Australia to hold a vote on finally recognizing indigenous people in the country's constitution

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt signs a document during an oath-taking ceremony at Government House in Canberra on May 29, 2019.

(CNN)Two years after the Australian government rejected a landmark plan to officially recognize indigenous people in the country's Constitution, a top official said he will move forward with a national referendum on the issue.

"I'm prepared to walk with people on all sides ... and reach a point on which we can agree," Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said in a speech Wednesday, pledging to find a consensus option that could be taken to a national poll within three years.
Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples have long campaigned to be formally recognized in the Constitution. Wyatt -- the first indigenous Australian to hold his position -- said he would not bring the matter to a referendum if he didn't think it could pass, adding that he believes most Australians would support the move.
Changing the country's constitution is no easy matter, however, and even relatively small opposition could derail it. Per section 128 of Australia's constitution, any law seeking to change it must pass with an absolute majority in both houses of parliament and in a referendum of each state and territory of the nation.
    Indigenous people make up just 2% of Australia's population, and while most non-indigenous Australians would be likely to support the change, resistance is expected to come from right wing groups who disapprove of creating special categories for indigenous people and from conservatives unwilling to amend the constitution.
    The Indigenous Flag is seen flying during a march on July 5 to mark National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee week.
    Wyatt, who has not made clear what precisely the eventual referendum will decide, raised eyebrows in referencing Pauline Hanson, the notorious far-right politician, as an example of those whose views needed to be respected in the referendum process.
    Hanson has previously claimed to be "indigenous" herself, as she was born in Australia, comments which attracted widespread criticism and ridicule.
    "I admire Pauline for what she does and I have good meetings with her," Wyatt said, according to the Guardian Australia. "We don't always see eye to eye on things, but I will certainly be involving Pauline in discussions that we have, as we move forward into the future."
    Asked about racist statements by Hanson and others about indigenous people, Wyatt said "we as Australians have to call them out, collectively."

    Failed process

    Until 1967, the constitution of Australia held that "aboriginal natives shall not be counted" towards population numbers, essentially stripping them of citizenship rights.
    That was overturned by a referendum, and indigenous communities have been working to get official recognition within the text and a say in laws which affect them.
    In 2016 and 2017, the government agreed to meet with indigenous community leaders for a National Constitutional Convention aimed at proposing a change to the constitution to recognize indigenous people and land use rights. After months of consultations, the Uluru Statement from the Heart called in May 2017 "for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution."
    "In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard," the statement said. "We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future."
    The coalition government at the time under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected the proposals -- which also included creating an elected Makarrata Commission which could supervise agreements between government and indigenous people -- saying they would create a "third chamber of parliament."
    His refusal was described as a "kick in the guts" for indigenous groups, after years of work.