Tony Abbott says a push for ‘Indigenous-first’ recognition in the Constitution will probably fail

Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned has warned there are boundaries to what might be accepted in a referendum on Indigenous recognition in the Constitution.

Earlier this month, Noel Pearson, Patrick Dodson, Megan Davis and Kirstie Parker asked federal government to fund special consultations to allow Indigenous people to have their say about their place in Australia’s founding document first.

Abbott denied the request saying that an Indigenous-only process might produce something close to a “log of claims” which risked derailing the process.

“I am in favour of building consensus, but strongly believe that this should be a national consensus in favour of a particular form of recognition rather than an Indigenous one.

“The risk with an Indigenous-only — or even an Indigenous-first — process is that it might produce something akin to a log of claims that is unlikely to achieve general support.”

Instead, Abbott has laid out his own ground rules on the debate in an interview with Fairfax:

“It’s got to be something that Indigenous people feel is a significant advance, but it can’t be something which is so significant a change to the constitution, as our foundation national document, that it gets rejected by the wider community for seeming to set up two classes of citizenship.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of the community conferences, but I suppose I would encourage people to realise that if you go for everything you’d like, you’ll probably end up with a proposal that won’t pass.”

Current options on the table include recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first Australians, the removal of potentially racist clauses in the document as well as including additional protections against race discrimination.

“What we should be on about is an appropriate form of Indigenous recognition which I suppose acknowledges the reality of modern Australia, which is that we have an Indigenous heritage, a British foundation and a multicultural character,” said Abbott.

A Newspoll last month found overwhelming support for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution with two in three people in favour, and the strongest support amongst Greens and Labor voters as well as a small body of Coalition voters.

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