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Turnbull Claims Uluru Statement Was A "Take It Or Leave It" Offer On Indigenous Recognition

Exclusive: The Australian prime minister has rejected a call to rethink the government's dismissal of the Uluru Statement From The Heart.

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has claimed that the Uluru Statement From The Heart only offered a "take it or leave it" approach to Indigenous recognition, and has dismissed calls to rethink the government's decision to reject the proposal.

In October, the government announced it would not take on a central recommendation of the Uluru Statement From The Heart, devastating many Indigenous Australians who had participated in and supported the process.

The rejected recommendation was a voice to parliament for Indigenous Australians enshrined in the constitution. It was contained in a report from the Referendum Council following a series of dialogues and a convention of hundreds of Indigenous leaders at Uluru in May.

In rejecting the key recommendation in late October, Turnbull said that the new advisory body made up of indigenous representatives would "inevitably become seen as a third chamber of Parliament".

BuzzFeed News reported in November that the Greens had written to the prime minister asking him to reconsider his rejection of the Uluru Statement From The Heart. In a response sent to Greens leader Richard Di Natale and Greens senator Rachel Siewart, and provided to BuzzFeed News, the prime minister reiterated the government's stance.

"The government does not believe an amendment to the constitution to provide for an indigenous representative assembly is desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum," he said.

"My government does not agree with the 'take it or leave it' approach taken by the [referendum council]. We feel the extensive and valuable work done over the past ten years cannot be wholly disregarded."

Turnbull said he remained committed to recognition but said it was the duty of parliamentarians to ensure that the question put to public vote was simple, easily understood, and overwhelmingly welcomed by all Australians.

Siewart told BuzzFeed News in a statement that claiming the council's approach was "take it or leave it" was "very confronting".

"The Uluru Statement and Referendum Council report was produced after three days of deliberations by 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and a consultation process that took place around Australia — the statement is an eloquent expression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples wishes for the future," she said.

“The prime minister himself needs to consider the stubbornness of his government in asking for the referendum council to consider changes to the constitution to recognise our First Peoples, only to outright dismiss it when they report."

Siewart said the PM's response was "wholly disappointing".

When he was asked about it on ABC's Q&A earlier this month, Turnbull again repeated his assertion that the proposal would amount to being a third chamber of parliament, and would have no prospect of passing at a referendum.

"That means every law that affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ... that would mean that that assembly would have the right to examine every piece of legislation, it would in effect be a third chamber," Turnbull said.

Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Josh Taylor at josh.taylor@buzzfeed.com.

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