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Constitution must protect against racism

The federal government must never be able to remove the protection for citizens of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Northern Territory's opposition leader says.

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples heard evidence in Darwin on Wednesday on the importance of recognising the first peoples in the constitution, and on the removal of sections which allow the passing of laws that discriminate against people based on their race.

The federally-funded Recognise movement, which is hoping to put the matter to a referendum in 2016, is also calling for the insertion of a new section to preserve the government's ability to pass laws for the benefit of indigenous people, along with a new section banning racial discrimination by government.

"From an NT perspective, may a federal government never have the right in the future to remove the protection of the Racial Discrimination Act from our people," NT Labor Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie told the committee on Wednesday.

"If that is in some way enshrined (in the Constitution) that would be a good thing."

Catholic Bishop Eugene Hurley said recognition might undo some of the harm of the current situation many indigenous people face.

"A lot of older men and women now have a sadness about what they see happening, and have shared with me that they believe there has not been the progress promised but rather a regression," he said.

"They look at their children and grandchildren and don't see the confidence, achievement, even the cultural concerns that they long for and that are so important to them."

Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra of the Uniting Church called for an end to negative special measures such as the intervention.

"When will you give us full rights under the Constitution?" he said.

"I'm not talking about assimilation, I'm talking about people with dignity, pride, people who have the ability to exercise their own rights to live alongside our brothers and sisters."

He said recognition would be a step towards getting "rid of racists who divide and conquer the nation".

Larrakia elder Eric Fejo said he thought he spoke for many indigenous people when he said constitutional recognition was a long time coming.

Committee chair Ken Wyatt MP said the NT community made it distinctly clear that recognition would join the nation and build on the gains made by the 1767 referendum and the apology.

He said constitutional recognition does not diminish any aspirations for treaties or the declaration of sovereignly in the future.

"It's as Australia matures as a nation that those debates will come back," he told AAP.

The committee will present a progress report to the government at the end of the year.