The next generation of young Aboriginal activists are calling on First Nations people to unite in opposition to constitutional reform, as prominent Aboriginal leaders prepare to nut out the way forward for a referendum at a summit next month.
On July 6, 40 Aboriginal leaders will meet with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition leader Bill Shorten in Sydney to help frame a proposed question that could be taken to a referendum by 2017, Abbott’s proposed timeframe.
There were widespread calls for a meeting with both leaders by proponents of constitutional reform, as momentum around the issue slowed.
Five years after an expert panel delivered its recommendations into constitutional reform, based on extensive community consultation, there is still no word from either political party about a proposed model. A joint parliamentary inquiry, headed by the only two Aboriginal members of Parliament, has not yet delivered its report but has suggested that substantial changes to remove the race power would not be a recommendation.
A highly-publicised model promoted by Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson to appease ‘constitutional conservatives’ has also been the subject of heated debate.
It is expected the summit will be the first step towards building a consensus on the issue.
Chair of the government-backed Recognise campaign, tasked with building awareness on constitutional reform, Tanya Hosch welcomed the summit in the Graham Wilks Oration last week.
“It is my firm view that we must strive to reach agreement on as much as we possibly can as soon as possible,” she said.
“For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders involved in this summit, this affords us a unique opportunity to present a cohesive model of leadership.”
But there is also a great deal of division around the issue of constitutional reform within the Aboriginal community.
The Aboriginal Provisional Government (APG) and the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) today issued a statement calling on Aboriginal people to unite on the call for self-determination, which would affect all aspects of Indigenous policy.
They state constitutional reform is nothing but “tokenism” and “paternalism”.
“Both the Coalition and Labor party refuse to deal with the fundamental issues of land, reparations and self-determination,” the groups say.
“Instead they choose to focus on constitutional recognition and meet with the minority who support it. Given the mounting opposition to constitutional recognition within the Aboriginal community, because it offers nothing to our people, this is a great chance for us to unite on a single major issue.”
Both groups are proposing a convergence of Aboriginal people in Sydney to talk about issues separate from constitutional reform and look at a referendum that would instead push for Aboriginal self-determination.
“Such a vote has the potential to be an extremely powerful statement to both Australia and the international community; a manifestation of the commitment and desire to take our rightful place among the peoples and nations of the world, not beneath them.”
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