Noel Pearson
Noel Pearson

Parliamentary indigenous advisory body would be 'radical'

A LABOR frontbencher has labelled Queensland Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson's call for a national indigenous advisory body to parliament as "even more radical" than a mooted ban on racial discrimination in the Constitution.

APN last week revealed Mr Pearson's about-turn on the proposed ban followed a $33,500 research contract Prime Minister Tony Abbott's department awarded to the Cape York Institute, which Mr Pearson directs.

The institute has since given a report on the research to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, but has not explained why it was not previously released.

The report made no specific recommendations, but noted Commonwealth powers to pass "arbitrary race-based laws" were a "clear breach of the democratic principle of equality before the law with respect to race".

The report said a proposal to ban racial discrimination in the Constitution, supported by most indigenous witnesses and an expert panel in 2012, was criticised by conservatives and that "these objections must be properly contended with".

"It may be, that like New Zealand, we should turn our minds to more democratic, institutional and procedural solutions to the indigenous racial discrimination problem in Australia," the report reads.

Mr Pearson later reversed his position on the ban. He instead proposed a new chapter to the Constitution to create a new body to "give indigenous people a voice" in law-making.

But committee member and Labor's indigenous affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann said it did not make sense that Mr Pearson had rejected the ban on discrimination as "too radical", but then proposed "an even more radical change".

"I think it just goes way beyond anything that anyone else has proposed," he said.

"On the one hand they are rejecting the prohibition because conservatives don't support it, but on the other they are proposing what would be the most radical change in 100 years of our Constitution," Mr Neumann said.

"The specifics are not really defined, but the proposal seems to reinterpret the roles of both chambers of the parliament and especially the Senate's role as the house of review."

Mr Neumann said he was still concerned that "public money has been spent on advice" that could have been obtained from within the government, irrespective of what company the contract was issued to.

A spokesman for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said the department was "not required" to inform the committee about the contract, and the report was "not made public" by the department.

Mr Pearson, the institute and Mr Abbott's office did not respond to questions.

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