The Opposition Leader says Indigenous Australians will play a crucial role in the next few days in determining the country’s next referendum.
Hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are meeting at Uluru in Central Australia to discuss the way forward on recognising Indigenous people in Australia’s Constitution.
“I hope they get consensus but if they don't get consensus it's not the end of the road,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told NITV in an exclusive interview.
“I don’t assume across four days that everyone will agree with each other.”
"(But) I’m not pessimistic at all, I think this is part of a process."
Asked if he was not attending the forum because he was not prioritizing Indigenous Affairs, Shorten said it was not a time for politics and that Indigenous Australia needed to discuss the matter before politicians got involved.
“I think it’s a case for Indigenous Australia to meet and talk, then the referendum council," he said.
“There’s a process and I was a big backer (of that)."
The Uluru meeting marks the thirteenth and final dialogue for Indigenous people to discuss constitutional recognition.
The position adopted at the end of the meeting will help the Prime Minister decide on how to proceed with a referendum to change the constitution to somehow acknowledge Indigenous people.
“I think it's appropriate that we wait till the final report and then I think it's appropriate that the parliament, which is the elected lawmakers of the land, to consider the options and see if we can come together with a unified position,” Mr Shorten said.
The Opposition Leader also didn’t dismiss calls for treaties between the Commonwealth and Indigenous nations that have grown alongside the recognition debate.
“I see constitutional recognition as an important step, I see discussion about a treaty or treaties as an important discussion after that and I also see practical change where you empower communities,” Mr Shorten said.
“It is important though that we try to achieve constitutional recognition as first cab off the rank if you like but I don't see it as the end of the process.”
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told politicians in Canberra today also looked forward to the outcome of the Uluru meeting but deliberately avoided going.
“The next step in constitutional recognition needs to be embraced by all Australians but it needs first to be embraced by our First Australians if it is to be proposed at all,” Mr Turnbull told Parliament.
“It is vitally important our First Australians consider and debate the models of recognition, free of political interference, and that the diversity of views and opinions within the Indigenous communities are discussed.”