Aboriginal leaders say they are more optimistic than ever that Australians will embrace the idea to hold a referendum to establish an Indigenous voice to parliament.
A special Q&A panel at the Garma festival in north-east Arnhem Land addressed issues of constitutional reform, social inequality and language preservation.
Founder of Cape York Strategic Partnerships, Noel Pearson, said he believed decisions concerning a referendum and a treaty would be made within the next three to five years.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said fear of the unknown was driving resistance to the idea, proposed at the Uluru constitutional convention in May.
He urged detractors to “take a chill pill”.
“We need to, in a careful way, consider this,” Senator Scullion said.
“There are so many ways this can get off the rails.”
University of Melbourne academic and anthropologist Professor Marcia Langton said she expected some politicians would prefer to make other amendments to the constitution before they dealt with Indigenous recognition.
Marcia Langton reckons Australian politicians will take care of themselves before Indigenous people. (ABC News)
She referenced the handful of politicians caught up recently in dual citizenship scandals.
“You watch … they will put up an amendment to section 44 to clarify their status as Australians before they deal with ours,” she said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told the Garma audience on Saturday that Labor would support a referendum on a voice to parliament, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the question needed more consideration.
Garma festival director Denise Bowden said the issue should not be used as a “political football”.
Bill Shorten told the Garma audience on Saturday that Labor would support a referendum on a “voice” to parliament. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough )
“This is a very sensitive discussion, a very sensible discussion,” she said.
Asked about the preservation of endangered Aboriginal languages, Yothu Yindi Foundation’s Djapirri Munungirritj said she was heartened to hear Mr Turnbull speak Yolngu Matha at Garma.
“I was pretty amazed,” she said.
“In amongst the audience [there were people] that say ‘I wish I knew how to speak Yolngu Matha’.”
She said she wished to see a process of truth-telling in Australia about the Frontier Wars and the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“I know it’s painful to talk about it today, but we as people can resolve what has been in the past so that when we do that our younger generation can prosper and see a great future.”