Indigenous leaders are worried Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten didn’t actually hear what they had to say about constitutional recognition.
Kirstie Parker, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, believes there was a disconnect between what indigenous leaders told a meeting on Monday and what the prime minister and opposition leader said afterwards.
“It remains to be seen how much real listening was done,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
Another indigenous leader, Noel Pearson, was critical of what he saw as a stage-managed event, saying it seemed Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten had already “nutted out” the way forward between them.
“I would have preferred to stay at Cape York at my beach house with my kids and send a cardboard cut-out down to this meeting,” he said.
Ms Parker says indigenous leaders told the summit there had to be ongoing dialogue, supported by clear information, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about constitutional change.
A referendum council should be made up of indigenous people who would talk with the parliament and broader community.
They didn’t want more of the same with general community discussions, Ms Parker said.
Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten agreed there would be a series of community conferences from September to give everyone an opportunity to have a say.
A referendum council that was “broadly reflective of the Australian people” would be established. “If there is any discomfort coming from political leadership about our people talking amongst ourselves in indigenous specific events or conventions or forums, they need to say so,” Ms Parker said.
“What has been missing from the equation is our voices and an opportunity, fully resourced, for our people to talk amongst ourselves.”
Mr Pearson called for a plebiscite of indigenous people before a full referendum.
Federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming warned there was an extraordinarily low level of interest in the community about constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.
Any change could take years since many Australians were interested in other things and that view was compounded by scepticism over whether symbolic actions would change life for indigenous Australians, he said.
Ms Parker conceded the mid-2016 deadline for resolving a question for a referendum to be held the following year was tight, but said there had to be a mud map with milestones to ensure progress.