Federal Labor frontbencher Linda Burney has warned the referendum question put forward to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution must be “winnable”.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives will propose a model for recognition next week at a meeting at Uluru.
The Uluru Convention follows a dozen Indigenous-only forums that have overwhelmingly rejected a so-called minimalist approach to change.
These proposals include simply inserting words of acknowledgement into the document or scrapping references to race from Australia’s founding document.
These meetings have instead backed substantive changes, such as an elected Indigenous body to advise Parliament on legislation and key issues.
But Ms Burney — the first Aboriginal woman elected to the Lower House — has warned “it is imperative” the vote succeeds.
“We must accept that no matter how just and well-crafted the proposal put forward is, it will mean nought if it is not winnable,” she said in a speech at the Australian National University.
“If it does we will finally have a national compact which recognises and acknowledges our true history and tells the truth.
“We have to learn the lessons of the 1967 referendum.”
1967 referendum shows compromise is necessary: Burney
The 50th anniversary of the 1967 vote is on Saturday May 27.
The referendum was the most successful in Australia’s history, with more than 90 per cent of the population voting ‘yes’.
It allowed the Government to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and saw Indigenous people counted in the Census for the first time.
Ms Burney said those behind the 1967 campaign “saw that opportunity could not be wasted” and urged today’s leaders to heed those lessons.
“The leaders of the movement at that time back in ’67 saw that the price of purity was defeat,” she said.
“They understood the value of pragmatism and the necessity of politics.”
The Member for Barton said the proposal five decades ago “was in many ways a modest one”.
The proposition was not favoured by all Indigenous people, she said, some of whom were pushing for a treaty or a separate sovereign state.
“They compromised — they proposed positive constitutional change and a vote on equality which they knew they could win,” Ms Burney said.
“They understood that progress is always slow, painfully so.
“They knew that their victory on that day would pave the way for more in the future.”
Only eight of 44 referendums have succeeded.