleased that the outcome of the meeting today: it's a rumble we had to have to get the ground rules right, to get the understanding clear, but now we're very positive that we've got this show back on the road.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Cape York leader Noel Pearson speaking after the meeting with the Prime Minister today.

Abbott does about-face on Indigenous recognition conferences