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Coalition concerned over Indigenous rights in -

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ELEANOR HALL: The move by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to begin discussions about changing the
Constitution to include recognition of Aboriginal people has been welcomed by several Indigenous
groups, but they argue that while symbolic changes to the preamble are important, they want their
rights recognised in the legally binding body of the Constitution.

But the Coalition's Indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott says while recognition is a good idea
in principle, he told Alexandra Kirk that he has some concerns about the petition that has been
presented to Kevin Rudd.

TONY ABBOTT: The challenge though is putting something into the Constitution which is meaningful
without alienating large sections of the population. The difficulty is going to be satisfying the
more radical Aboriginal leaders without alarming the general population. And I think this is going
to very much test the subtlety and the diplomacy of Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Macklin.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Are you willing to agree to a formal recognition of Indigenous Australians in the
preamble of the Constitution or a formal recognition in the actual body of the Constitution?

TONY ABBOTT: This is something that I think the Government really ought to clarify. Back in 1999
the Government proposed to recognise Indigenous Australians in the preamble and instinctively I
think that would be the best place to do it.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Because?

TONY ABBOTT: If it goes into the body of the Constitution the worry would be that we are in the
business of creating new rights. One thing you certainly couldn't do is give more rights to one
group of Australians than to others.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Coalition for example refused to make a formal apology to the Stolen
Generations when you were in government, arguing that would have opened the door to litigation and
compensation claims. That's proven to have been an unfounded concern. So are you willing to
reconsider this question of where to insert the Constitutional recognition?

TONY ABBOTT: Provided it is a reasonable proposition, provided it does suitably honour the first
Australians without in any way detracting from the role of the rest of us, we'll be happy with it.

But it is going to be quite a tricky challenge because, let's not underestimate the likelihood of
ambit claims from people who are much more interested in establishing new rights rather than
shouldering proper responsibilities and try to ensure that we're all first class members of the
same team.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well the proposition put to the Prime Minister in Arnhem Land yesterday was for the
recognition and protection of their full and complete right to their way of life in all its
diversity, their property being the land and waters of east Arnhem Land, economic independence
through proper use of the riches of their land and waters, and control of their lives and
responsibility for their children's future.

Do you consider that an ambit claim?

TONY ABBOTT: Well I think there seems to be a lot more stress there on rights than responsibilities
and just on the face of it, that appears to be asking for guarantees for Indigenous people that no
one else has. So I think what we already have is an illustration of the difficulties that the Prime
Minister will have in trying to come up with an appropriate form of words.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But even something like control of their lives and responsibility for their
children's future - that's not any different to anybody else, is it?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, certainly all of us have rights, responsibilities, freedom, we have obligations,
but they're very much things that we largely make for ourselves and whenever you start trying to
put these into official, legal documents, you start to run into quite significant difficulties.

I mean, giving Aboriginal people control over their own lives - does that mean for instance that
people are going to have additional rights to claim income support? These are the sorts of things
which would have to be talked through and clarified. These are some of the potential pitfalls that
Constitutional change has to avoid.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you'd be inclined not to support the proposal put to Kevin Rudd yesterday by the
Galarrwuy Yunupingu?

TONY ABBOTT: I can certainly understand why the Indigenous people of Arnhem Land would ask for that
but I think an appropriate government response would be couched in very different terms.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Coalition's Indigenous affairs spokesman, Tony Abbott speaking to
Alexandra Kirk.