• Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers an address during a fundraising diner for the Recognise movement in Sydney, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.
Tony Abbott has floated a date for a referendum to recognise indigenous people in the constitution, but failed to commit to a timeline.
11 Dec 2014 - 9:04 PM  UPDATED 12 Dec 2014 - 9:18 PM

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has emphasised his commitment to a referendum to recognise indigenous people in the constitution, but says advocates must have patience.

Speaking at an event in Sydney on Thursday, Mr Abbott floated a date for a referendum but failed to commit to a date altogether.

“I want this to happen as quickly as it can,” he said.

“I hope that it might happen on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, the 27th of May 2017. That would be a richly symbolic time to complete our constitution.”

Mr Abbott said he was “prepared to sweat blood”, but urged advocates to have patience.

“We have to temper our ambitions because nothing would set back the cause of our country and the rightful place of Aboriginal people at its heart than a referendum that failed,” he said.

“It is more important to get this right than to try to rush it through.”

Mr Abbott also pledged an additional $5 million to Recognise, a movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution.

His comments follow a push by the NSW Government to host a referendum.

NSW Premier Mike Baird declared his support for a federal referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition earlier this month, alongside Opposition leader John Robertson.

A parliamentary committee report into constitutional recognition is due in the first quarter of next year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was time for Australia to debate what form of referendum to support, not whether or not it supported recognition.

He also warned that there would be voters who would look “to re-boot the old rhetorical weapons of the history wars”.

“Let's be clear, there will always be in any generation, a tiny minority who will never support constitutional recognition for the First Australians in any form,” he said.

“… We cannot allow ourselves to be put off our stroke by those who propose nothing and contribute nothing.”