Recognition talks launched
The first meetings on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people start this week.
The Referendum Council meetings – to be held in each state and territory – are designed to help find a consensus on processes and questions for a proposed national referendum on recognition.
The process begins in Tamsania, where about 100 Tasmanian Aboriginal people have gathered at Risdon Cove, north of Hobart,
“Certainly we are expecting varying opinions,” meeting co-convenor Rodney Gibbins told reporters.
“I think constitutional reform is very important, but it has to be more than just a symbolic statement.”
Mr Gibbins said a treaty was not on the agenda, but it will likely come up.
“It's a very important topic here in Tasmania and we think treaty and constitutional reform can go together, and certainly constitutional reform is not going to stop treaty from developing and hopefully reaching fruition in a few years,” he said.
Aboriginal rights activist Michael Mansell said it was a good start.
“This meeting is going to be discussing whether the constitution is the best vehicle to advance the cause of Aboriginal people, and treaty obviously will come up as an alternative,” he said.
“Under the constitution the best we can hope for is some symbolic benefit. Treaty would provide the opportunity for Aboriginal people to protect our own culture.
“They are not necessarily one or the other, both could run together, but this meeting will have to work out how that can be done.”
Referendum Council spokesperson Geoff Scott said the Hobart sessions would give an indication of the tone of future meetings next year.
“These dialogues are about getting information out on the table,” he said.
“At the end of [the meetings] we will be holding a national convention to bring together all the people and all the views from these 12 dialogues and that will then feed into a proposal for the Referendum Council to consider in its report back to the Prime Minister.”
But the meetings have started without full Aboriginal representation.
In Tasmania, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) controls land at Risdon Cove, leaving members of some other Aboriginal groups feeling unwelcome.
Some members of the Tasmanian Regional Aboriginal Community Alliance (TRACA) - which represents a number of groups not allied with TAC - boycotted the meeting because of the other participants.
“Some of our people didn't feel safe going there so none of us went to that,” TRACA chairman Rodney Dillon told the ABC.
“We want to make sure all people from TRACA are involved.
“We don't have anything against the TAC, we think it's important for them to have their [meeting]. But we also think it's important for our people to have ours.
“We have asked [the Referendum Council] to hold another meeting, but the longer they leave it the more people are going to walk away from it.
“I think it's very important to have us recognised. This is something I have fought for all my life. It's hard to walk away from something that you thought was important for your people,” he said.