Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed to hold a referendum on the constitutional recognition of the country's indigenous people as the nation's first people in 2017, stating he would “sweat blood” to ensure it takes place.
Australia's constitution does not currently recognise Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders as the nation's first people. In 1967 a referendum held on constitutional changes relating to the indigenous population passed with 90% support.
Speaking in Sydney, Abbott said,
"The country we created has an Aboriginal heritage, a British foundation and a multicultural character and it's high time that this reality was reflected in our constitution."
He went on to suggest that 50 years from the1967 referendum “would be a richly symbolic time to complete our constitution."
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard promised in 2007 that he would hold a referendum “to formally recognise Indigenous Australians in our constitution.”
On Thursday, Abbot stated that he did not want to work on holding a referendum sooner than 2017 though, saying,
"I do not want it to fail because every Australian would be the loser. It is more important to get this right than to try to rush it through."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed the referendum process and warned voters that some would look “to re-boot the old rhetorical weapons of the history wars”.
“Let's be clear, there will always be in any generation, a tiny minority who will never support constitutional recognition for the First Australians in any form,” he said.“ We cannot allow ourselves to be put off our stroke by those who propose nothing and contribute nothing.”