Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has expressed his support for a separate declaration of recognition as a symbolic statement to run alongside any amendments to the Australian Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians.
One of the architects of recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution is making a dramatic new proposal.
Noel Pearson is asking for less controversial changes to Australia's founding document and a new "Statement of Recognition" written by the people to complement the Constitution.
“Recognition has to have two parts, it’s got to be symbolic as well as substantive and practical and real,” Mr Pearson told NITV News at the launch of the book The Australian Declaration of Recognition: Capturing the Nation’s Aspirations by Recognising Indigenous Australians by lawyers and constitutional conservatives Damien Freeman and Julian Leeser.
Freeman and Leeser propose that Australia recognise Australia’s First Peoples in the form of a declaration, which has no legal effects.
Pearson says a recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution would inevitably be constrained by the lawyers.
“Now the problem which Freeman and Leeser argue, is when you try and put the poetry in the Constitution, you then get all the lawyers involved and they’re chopping the whole thing down, ‘You can’t use that word’ because it might be interpreted like this and so on, but you end up with a very miserable recognition".
But he says a separate declaration, acknowledging the history, heritage and contribution of Indigenous people, could be Australia's version of the Gettysburg Address.
The Gettysburg Address was delivered by US President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 early in the American civil war.
“I’ve come to understand this issue of how a poetic and symbolic recognition outside of the Constitution can in fact be much more generous and handsome than the lawyers’ approach of putting two or three sentences in a preamble to the Constitution, because everyone is worrying about the legal meaning of each and every word.”
But he says the declaration could only work as part of a package.
“The important message is that this Declaration can only ever be one part of the package. It won’t float by itself. No one will simply accept simply a poetic declaration sitting outside of the Constitution,” Mr Pearson said. “It has to work hand in glove with substantive reforms within the constitution as well.”
"I believe this declaration can be the Gettysburg Address for Australia where any Australian child will be able to recite the words," he said.
"It will have moral and spiritual meaning for every young Australian in the future and will just become such an integral part of our national fabric."
Mr Pearson has been a member of The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples since its formation in 2010.