Abbott: Conservatives good for indigenous

It helps to have a conservative leader on your side.

That’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s message on constitutional reform as he takes ministers and senior officials to the Torres Strait for the week.

Mr Abbott said recognising indigenous people in the constitution had been a “long-term national project” kicked off by his conservative mentor John Howard in 1999.

And in 2007 prime minister Howard committed the coalition to a more “elaborate” form of indigenous recognition.

While Mr Abbott recognised there was bipartisan support for constitutional change, he added: “I think that it probably helps to have a conservative leader taking this forward.”

“Certainly that’s one of the points that Noel Pearson has made over the years, that just as Nixon went to China … it may well take a conservative leader to bring about the ultimate form of symbolic reconciliation.”

The government plans to have a referendum council in place within weeks and a schedule of public meetings planned shortly after that.

Mr Abbott said he was aiming to have a consensus within a year on what changes should be made.

Having met with key indigenous leaders last week, the prime minister said he was confident the process is on track.