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Constitution changes seen to be on track

Constitutional reform advocate Mark Leibler said he remained confident Thursday's tent embassy protests had not marred the case for reform.

The protests came a week after a 22-member expert panel handed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard a blueprint for removing racially discriminatory sections from the constitution.

The report warned any divisive debate sparked by including Aboriginal people in the constitution could jeopardise Australia's tentative steps toward reconciliation.

It said opposition from the broad community, or from indigenous communities and their leaders, could kill the push for change.

''There was concern that an unsuccessful referendum could jeopardise the healing process that was started by the national apology,'' the authors wrote.

''This would be exacerbated if the referendum failed after a divisive public debate, or if the proposal generated opposition from substantial political minorities or from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or their leaders.''


Several activists at the tent embassy told The Canberra Times they would tell their communities to vote against constitutional reform, concerned it could stymie the push for sovereignty rights.

But Mr Leibler, a panel co-chairman and lawyer, said he remained convinced the time was right to reform the constitution, and include recognition of Aboriginal people.

''The behaviour of a very small minority of indigenous Australians was just totally unacceptable,'' he said.

''What I would like to emphasise is the expert panel went through a very comprehensive series of consultations ... and there was in-principle overwhelming support.

''But these events don't make it easier for us because the images on the front pages of newspapers and television are not very edifying for us.''

Fellow co-chair and ''father of reconciliation'' Patrick Dodson was not available for comment.

But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and panel member Mick Gooda described the scenes on Thursday as ''divisive''.

''An aggressive, divisive and frightening protest such as this, has no place in debates about the affairs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or in any circumstances,'' he said.

''While we need to acknowledge that there's a real anger, frustration and hurt that exists in some indigenous communities around Australia, we must not give in to aggressive and disrespectful actions ourselves.''

National Congress of Australia's First Peoples co-chairs Les Malezer and Jody Broun said in a statement the tent embassy was a symbol of the struggle for Australia's indigenous people.

''There were thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and people, our friends and supporters, who enjoyed major events all around the country to mark Survival Day 2012 yesterday, events that were incident free and unreported,'' they said.

''Congress supports and is participating in the organised and peaceful tent embassy events and celebrations marking its 40th anniversary.

''No single event should affect the overall ability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to continue to realise our agenda.''

This included, they said, improving access to health, education, justice and sovereignty, including formal recognition in the constitution.