• "I can't say with certainty what the end result will be or what the timeline will be": Mark Leibler.
Amidst reports that short term targets have fallen behind, Referendum Council co- chair Mark Leibler voices concerns about overall referendum timeline.
Laura Murphy-Oates

The Point
29 Mar 2016 - 6:56 PM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2016 - 6:56 PM

While both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are pushing for May 27 next year as the date for the recognition referendum, the co-chair of the council Mark Leibler is less optimistic.

“I can't say with certainty what the end result will be or what the timeline will be, but at the moment we're certainly working towards that date, because if we're not working towards a date there's a concern that we'll never get it done,” he says.

Referendum Council considers 'agreement making' power
The Federal Government’s Referendum Council is considering an 'agreement making' power which could see Indigenous communities negotiating treaties.

These concerns are shared by one of Australia’s leading constitutional lawyers, George Williams. 

“I think next year is the year it must happen,” he says.

“If it doesn't happen next year sometime it's very hard to see that the debate can continue into the life of the next parliament.”

Set up late last year, the Referendum Council has been tasked with guiding the national conversation around Constitutional Recognition.

However, leaked documents published in The Australian newspaper show the Referendum Council has fallen behind on its targets.

The Council was meant to release a discussion paper, launch a 'digital platform' to promote awareness and engagement, and begin a series of Indigenous-led community conferences by February, but so far has made little progress.

Mr Leibler told The Point that first on the list are the community consultations, which are due to begin shortly.

“At the moment we're working hard in order to establish the parameters for the consultations that are going to take place, and we'll be taking an opportunity shortly to discuss where we're at with both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition,” he says.

But Mr Williams says he is not surprised the council has fallen behind.

“It's…been given the task of sorting out what's become a bit of a mess,” he says.

“This is a debate that goes back a couple of decades and ... we haven't even had the Indigenous conventions, which are going to be crucial for working out what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia will support.”