Australian indigenous leader backs declaration plan

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Members of the Aboriginal community perform a traditional ritual in Sydney. File photoImage source, AP
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Indigenous Australians represent about 2.5% of Australia's 24 million people

Plans for a declaration recognising the place of Indigenous Australians in the country's history have been backed by indigenous leader Noel Pearson.

The proposal would see Australians vote on the wording of a statement.

Mr Pearson said it was "breakthrough idea", the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A federal government campaign is seeking to reverse the historical exclusion of indigenous people from Australia's constitution.

However, the declaration, suggested by lawyers Damien Freeman and Julian Leeser, would sit outside the constitution.

Mr Pearson said the statement could be recited in schools and at national events.

He compared it to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand that pledged protection of Maori land.

But he added that the declaration should not replace a referendum to remove discriminatory elements within the constitution.

"It's very important that everyone understands that this declaration is just one of a three- or four-part package that needs to go forward," he said, according to ABC.

Cautious reaction

Unlike other settler nations such as Canada and New Zealand, Australia's constitution makes no mention of its indigenous people and still has two so-called "race provisions", including one that allows the states to ban people from voting based on their race.

Other indigenous leaders have reacted cautiously to the latest idea.

Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said constitutional reform was the only way to truly recognise indigenous Australians.

"We've described it as the birth certificate of the nation," he said, according to ABC.

"It is the law out of which all other law in this country comes from and to be recognised in that document is probably the ultimate form of recognition."

A government committee on constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians is due to report to parliament by June.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pledged to hold a referendum on constitutional change in 2017.

Indigenous Australians represent 2.5% of Australia's 24 million population and correspondents say that generations of discrimination and disadvantage have left them with poor health and low levels of education and employment.