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Australian indigenous leaders call for formal ‘voice’, path to treaty

Australian indigenous leaders call for formal 'voice', path to treaty

Dancers from East Arnhem Land at the summit's opening ceremony Australian indigenous leaders call for formal 'voice', path to treaty

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Getty Images

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Dancers from East Arnhem Land at the summit's opening ceremony

A historic summit in Australia has called for a new formal body to represent the nation's indigenous peoples in parliament.

More than 250 indigenous leaders met in Uluru to discuss how to best recognise Australia's first inhabitants.

Crucially, they rejected the idea of constitutional recognition – an idea that was criticised as merely symbolic.

Instead the delegates called for a constitutionally enshrined "voice" in parliament, and a path to a treaty.

The First Nations Convention said it would only accept "substantive constitutional change and structural reform" that was not simply a statement of acknowledgment.

"It will have a more practical impact on Aboriginal people's place in the democracy," Cape York leader Noel Pearson told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Friday.

The recommendations will be delivered to Australia's political leaders, who will decide whether to hold a national referendum.

'Talking about unity'

The summit was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of a historic vote that allowed indigenous Australians to be included in a national census.

Earlier on Friday one delegate, Nolan Hunter, said it was critical "to get adequate recognition as a people".

"Like any gathering it is very hard to get a consensus [because] we have a diverse range of views and people with differences of opinion," Mr Hunter told the BBC.

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Reuters

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The summit at Uluru in central Australia has spanned three days

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declined invitations to the meeting, not wanting to influence discussions.

Tasmanian delegate Michael Mansell said he hoped the process would help end indigenous disadvantage in areas such as imprisonment, employment and education.

"Hopefully in the next 10 years things can turn around for the better," he told the BBC.

'Taking away our voice'

On Thursday, seven delegates from the states of Victoria and New South Wales abandoned the summit over fears it was focusing too much on constitutional recognition.

"We as sovereign First Nations people reject constitutional recognition," Victorian delegate Lydia Thorpe told reporters.

"We do not recognise occupying power or their sovereignty, because it serves to disempower, and takes away our voice."

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