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Australia’s Gettysburg for Indigenous recognition

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Australia’s proposed constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people is a “heavily contested space”, which risks being challenged in courts over its meaning.

To avoid challenges from constitutional conservatives, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson wants a three-to-four-part package including a more poetic statement that would accompany any change to the constitution.

The separate declaration acknowledging the history, heritage and contribution of indigenous people, could be Australia’s version of the Gettysburg Address, he said.

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The Gettysburg Address, delivered in 1863, aimed to unite civil-war-torn America while honouring its dead. “This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,”former US president Abraham Lincoln said.

Mr Pearson said the 300-word declaration should feature handsome words rich in symbolism and poetry to tell the ancient story of Australia and the historical interaction including the sorry history in a manner which set Australia up for the future.

“I believe this declaration can be the Gettysburg Address for Australia where any Australian child will be able to recite the words,” he said.

Why do we need a separate declaration?

Mr Pearson has warned that trying to insert the statement into the constitution was that the lawyers would become involved, arguing about the meaning of different phrases and individual words.

“The whole things just gets cut down to the barest minimum. And you have, quite frankly, a pretty miserable document at the end of the day,”he said.

But a more pragmatic reason was raised, the need for the proposal to pass a referendum.

“Referenda fail when they do not engage with constitutional conservatives,” Julian Lesser told the ABC.

Mr Leeser and Damien Freeman, two constitutional conservatives, suggested the separate declaration to head off resistance to change.

“We wanted to come up with a proposal that would provide a more generous form of recognition that wouldn’t have any of the downsides that putting symbolic or historical matters would do in the Australian constitution,” Mr Leeser said.

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition is due to report to Parliament by June.

—with AAP, ABC

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