Australian indigenous leaders expected to make historic proposals

Dancers from East Arnhem Land at the summit's opening ceremonyImage copyright
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Dancers from East Arnhem Land at the summit’s opening ceremony

A major summit on recognising Australia’s first peoples is on track to deliver historic recommendations, an indigenous leader says.

More than 200 indigenous leaders have spent three days at Uluru to discuss changing the nation’s constitution.

Australia does not mention Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in its constitution, but there is debate over the form recognition should take.

Delegate Nolan Hunter said the proposals are likely to be significant.

The First Nations Convention recommendations will be delivered to political leaders, who will decide whether to hold a national referendum.

Mr Hunter did not name likely proposals, but said they could cover constitutional reform or even a treaty.

“Like any gathering it is very hard to get a consensus [because] we have a diverse range of views and people with differences of opinion,” Mr Hunter told the BBC.

‘Talking about unity’

The summit was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of a vote that allowed indigenous Australians to be included on a national census.

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The summit at Uluru in central Australia has spanned three days

Mr Hunter, speaking on behalf of organiser the Referendum Council, said it was important “to get adequate recognition as a people”.

“One thing that is a common thread around this is that people are talking a lot about unity and staying together,” he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declined invitations to the meeting, not wanting to influence discussions.

Tasmanian delegate Michael Mansell said he hoped the process would help end indigenous disadvantage in areas such as imprisonment, employment and education.

“Hopefully in the next 10 years things can turn around for the better,” he told the BBC.

‘Taking away our voice’

The idea of changing Australia’s founding document has not held universal support.

Seven delegates from the states of Victoria and New South Wales abandoned the summit on Thursday, claiming organisers were focusing too much on constitutional recognition.

“We as sovereign First Nations people reject constitutional recognition,” Victorian delegate Lydia Thorpe told reporters.

“We do not recognise occupying power or their sovereignty, because it serves to disempower, and takes away our voice.”