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Referendum won't happen in May 2017

AAP logoAAP 30/07/2016 By Neda Vanovac

Australia won't be ready for a referendum on indigenous inclusion in the constitution by next May, says Mick Gooda.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner told the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land on Saturday the process needed to slow down.

"I'm the one who was out there saying we've got to push. Our first round of consultations tells us we've got to ease up a bit," he said.

"I don't think we're going to get anywhere near the 27th of May next year as the date for the referendum, although there was some symmetry, being 50 years after the 1967 referendum.

"We've got to get it right, we can't focus on getting it right now."

He echoed Cape York leader Noel Pearson's call to use constitutional recognition as a "hook" on which to hang other progressions like treaties or settlements, but said multiple discussions could be had at the same time, and that one didn't cancel out the other.

The Recognise movement has had to operate in an unprecedented atmosphere of political upheaval over the past four years, said Tanya Hosch, outgoing campaign director.

"We've had so many reasons to lack faith, to lose hope, to feel defeated, to be pushed and pulled and try to protect some basic rights, and yet we're asking people to come together in a magnanimous way to work with every side of politics in the country, because that's what's required, to find something we all agree on," she said.

"I refuse to think we can't have constitutional change, that we can't have settlements and agreements."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion didn't rule out the talk of a settlement, saying he was in talks with different indigenous groups.

"The recognitions of individual nations are part of the respect we need to show our first Australians," he told reporters.

When asked if constitutional recognition could still happen, Senator Scullion said he was "very optimistic".

Labor senator Pat Dodson said the matter wasn't exclusively an indigenous concern, but included all Australians.

"It's not some concession to the natives," he said.

"It is about this nation coming to terms with its dark, desperate and miserable history and yet being able to celebrate ... the British tradition, the multiculturalism and the indigenous heritage, and to intertwine that in a way that gives this civil state we call Australia a new identity, a new capacity to do things differently."

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