SUBJECT: Indigenous affairs

JONATHAN GREEN: Linda welcome.


GREEN: This is an extraordinary moment. For the first time in its settler history Australia has a minister for Indigenous affairs and a shadow minister – both Indigenous. How significant is that?

BURNEY: It’s incredibly significant. And the great thing is that I’ve known Ken for about 30 years. He worked in New South Wales in the Department of Health for a long time when I was at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. So not only do we have a professional relationship, we have a personal relationship. That does not mean I’m not going to be holding him and his government to account. But I am saying that the Aboriginal world is a small world and most of us know each other one way or another.

GREEN: Have you talked?

BURNEY: Haven’t had a conversation with Ken since the election. I’ve sent him a message congratulating him. But I suspect that we’ll be speaking in the next couple of days. But I have very much listened to his statements. I’ve read the newspaper articles. I’ve also seen the excitement in the Aboriginal community about Ken’s appointment and I hope that with my appointment yesterday there is even more excitement. You are right. It is truly a historic moment.

GREEN: Now the truth of it is that if we are to have progress on the voice to parliament – if the Uluru Statement is to be honoured – that will need to be an area of bipartisan agreement, politically.

BURNEY: I think that’s right. I mean Anthony Albanese almost every time he’s stood up made the point that there are a number of things where we would be reaching across the aisle and hoping to have a collaborative approach. And certainly he’s identified this as one of those. Of course, this has been a very long process. And it’s just two years since the Uluru Statement. And Labor did take to the last election the commitment to the Uluru Statement. We lost that election. And obviously now need to be very careful about where we and how we move, noting of course that at the last budget did have $7 million or so attached to it for consultation on the voice and also I think some money for a potential referendum.

GREEN: Now Ken Wyatt, he supports that idea of a voice but says that with a cautious approach here I think that he doesn’t want to put up a proposal that fails. And I guess the thinking is there that the risk of a failed referendum would put this process back significantly. Do you agree with that sense of caution?

BURNEY: It’s not just Ken who has made that point. Certainly, in the joint parliamentary committee that I served on, chaired by Julian Lesser and Patrick Dodson, there were a number of submissions including those from the present social justice commissioners that actually said that there was a choice about whether or not you go to a referendum quickly, or that you would have a model so that people knew what they were voting on. The one thing that we do know about referendum Jonathan, in Australia, is that it is a very difficult and high bar to jump to have a successful referendum. And generally, referendums that are successful need unilateral, if you like, agreement across parliaments. But in this case there’s also the important point that – well in all cases really – of not only embracing the hearts and minds of First Nations people, but the hearts and minds of all Australians to have a successful referendum.

GREEN: It’s of course Mabo Day today –

BURNEY: It is!

GREEN: - and a day of tremendous significance in the sort of process that we’re talking about. And I guess it points to the ambition of Indigenous Australians which goes beyond in many cases things like a voice to parliament towards the idea of treaty. I mean, the stepping stones here are difficult to obtain – each and every one of them.

BURNEY: They are challenging things to attain, but let’s not forget that there are a number of state and territory jurisdictions that are already embarking on that treaty journey. We’ve got Victoria and Northern Territory; South Australia to a lesser degree; and other states certainly thinking definitely about it. I think when it comes to treaty we need to be really quite lateral with it. I mean the Noongyar agreement in Western Australia is a treaty in every way except by name. Land use agreements are a form of a treaty. And you know, with a national treaty you’d have to examine very carefully who would you make a treaty with? What would it be about? But I think the most important point on this one is for Australians to get used to the idea of treaty. It’s well established in many other first world nations with a colonial history. It’s not a scary thing. It’s an agreement. So let’s proceed with that vein.

GREEN: It feels almost as if the times are with that kind of thinking. I mean, there’s something going on with that collective Australian mind of both settler and Indigenous Australians – it seems to be moving slowly towards a point of some agreement.

BURNEY: I think that’s true. But it hasn’t come overnight. I mean, think about –

GREEN: - it’s taken a while –

BURNEY: It’s taken a while. I mean, if we go back to the 30s with the first day of mourning and the wonderful, amazing groundwork that that laid; the groundwork of the 67 referendum; the Barunga Statement between the Barunga festival and Bob Hawke, who we’ll be remembering next week at his memorial service; the amazing speech that Paul Keating made in Redfern Park; Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations; the Reconciliation process that I was part of with Patrick Dodson and others – 10 years of that; the bridge walks; the rise and rise and fall and fall of Hanson; the white arm bands view of history. I mean there has been a lot of water under the bridge. But one of the great things that I think that we have now in this country: a better understanding than ever before among the general population about the social justice issues facing Aboriginal people. But also the education process: of truth telling in terms of curriculum.

GREEN: Pat Dodson, you mentioned there was touted for the job that you’re now occupying – what happened there?

BURNEY: Patrick didn’t nominate to be a shadow minister in the caucus processes that we went through. And he was very clear about that. But the great thing is is that he is an assistant minister. So Pat and I will be working together. In fact, I’m going to visit him in Broome, hopefully next week. He is the assistant minister with responsibilities with respect to reconciliation and a voice to the parliament. So what we have with Labor is myself as the shadow minister responsible for Indigenous Australians; Warren Snowdon as the assistant minister to me; Patrick Dodson in the Senate as the assistant minister with responsibility for those two areas; and of course Malarndirri McCarthy with her leadership along with my caucus colleagues in terms of a First Nations caucus in the Labor caucus. Now that’s a pretty good setup. I think.

GREEN: Well, Linda Burney congratulations on your new role and thank you so much for your time this evening.

BURNEY: Thank you so much.