Speaking to the Act of Recognition of indigenous people on the anniversary of the apology, Ms Gillard said the parliament was only able to consider constitutional change now because of Mr Rudd's action.
The recognition bill is intended as a precursor for a referendum to remove racist elements of the constitution.
Ms Gillard said while there was a decade of deliberation about the constitution, no indigenous people took part in its drafting.
"They had no opportunity to vote for it, and yet all were affected by what it said and what it failed to say," she told parliament on Wednesday.
The prime minister said the current push for change shared the idealism and dreams of the successful 1967 referendum which allowed indigenous people to vote and be counted in the census.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 has a two-year sunset clause as a way of ensuring it doesn't replace constitutional change.
"The bill gives the parliament some of the tools it will need to build the necessary momentum for constitutional change," Ms Gillard said.
"I do believe the community is willing to embrace the justice of this campaign because Australians understand that indigenous culture and history are a source of pride for us all."