PM needs to act on Uluru Statement and Voice

Linda Burney on ABC Radio National Breakfast with Hamish MacDonald

HAMISH MACDONALD: Linda Burney is the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, and preventing family violence. She’s in our Darwin studio this morning. A very good morning to you.


MACDONALD: Very well thank you. Nice to have you with us from the Top End this morning …

BURNEY: … It’s very warm up here!

MACDONALD: Oh, I’m sure it is. You spell out in the speech what seems to me to be a pretty clear timeline around how a constitutional referendum could be staged in this term of parliament. And essentially you’re making the point that we’re almost missing the window of opportunity to deliver.

BURNEY: That’s correct Hamish. And thank you for exploring this topic. What I’m very afraid of is that if the government does not move quickly, then we are simply going to run out of time for a referendum in this term of government. When we think about it, we’re in the final quarter of 2019. There has been no movement at all on the co-design process that Ken Wyatt spoke about at the Press Club. There has been no move to establish a parliamentary committee to advance this and there certainly has been no move on consultation with the Aborginal community. We would expect that referendum would be held in 2021, with an election in 2022. There needs to be legislative work done and we are really well and truly running out of time.

MACDONALD: What strikes me from the detail in your speech is that there is actually a fair amount of agreement between your side of politics and at least Ken Wyatt, if not the broader government around the shape of some of the key details – you know, talking about multiple treaties; talking about the fact that the representative bodies need to be regional; using things like the past ATSIC boundaries for formulating some of the conversations. Why if there is so much common ground have some of the, I suppose, structural components of this not forged ahead?

BURNEY: I can’t answer that and that’s a question that needs to be put to the Prime Minister. I have enormous regard and respect for Ken Wyatt. And I want to make that very clear. But my view as the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians is that if we don’t get on and give people something tangible; that they can feel; that they can see; that they can campaign behind, then it’s going to be a difficult ask. People out there want to know what the structure and what this voice might look like. Scott Morrison has on one hand said that he wanted a voice, and then on the other hand said that he won’t enshrine it in the constitution. And the Aboriginal community and the broader community from my discussions, understand that need for the voice to have security and therefore protection of the constitution. And the other thing Hamish of course, is that I have put out on behalf of the Labor Party a set of principles that the voice should be based on, things like: democratically elected; gender representation should be equal; young people should be heard; it’s an advisory body; and it must be secure and permanent. And the thing that I just cannot understand from Scott Morrison’s perspective – this is the defining question for the 46th parliament. And this could be a great legacy for Scott Morrison who seems to be squandering it.

MACDONALD: You do say in the speech that only a fool would ignore the opportunity – I mean, are you saying that you think the Prime Minister is being foolish in the way that he is handling this?

BURNEY: I’m saying that the Prime Minister has an enormous opportunity here to define himself, providing leadership on this issue on finally recognising First Nations within the constitution, and acquiescing to the very modest ask of an advisory body to the federal parliament. I’m advancing also Hamish, as you can see in the paper, that the voice needs to have regional legitimacy and therefore regional bodies could be set up, maybe based on the old ATSIC boundaries, that would provide a fantastic coordination point for Indigenous affairs at the regional level and provide the basis for a federal body as well.

MACDONALD: The political dimension to all of this is important and I think in many ways – at least of my reading of it – that’s why you’re making some of these points. You go to great lengths in this speech that you’re not trying to turn this into a political issue. You believe in bipartisanship on this …

BURNEY: … yes.  

MACDONALD: But at the same time, making some pretty pointed political comments about the relationship between Ken Wyatt and the rest of his party. You point out some of the hobbling that took place in terms of backgrounding against some of the things that Ken Wyatt had said. Can you both be wanting the bipartisanship and making these fairly pointed comments at the same time?

BURNEY: I have constantly, and repeatedly, and still say to the government that Labor is offering bipartisanship on this. And that is absolutely, Hamish, where I’m coming from. We will not end up with a successful referendum if there is not bipartisanship …

MACDONALD: … sure.

BURNEY: That is the way in which referendums are successful in Australia …

MACDONALD: … I think we can all understand that point. It’s just a slightly more nuanced question about whether by highlighting the fact that there’s clearly not consensus in the government about the approach that Ken Wyatt has gone out on a limb about some of these matters  - whether that actually having the Labor opposition sort of talking about that, highlighting that, making a political point about it is actually going to make it harder for Ken Wyatt to deliver.

BURNEY: Ken Wyatt I believe, is actually committed to this, as is many of his party. The question is not a question about my relationship with Ken Wyatt. The question now is whether or not the Prime Minister can see the way forward to hold a referendum to entrench an Indigenous voice into the Australian constitution, which as I say Hamish could be just such a wonderful legacy for Scott Morrison. The Labor Party also embraces – and this is a really important point for our discussion this morning – the Labor Party embraces the Uluru Statement in its entirety. It talked about a national process for truth telling. It talked about agreement making which is of course, about treaty. And it talks about a referendum change; entrenching a voice. Agreement making and truth telling do not require referendum change. Those are things that we could be doing right now.

MACDONALD: That was an interesting point I thought, reading your speech – that you have quite a strong personal view about the value of truth telling …

BURNEY: … I do.


BURNEY: Well, I have spent most of my life as an educator and working in the education space, on two aspects of course: trying to achieve parity and equity in outcomes for First Nations children in the education system. But also importantly, the education system tells the truth and provides young people with a complete understanding of what the Australian story is. And I think we as a nation – you, me, everybody, everyone listening to us this morning – deserves and wants to be truthful about our history. There are some really difficult, dark parts about our history which I spoke about in the speech as well. I spoke about a massacre in South Australia on the Eyre Peninsula and the way in which erecting a monument to that massacre and the debate that took place in that local community has actually brought about enormous healing in that community. Imagine if we could do this across the country, and what that would do for us as a nation to grow up and to develop a shared understanding of the Australian story.

MACDONALD: I think you’ve spent a fair bit of time reading into the history of Nugget Coombs, certainly from what I could tell reading this speech. What do you think his legacy tells us about how to handle this very complicated question?

BURNEY: I think Nugget Coombs represented many things, but the real visionary – one of the many visionary things about Nugget is that he saw economic development not as dismissing Aboriginal culture but also economic development and Aboriginal culture being able to stand together, and being able to develop prosperity across the whole community, including that for Aboriginal people. He had an absolute understanding of the importance of land rights; the importance of culture; and also the importance of developing individual and community economic development.

MACDONALD: A former public servant and Governor of the Reserve Bank if anyone didn’t know. Linda Burney thank you very much for your time this morning.

BURNEY: Thank you Hamish.