Let's have treaty and constitutional recognition, Indigenous referendum chief says


The chief advocate for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people has elevated the possibility of a treaty between Aboriginal people and Australian governments, rejecting the "false" idea the country must choose between the two options. Tanya Hosch, joint campaign director of Recognise, also expressed optimism that a referendum on constitutional recognition could still happen in 2017 as new polling reaffirms overwhelming support for change.


"For me and so many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples who support treaty and constitutional recognition, we know that this is not an either/or choice," Ms Hosch, a Torres Strait Islander, told a Reconciliation Week breakfast on Friday morning.


"We should not be asked to choose ... Treaty and constitutional recognition can co-exist. We can work for both. Repeated legal advice makes that clear," she said.


Polling conducted for Recognise finds 77 per cent of non-Indigenous people and 87 per cent of Indigenous people would vote "yes" for constitutional change if a referendum were held today.


The polling also showed a dip in awareness of the campaign to 51 and 63 per cent for non-Indigenous and Indigenous people respectively, down from 63 and 72 in mid-2015.


This is one of several challenges facing the campaign. Another is the daunting historical difficulty of passing a referendum - only eight out of 44 have succeeded and the last change to the constitution was 39 years ago.


Advocates for change are also a long way from settling on a proposed model.


Support for a formal treaty or treaties between First Australians and Australian governments has been consistently strong, especially among Indigenous people, and momentum is growing.


The Victorian government is in talks with Indigenous communities over the possibility and the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples says there is a strong preference among its membership for a treaty over constitutional recognition.


The election campaign focus has shifted to Indigenous affairs this week, with Thursday marking National Sorry Day and all parties releasing policies. 

The Coalition is today announcing details of a $115 million jobs package to develop a "strong, vibrant Indigenous business sector".


Labor has unveiled various packages including $200 million funding for the Indigenous Rangers Program, spruiking the economic, cultural and environmental benefits of the popular and successful initiative.


"This is how we can close the gap: one meaningful, practical step at a time," Mr Shorten said in a joint statement with Indigenous Senator Patrick Dodson and others on Thursday.


The Greens announced a policy intended to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, emphasising the importance of a cultural upbringing and the current "risk of creating a second stolen generation".


The Labor national executive is set to replace outgoing Northern Territory senator Nova Peris with another Indigenous woman by early next week after the former athlete's shock resignation.


Standing with her mother and aunt, members of the stolen generations, Ms Peris said on Thursday that the country had "a long, long way to go" in addressing Aboriginal disadvantage.

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