Constitutional recognition: series of conventions needed for Indigenous people to come to consensus


2015 August, 3

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Two of the nation's most prominent Indigenous leaders, Noel Pearson and Patrick Dodson, are waiting to hear if the Prime Minister will support their new roadmap for a referendum on recognising Aboriginal Australians in the constitution.

The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has declared his support for the proposal which involves a series of conventions for Indigenous people to develop a consensus position on constitutional change.

Mr Pearson and Mr Dodson are also backing calls for substantive change within the body of the constitution, a view supported by other Indigenous leaders at the Garma Cultural Festival in Arnhem Land over the weekend.

Sara Everingham has this report from Arnhem Land.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Noel Pearson and Patrick Dodson say Indigenous people have to be given a chance to form a position on how they want to be recognised in the Australian Constitution.

At the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land they spoke to AM about their proposal.

Noel Pearson says it's gaining support.

NOEL PEARSON: I think a series of Indigenous conferences in all corners of Indigenous Australia, from the centre to the Torres Strait and every other corner of the continent, is a crucial part of keeping the recognition referendum alive.

And I think the talks that we've had with our colleagues here this weekend, there's a unanimity around the need for this.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has supported what you're putting forward. Have you had any indication from the Prime Minister of what his view is?

NOEL PEARSON: Not formally yet. We're hoping that there'll be an opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister about this.

We put our proposition in writing, how we see the process working out.

I think that what everyone is underestimating is the potential for Indigenous Australia to come to a common view about all these things.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Patrick Dodson says the conventions would allow Indigenous people to consider the various models for constitutional recognition and to develop a position that could then be opened up for broader debate.

But he's not sure if it can all be done by the Prime Minister's preferred time table for a referendum of 2017.

PATRICK DODSON: It's a process to analyse what is on the table. It's a time also to analyse the complexities of some of those matters, not only in terms of legal complexity but social and political complexity if you were to put them to a vote.

SARA EVERINGHAM: And is there enough time do you think to do that?

PATRICK DODSON: Look the time-frame is tight. I think the process is going to drive the time-frame rather than setting artificial limits on it. So I don't think anyone in Australia would want to see something rushed and half achieved.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Noel Pearson says many Indigenous people are already making their views on one point clear - that they want substantive change in the body of the Constitution.

Both men have thrown their support behind those calls.

NOEL PEARSON: If there is consensus around anything that I've heard this weekend and I've heard in the lead-up to Garma here is that nobody, there's no substantial constituency in Indigenous Australia for just some kind of preamble embroidery.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Mr Pearson says he's open to a discussion about a model that includes a ban on racial discrimination.

NOEL PEARSON: I'm open for any solution that finds a way through the forest.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Noel Pearson says there is support for the conventions not just from Indigenous people but also from groups such as the Business Council of Australia which met with the two leaders at the Garma Festival over the weekend.

Michael Rose is from the Business Council's Indigenous Engagement task force.

MICHAEL ROSE: We think that it's really important in a process of recognition to engage and recognise Indigenous people in the process.

SARA EVERINGHAM: At the Garma Festival both Noel Pearson and Patrick Dodson expressed deep concern about the booing of Indigenous AFL star Adam Goodes, but Patrick Dodson says he's still confident a referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the Constitution can win enough support among Australians to be successful.

PATRICK DODSON: I think there is far greater resolve within Indigenous leadership as well as within the non-Indigenous leadership to bring our constitution into this modern democratic era and to deal with the legacies of the past and to indicate to the world, to the global community, that we are a forward looking nation and not something that still belongs in the colonial era.

Constitutional recognition: series of conventions needed for Indigenous people to come to consensus