Prime Minister Tony Abbott is determined that recognising indigenous people in Australia’s constitution is a “national crusade” and should be important to everyone.
The case for constitutional recognition is getting a boost from two indigenous advocates winning Australian of the Year awards.
AFL player Adam Goodes wants to use his term as Australian of the Year to break down the boundaries between races while Senior Australian of the Year, former federal politician Fred Chaney, co-founded Reconciliation Australia.
Mr Abbott on Sunday repeated his sentiment that recognising Australia’s first people would be completing the constitution more than changing it.
“If we had known in 1901 what we know now, if our hearts had been as big then as now, we would have acknowledged indigenous people in the constitution back then,” he told reporters at Australia Day celebrations in Canberra.
He noted the nation’s founders were products of their era but believed it was time to “complete their great dream”.
He has promised to finalise a draft form of words for changing the constitution by September.
After that national debate is needed to make sure any change is a unifying moment.
“Black and white Australians, old and new Australians, Australians from everywhere have to be comfortable with it,” Mr Abbott said.
“We want it to happen as quickly as possible but a rushed job might be a botched job.”
Mr Chaney said it was important to work in partnership with Aboriginal people to achieve recognition.
“And if we do that then the political firepower that’s being directed, the bureaucratic firepower and the community firepower, will enable the Aboriginal people of Australia to have their rightful place in this country,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said change was needed to “rectify the wrong” of not recognising indigenous Australians.
“Doesn’t matter what your politics, doesn’t matter what football team you barrack for, what state you live in – today’s the day we should say, enough is enough, let’s recognise indigenous Australians in our constitution,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
Early in 2013 federal parliament passed an Act of Recognition, intended to pave the way for constitutional change by allowing time to build community support for a referendum.