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Further delay for indigenous referendum

AAP logoAAP 9/08/2016 By Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

A referendum to recognise indigenous people in the Australian constitution won't be ready by the proposed date of May 2017.

The Referendum Council set up to advise the prime minister and opposition leader said in a statement on Tuesday consultations would continue into 2017 "with a view to presenting a final report by mid-year".

The consultations will include "regional dialogues" due to start this year, with a separate process involving the broader Australian community.

Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull met last week to discuss progress on the issue, having agreed to appoint a council of 16 eminent Australians in December 2015.

The Labor leader said last week the May date would be an "ideal goal", but he wanted to hear back from the council.

The council, which met in Melbourne on Tuesday, said in a statement the two leaders had sought an interim report by September 8 "to outline progress to date and the next phase of consultation".

Mr Turnbull had told the council no proposal should proceed without the support of indigenous people, the statement said.

It must also be achievable and capable of receiving "near-universal support", the council said of the prime minister's advice on the referendum.

About 150 people have attended initial talks on the issue in Broome, Thursday Island, Melbourne and Sydney.

From those talks, the council noted a strong message that "the consultation process should not be rushed by working to an artificial deadline".

A discussion paper, translated into a number of indigenous languages, will be published just before the next round of consultations.

An independent report released in September 2014 called for the referendum to be held no later than May 2017 "within a 50 year window of the 1967 referendum".

In 1967, more than 90 per cent of Australians voted for the inclusion of indigenous Australians in the national census and a new commonwealth responsibility for indigenous policy matters.

The independent report said: "The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our country's founding document is a matter of profound importance."

Referendum Council co-chair Mark Leibler said it would've been nice to hold the referendum on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 vote but insists it's more important to make sure it's done properly.

"This is the first time that our indigenous people ... have ever been invited to design their own consultations," he told ABC radio.

"They need to get it right, they're taking this very seriously."

He said talk of treaty "may well impact" what emerges from the consultations, insisting the matter was "on the table".

"What we may well end up saying is 'here is a proposal for amending the constitution - but if you want to guarantee its success ... you need to understand there are other issues around and treaty maybe one of them'."

Other issues that may have an impact are the timing of the same-sex marriage plebiscite and the royal commission into the Northern Territory juvenile justice system.

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