The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have rejected a proposal that Indigenous-only conventions be held around Australia before a referendum on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.
Indigeous leader and lawyer Pat Dodson, who moved the Indigenous-only proposal along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues chair Megan Davis and National Congress of Australia's First Peoples chair Kirstie Parker, told NITV News at the Indigenous Garma Festival on Monday that it was important that First Peoples voices are a priority.
"Many Indigenous peoples' voices are not going to be heard or given greater clarity"
"It is clear we've got to find a way for Indigenous peoples to have their own discussions around these complicated matters," Mr Dodson said.
The model endorsed by the Prime Minister would include discussions involving a Constitutional Committee, a Constitutional recognition committee that would oversee consultations, and a set of mainstream Australia and Indigenous conventions.
"It is important that it's something that can be supported not just by Indigenous people but by Australians generally because while it is vital that we do acknowledge and recognise Indigenous people in the constitution, ultimately our constitution has to belong to every Australian ... not just to any one section of our community," Mr Abbott told reporters in Adelaide.
Mr Dodson said he was not confident that Abbott's framework would be effective. "In that context many Indigenous peoples' voices are not going to be heard or given greater clarity, I'm afraid."
He said that many non-Indigenous Australians were also concerned to know what the Indigenous position was.
"Until you can get something that is consensual it is very difficult to give them comfort to a proposition that may or may not have their support."
Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said he was also concerned about marginalising the minority of Indigenous voices, which make up about two per cent of the country's population, in the lead up to the anticipated referendum.
"If we go ahead and have a referendum...if [the] 98 per cent of [non-Indigenous] people vote for something that the three per cent haven't agreed with, it's again the will of the majority being imposed on us as a minority," Mr Gooda said.
Labor Senator Nova Peris said she was not impressed with the dismissal of the recommendation to include Indigenous-only conventions.
"If you're fair dinkum about recognising the first peoples of this country then we should be able to put the ownership in the hands of the first peoples"
"If you're fair dinkum about recognising the first peoples of this country then we should be able to put the ownership in the hands of the first peoples," Ms Peris said. "We're all looking for a way forward, but hearing that Tony Abbott won’t support Aboriginal conventions, it’s not good."
Cape York leader Noel Pearson earlier told the Garma Festival that there was a lack of leadership from Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who suggested that Indigenous consultation take place alongside wider community discussions.
"There is a lack of faith that something coherent could emerge from our community and I think that's disappointing, but I don't think at all we should drop our bundle," Mr Pearson said.