THE fifth anniversary of former prime minister Kevin Rudd's apology to members of the stolen generation was marked by the passing of a bill through the lower house to recognise "the unique and special place" of indigenous Australians.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott each delivered powerful speeches today as the Act of Recognition received unanimous support.
"So often in this place we are antagonists. Today, on this matter, we are partners and collaborators," Mr Abbott said in a rare act of bipartisanship.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and community leaders were in the chamber to mark what is a significant step towards a referendum on constitutional recognition of indigenous people.
Earlier, Ms Gillard praised Mr Rudd for the important part he played in the Reconciliation process.
"I'm also conscious that on this special anniversary, we acknowledge the courage that enabled Kevin Rudd to offer the apology and the generosity of spirit that enabled Indigenous Australians to accept it," Ms Gillard said.
"We are only able to consider this Act of Recognition and constitutional change because the Apology came first."
Ms Gillard spoke of the need for a referendum and "yes" vote on the question of recognising indigenous people in the Constitution, but conceded it had not been possible in this term of government because of the "difficult and volatile times"
But she said the Act of Recognition was an important step in righting wrongs of the past and would "prepare the wider community for the responsibility that lies ahead".
"In this legislation, we, the nation's 226 legislators will serve as proxies for Australia's 14 million voters, bridging the time between now and referendum day," she said.
"The bill gives the Parliament some of the tools it will need to build the necessary momentum for constitutional change."
The bill, which was introduced by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, has a sunset date of two years.
A review will be carried out a year after the bill is enacted to gauge levels of community support for constitutional change.
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