Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday said that the British colonization of Australia can be termed as an “invasion.” But he has carefully distanced himself from the possibility of a treaty with the Indigenous Australians in near future.

“Well, I think it can be fairly described as that and I’ve got no doubt obviously our first Aboriginal Australians describe it as an invasion,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted the prime minister as saying when asked if he accepted the idea that Australia was invaded. “But, you know, you are talking about a historical argument about a word. The facts are very well known. This country was Aboriginal land. It was occupied by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years – 40,000 years.”

However, Turnbull downplayed the possibility of a treaty between the government and the Indigenous people involving legal outcomes. He said that such a proposal could come in the way of the progress being made towards constitutional recognition of the Indigenous people.

“To introduce another element, a treaty, the terms of which is unknown, the nature of which is unknown, adds a level of uncertainty that puts at risk the constitutional recognition process,” the Daily Mail quoted Turnbull as saying. “We have to be very careful that you don’t set hares running that undermine the real goal, which is to secure overwhelming consensus of Australians, the overwhelming majority for constitutional recognition of our first Australians.”

The comments came after Opposition leader Bill Shorten said during ABC’s Q&A program that he would support such a treaty. Shorten also accused Turnbull in a separate event in Perth of not paying heed to the needs of the Indigenous people and that they require both practical and symbolic recognition.

“I know, through getting out and about with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people … that just simply pretending the constitutional recognition, reform on its own is the answer to all the problems, it isn’t,” he said.

The government signalled the possibility of a referendum on the constitutional recognition of the Indigenous people in 2017.