Prime Minister Tony Abbott is set to come under fire for rejecting the idea of letting Indigenous constitutional recognition be led by the Aboriginal community.
A host of Indigenous leaders hope to achieve community consensus on reform, before wider consultation takes place.
These include Patrick Dodson, Noel Pearson, Kirstie Parker and Medan Davis, who created a proposal for a raft of conventions to allow Indigenous Australians to have their say first.
However Mr Abbott said there was a “risk” an Indigenous-only process would produce a “log of claims”.
“My anxiety about a separate Indigenous process is that it jars with a notion of finally substituting ‘we’ for ‘them and us’,” Mr Abbott wrote to the group.
“I am in favour of building consensus, but strongly believe this should be a national consensus in favour of a particular form of recognition rather than simply an Indigenous one.
“The risk with an Indigenous-only — or even an Indigenous-first — process is that it might produce something akin to a log of claims that is unlikely to receive general support.
“I accept these community conferences need to take place in a way that give Indigenous people ample opportunity to have their say.”
Ms Parker, who is co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, was dismayed by Mr Abbott’s comments.
“The Prime Minister’s talked about a more general process that we don’t think is satisfactory [and] will make it difficult, if not impossible, for our people to arrive at some sort of broad position in any direction,” Ms Parker said.
“What [Indigenous-only consultation] hopefully will lead to is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broad position.
“We are not giving up on the request that we’ve made to Government on this.”
Ms Parker disagreed the proposal might lead to something like a “log of claims”.
”It’s unfortunate to see it couched in that way because it really is ensuring that the people this referendum is about have a say in the sort of matters that are taken up in it,” she said.
The ABC reports indigenous leaders in East Arnhem Land shared Ms Parker’s disillusionment.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the proposal needed to be considered.
“We need to remain flexible on how we achieve constitutional recognition,” he said.
“Part of that is ensuring Indigenous Australians have their views genuinely heard.
“I encourage Mr Abbott to keep an open mind about this proposal.”
– with ABC