Aborigines in the Constitution on hold

FEDERAL Government plans to hold a referendum on recognising Aborigines in the Constitution have been shelved for at least two years.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin instead unveiled plans for an Act of Recognition, which will go before the Parliament.

Ms Macklin said while the government remained committed to achieving constitutional recognition for indigenous people, there was not enough community support for change.

A preliminary report, prepared for the government by Reconciliation Australia, found only 39% of the non-indigenous community had heard about a proposed referendum.

"We recognise that there is not yet enough community awareness or support for change to hold a successful referendum at or before the next federal election," Ms Macklin said.

The Act of Recognition, which will be introduced to the Parliament before the end of the year, will be worded to reflect as closely as possible the recommendations of the expert panel which the government asked to develop options for constitutional change. There are three sitting weeks left for the parliamentary year.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said delaying the referendum was the right move.

"The worst thing would be to put forward a referendum that failed and that's why it's important that we get it right rather than rush it and my anxiety is that the time might now be too short for this matter to be handled in the current term of Parliament and I think everyone's now agreed that we wouldn't really want a matter like this to be dealt with in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of an election campaign," Mr Abbott said.

Labor had promised the Greens and independent Rob Oakeshott a referendum on the issue as part of their power-sharing deal after the 2010 election.

Greens Leader Christine Milne said the party had "reluctantly agreed" to support the move which was a "stepping stone to a successful vote".

"It is in no one's interest to see this referendum fail - a fact we have been very considerate of it in acknowledging the need for an extension of time before a vote is held," Senator Milne said.

She blamed Mr Abbott and the Prime Minister for lack of community consensus on the issue.

"It's a sad reality that a referendum to recognise our country's first people will not succeed in the absence of sustained advocacy from the Prime Minister and against the relentless negativity of the Leader of the Opposition," she said.

Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda welcomed news of the Act of Recognition but said constitutional recognition must remain the ultimate goal.

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