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‘It can be more controversial’: Costello warns on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians

Writing a preamble to the constitution could be more difficult than changing the constitution itself, former treasurer Peter Costello has warned those campaigning for constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians.

Mr Costello pushed for Australia to become a republic in the 1999 referendum, which also proposed a preamble recognising Indigenous Australians. The move to make Australia a republic was defeated 55 to 45 per cent; only 31 per cent of people voted for the preamble, with 61 per cent against.

Progress towards an Indigenous "voice" to Parliament has been slow since the Uluru Statement from the Heart, agreed at a meeting of the First Nations National Convention in May 2017.

Progress towards an Indigenous “voice” to Parliament has been slow since the Uluru Statement from the Heart, agreed at a meeting of the First Nations National Convention in May 2017. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“The thing that amazed me about that republican referendum – the preamble was defeated heavier than the republic,” Mr Costello said in an interview to mark the release of the 1998-99 cabinet papers by the National Archives of Australia.

The proposed preamble included the line: “We, the Australian people, commit ourselves to this constitution … honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation’s first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country.”

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