The first Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives now believes an indigenous referendum is even further away, after leaders were encouraged to enshrine a voice in parliament.
Linda Burney is disappointed the Referendum Council did not recommend removal or replacement of “archaic” race powers in the constitution.
Instead, in a report released on Monday, the body tasked with finding a path to constitutional recognition recommended establishing an advisory body.
It proposed a constitutionally-entrenched body, whose powers would be legislated.
Ms Burney believes the proposal is limited.
“They have specifically said that ‘we will not entertain anything except this voice to the parliament’ and this has created I think a challenge for everyone,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
Ms Burney acknowledged the council’s months of consultation, which culminated in a summit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders at Uluru in May.
“Somehow or other we’ve got to find the magic formula of meeting the aspirations of Aboriginal people,” she said.
As well, there was an understanding there had to be a “clear, fairly simple proposition” that would win support from the broader Australian community.”
Ms Burney was hopeful of a referendum in early 2018 but now doubted that would be the case.
“I think we are on a path that it is further away than what I anticipated,” she said.
Council co-chair Mark Leiber told political leaders there were only two options available in pursuing a referendum – adopt the recommendation or put constitutional recognition on the back burner.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was non-committal when he sat down with the council, describing its recommendation as a “big idea” short on detail.
He and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten both vowed to give the proposal careful consideration.
Mr Leibler said some details of how the representative body would operate needed to be fleshed out before a referendum was held, but most could be finalised afterward.
Labor senator and Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson described the council’s proposal as “a bit of a bolt in the dark” and that handing down a single recommendation made things pretty hard.
Senator Dodson believes the nature, function and purpose of the indigenous advisory body needs to be clearly understood and explained, to ward off any potential scare campaigns at a referendum.
“I don’t think we’ve got a clear line of sight as to whether any constitutional change is going to take place or not,” he said.