• A woman is silhouetted behind the Aboriginal flag during an event to mark Sorry Day (Ian Waldie/Getty Images). (Getty Images)
A federal parliamentary committee wants a series of constitutional conventions held to discuss recognising Indigenous Australians in the nation's constitution.
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25 Jun 2015 - 8:17 PM  UPDATED 25 Jun 2015 - 8:35 PM

Both houses of federal parliament have been urged to spend at least a full day debating the constitutional recognition to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A long awaited report from the Joint Select Committee on the Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, also asks for the House of Representatives to discuss and attempt to reach consensus on the wording of a referendum question.

The committee was chaired by Western Australian Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, with Northern Territory Labor Senator Nova Peris as its deputy chair - both Indigenous Australians.

MPs and senators from the Liberal and National parties, Labor and the Australian Greens were also on the committe, whichunanimously agreed on the urgency of recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution, but failed to set a timeframe on a potential referendum.

Mr Wyatt has told parliament constitutional recognition is about correcting a long-standing omission that dates back nearly 150 years.

"This is not about singling out Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people or affording them extra rights above all other Australians", Mr Wyatt said.

"This is about correcting the contextual silence that is so currently deafening in the constitution."

The committee agreed Section 25 should be removed from the constitution. It currently allows people from a particular race to be prevented from voting and was used to exclude Indigenous Australians from voting until the 1960s.

"Constitutional change must be real and it must be substantive. It must recognise, it must acknowledge and it must respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their prior occupation, their continuing relationship with land and waters, their culture, their language and their heritage."

The committee also agreed that constitutional recognition would offer protection from racial discrimination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Labor's Indigenous Affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann was on the committee and told parliament constitutional recognition would be a major legal and symbolic step forward for Australia's first peoples.

"Constitutional change must be real and it must be substantive," Mr Neumann said. "It must recognise, it must acknowledge and it must respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their prior occupation, their continuing relationship with land and waters, their culture, their language and their heritage."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he would like to see a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition held on the 27th of May, 2017.

This would mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which removed references in the constitution specifically discriminating against Indigenous Australians.

While Labor has not committed itself to a timetable for the referendum, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has previously backed the committee's idea to hold a series of constitutional conventions to discuss the issue.

The co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, Lez Malezer has welcomed the committee's recommendation for separate conventions only involving Indigenous Australians.

He said the committee has put forward a strong set of recommendations which will encourage more discussion ahead of an upcoming constitutional summit in federal parliament on the 6th of July.

"The summit is important because it's the opportunity for a strong Indigenous delegation to meet with the leaders of the major political parties," Mr Malezer said.

"So it's important in that sense. But now having this report out with the recommendations, it will give us a lot more focus and an ability to be able to sit down and exchange views on the merits of what's being proposed."

Mr Malezer said it was critical not to rush into setting a date for the referendum until there had been a lot more community consultation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

He agreed with committee chair Ken Wyatt that critics of the referendum proposal should not be labelled racists and the debate should be conducted in a respectful way.

"There's a distance between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia and the mainstream governance of Australia and that needs to be bridged", Mr Malezer said.

"Reform of the constitution is a big part of that. But it has to be a process where decision-making in our communities is respected", he added.