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Australians give nod to indigenous preamble

Most Australians want a constitution that recognises indigenous people's special place in the nation's history.

But any words that hint at giving them extra rights will meet resistance, national research suggests.

The findings also show Queenslanders and Northern Territorians are less likely than other Australians to want to remove negative racial references from the constitution.

The government formed an expert panel last year to examine how to change the constitution to show more respect for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

The panel's report cited strong public support for removing two sections of the act that allow racial discrimination, and for inserting a preamble that recognises indigenous Australians. However, research conducted for the panel by Newspoll, accessed under Freedom of Information law, shows some Australians feel uneasy about the proposed wording as it ''provoked feelings of 'us' versus 'them' ''.

''Words suggestive of land rights or claims for compensation were alarming to many respondents. Such words and phrases included 'economic relationship', 'rights and entitlements' and 'their lands and waters','' Newspoll's previously unpublished report says.

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A few people felt the proposed preamble ''overstated'' the contribution of indigenous people, while others found the term ''first Australians'' polarising.

''[While] most participants view this as simply a 'statement of fact', some saw it as a 'competitive' attempt to prioritise one group of people over others, and a few questioned its veracity'.''

However, the pollster warned that its focus groups did not necessarily reflect the views of most Australians, as it had tried to recruit some people who were opposed to giving special recognition to Aborigines.

In contrast, Newspoll's survey of 1654 voters found 81 per cent wanted a new constitutional preamble that recognised indigenous people.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said earlier this year she did ''not underestimate the challenge of achieving nationwide consensus. Change will not happen without support from across the political spectrum and the support of the majority of Australians.''

In a 1967 referendum, Australians voted in favour of removing part of the constitution that prevented indigenous people from voting. But the act still contains two sections that allow racial discrimination.

Section 25 recognises the right of states to enact voting bans against ''all persons of any race'', while section 51(xxvi) empowers the Commonwealth to make laws for ''the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws''.

Newspoll's survey found voters in Victoria and Tasmania would most probably support the proposed constitutional changes.