There is no done deal on recognition, say Aboriginal MPs

Portrait of Senator Pat Dodson at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 15 September 2016. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen (Photo for feature by Fergus Hunter)
Portrait of Senator Pat Dodson at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 15 September 2016. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen (Photo for feature by Fergus Hunter)

Australia's highest-profile Aboriginal politicians have emphatically rejected claims they have settled on a minimalist model for recognition in the constitution, well before an Indigenous constitutional convention assembles at Uluru to debate the referendum question.

Concern that the nation's four most prominent Aboriginal parliamentarians have done a deal on a "politicians' model" has been expressed during the first seven of 12 Indigenous dialogues leading up to the Uluru convention in May.

At last weekend's Melbourne dialogue, co-convenors Jill Gallagher and Jeremy Clark said that, if it were true that the politicians had already done a deal for "mere minimalism", Indigenous people were ready to make a stand and say "no".

"Any done deal on minimalism is a deal-breaker. It is a deal-breaker that will kill this referendum," they said.

"There is not, and never has been, any such thing as a politicians' model for constitutional recognition," Senator Patrick Dodson told Fairfax Media.

In separate statements, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt; Labor frontbencher Linda Burney; and Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy, gave the same assurance, insisting they were waiting on the work of the Referendum Council, which is conducting the dialogues.

"We are very cognisant of how complex the council's job is and we respectfully wait for them to deliver their report," Ms Burney told Fairfax Media.

"What I expect from the Referendum Council and what hopefully will come forward is a suite of ideas that we will have to test and push as far as possible within the Parliament.

"But you have to be pragmatic about this. If there is going to be a referendum that is worthwhile it has to be something that is going to be successful."

The Referendum Council is due to report to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten on June 30, after the Uluru convention in the weekend leading up to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum in May.

After the seventh dialogue last weekend, the council's co-chair, Pat Anderson, said: "What is emerging from all the dialogues so far is a line in the sand: we are not accepting minimalism."

Ms Anderson said an Indigenous body recognised in the constitution was emerging as the preferred vehicle to deliver substantial reforms. The Referendum Council has commissioned work on what such a body would look like and this would be produced in coming weeks, she said.

Mr Wyatt has expressed personal opposition to such a body, saying he did not believe it would be supported by the broader population. He has urged the dialogues to "think big", but be prepared to compromise to ensure the referendum questions wins maximum support.

This was interpreted as evidence of a minimalist "deal" in some quarters.

In response to questions from Fairfax Media, Mr Wyatt said: "There is no pre-determined position in respect to the words that will form the basis in the constitution. We are awaiting the final report from the Referendum Council."

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This story There is no done deal on recognition, say Aboriginal MPs first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.