Here's why Indigenous recognition in Australia may not be as revolutionary as we think

Photo: Glenn Hunt/ Getty Images.

Today marks the eve of a crucial summit to discuss the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution.

The July 6 summit will see prime minister Tony Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten joined by Indigenous representatives across the country to propose changes to the nation’s founding document.

While the pair have “pledged to take a bipartisan approach to holding the referendum”, with suggestions made by the Prime Minister that the referendum could take place on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 vote, Indigenous leaders are warning that such changes will only be “mere symbolism”.

According to the Australian, Indigenous recognition in the constitutions “risks repeating the failed 1999 ­preamble push that included ­recognition of indigenous kinship.”

Cape York leader Noel Pearson has warned that a modest model of recognition would amount to “cosmetic surgery, a symbolic shot of Botox, ­ignoring the broken foot” and has singled out the Coalition party as the “most significant hurdle” to substantive recognition.

“How many symbolic mom­ents, devoid of practical effect, does a nation need?” Pearson writes.

The push for Indigenous recognition rides on a recent Newspoll which found overwhelming support for Indigenous Australia with two in three people voting in favour of constitutional recognition.

Earlier last month, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the July 6 summit would also give rise to talks of “how far we can go which will both properly acknowledge indigenous people in our constitution and in our national life” saying that “constitutional recognition of indigenous people needs to be a unifying moment for our country – not a divisive one”.

But Person criticises the “decorative preamble of no legal effect” saying that those such as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge have urged us to “accept mere symbolism”.

“Such an outcome would be feel-good symbolism and maintenance of the operational status quo. White guilt might be somewhat appeased. For the moment at least. Until we need another national symbolism rush.”

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