A proposal to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution will be put to a referendum within three years, the federal government has promised.
In a National Press Club address on Wednesday, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt pledged to “bring forward a consensus option” during the current term of Parliament.
He said “the Morrison government is committed” to Indigenous constitutional change.
Hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people met at Uluru in 2017 and demanded an Indigenous advisory body be added to the nation’s founding document.
The Turnbull government rejected that proposal, saying it would “inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament”.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears open to the idea, agreeing last week to work with Labor on the issue.
Mr Wyatt said the government would design the model with First Australians, allocating more than $7 million to the process.
“The successful 1967 [Indigenous] referendum was the result of tireless advocacy and an extraordinary nationwide momentum for change,” Mr Wyatt said.
“If we want to see that kind of national consensus again, we need to be thorough and take the time to get it right.”
‘Local, regional and national voice will be achieved’
The Uluru Statement endorsed a referendum to establish a permanent Indigenous body to advise parliament.
Mr Wyatt said he would seek to reframe that key demand of the 2017 convention as “not a singular voice”.
“It is a cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians,” he said.
“The development of a local, regional and national voice will be achieved.”
He will point to existing “Indigenous organisations and advisory structures” as central to this approach.
Mr Wyatt pledged to work with his opposition counterpart, Linda Burney, describing her as “integral” to the engagement process.
The referendum question would need to be supported by a majority of voters nationally and by at least four out of six states.
One option likely to be considered would see the national “voice” established in the constitution but with some details and features enacted through parliament.
“It’s an advisory entity … and it will be legislated by the Parliament and its advice won’t be [open to challenge in court],” Labor senator Pat Dodson said.
“It’s a fairly inept instrument in some ways.”
Senator Dodson said a key challenge for Mr Wyatt would be securing cooperation within the Liberal and National parties.
But he said “it’s unfair to First Nations peoples to keep procrastinating about the hard issues” and attacked former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s handling of the issue.
“It was wrong – Barnaby Joyce and Mr Turnbull got it wrong,” he said.
“It was very mischievous and very misleading, and as a consequence we lost three years or so.”
The Uluru Statement also called for treaties with First Nations to be progressed.”
“It is important that state and territory jurisdictions take the lead [on treaties],” Mr Wyatt will say.
“Treaty models are evolving with work being undertaken by the Victorian and Northern Territory governments which will address the aspirations of the Indigenous Australians in those jurisdictions.”