Indigenous leader Noel Pearson had a shot at going into politics.
Not taking it is his greatest regret.
“I made the wrong turn,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
“I’ve hit the limit of how much influence you can have barking from the outside.
“Unless black fellas are inside the system, this is about as much leverage as anyone can muster.”
Mr Pearson, who turned 50 last year, recently revealed he’d twice been offered preselection by former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, but turned both opportunities down.
Now, he concedes his theory that he could have “more levers” from outside has been debunked and would advise anyone in his previous position to “get in there”.
“This idea that this mighty elephant will shift simply because we squeak at it from the outside is one that has not been played out,” he said.
Mr Pearson believes to fix the “glaring omission” in Australian politics a truly-centre party must be the “great connector” between the red and the blue.
“We need a new `Democrat’, with a higher purpose than simply keeping the bastards honest.”
He believes South Australian senator Nick Xenophon is the “closest we have”, while also pointing to former mayor Tim Costello and former senator Natasha Stott Despoja.
The Australian people would need to give two of their six Senate votes to the centre party for the “greater good”.
But the indigenous leader ruled out spearheading that party, saying there were people “more able to prosecute the politics”.
Mr Pearson regrets that former prime minister Tony Abbott’s time at the helm was cut short, saying he’d been his “closest friend” in political circles.
Mr Abbott took the indigenous portfolio into his own department after winning the 2013 election and delivered on a pledge to spend a week each year governing from a remote community.
However, after honouring that commitment twice, he was ousted by Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015.
“It was cut short,” Mr Pearson said of his friend’s tenure.
“I think there’s been few people more genuinely signed up to our cause than him. I regret his passing.”
But the former prime minister got the ball rolling on recognising indigenous people in the constitution, something Mr Pearson remains optimistic about achieving.
He warned against developing a model that doesn’t constitute genuine and substantial recognition.
“It will become as stark as the recognition of gay marriage in my view,” he said.
“You either have recognition or you have civil unions.”
He believes a referendum on constitutional recognition must precede one on Australia becoming a republic, saying the two issues should be dealt with separately.