SUBJECTS: Indigenous Australians

JONATHAN GREEN: Linda Burney welcome.


GREEN: Very well. An extraordinary speech today from Ken Wyatt. What did you make of it?

BURNEY: I thought the speech was very personal, very generous and very much about Ken’s story. I also thought the speech, like you said, was very wide ranging. I met with Ken a few weeks ago and we agreed that we would work together particularly, on constitutional recognition, and therefore referendum. Obviously there is going to be areas that we disagree and we understood that. That’s what the political process and the contest of ideas is about. But I think it was a speech that had enormous potential.

GREEN: I’m a bit furry out of that speech – I mean, what exactly what are we trying to take to either parliament or the people? Is it a model or is it a referendum?

BURNEY: What he was clearly saying from my understanding is that they would work towards constitutional recognition. And that there would be a cross-party committee organised to undertake consultations with First Nations people about what that constitutional reform should be. I have a very different view than Ken, as the Labor party does, in relation to CDP, but that’s another story. And of course, Anthony Albanese has made it very clear that the Labor Party embraces the Uluru Statement in full.

GREEN: Because there’s a lot of talk before that speech that we’re going to have a referendum, and that’s not really the position that we’ve arrived at.

BURNEY: I can’t speak and I don’t want to speak on behalf of Ken and the Coalition. I can speak on behalf of my party. And it’s certainly our intention to pursue a voice to the parliament made up of First Nations people. Now the question is, how do you get there? What does it look like? Is it legislated? Is there a referendum? And they’re the issues that really need sorting out. I don’t think today, with Ken’s speech, was the answer to everything. I think it gave an indication to what we’re going to be pursuing.

GREEN: Do we need to go back and consult with Aboriginal Australians, or was that work done at Uluru in 2017?

BURNEY: I think we do need to go back and talk to Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait as well. The Uluru Statement – incredibly important – and as you said, an amazing process that led up to those people attending Uluru consultations by the Referendum Council right across country. But there are still many people, particularly in very small and remote communities, don’t necessarily fully understand the Uluru process and what it produced, and those people deserve a voice as much as anyone else.

GREEN: What risk is there in the process like this getting lost in convincing white Australia in something that is self-evident to Aboriginal Australia?

BURNEY: Yeah, well I think that is the key question, and you hinted to it Jonathan a little earlier, that a referendum in Australia to be carried successfully is an extremely high bar. You’ve got to win a majority of the states and a majority of people in those states. So, the view that I have is whatever the question that goes to the people has to be a simple, uncomplicated question. I think the Australian people are up for this discussion. And I think a referendum would be ultimately successful. But you’ve got to bring people with you. You’ve got to make the arguments. You’ve got to give people a notion of what they’re actually voting for. Those things are important. And, I think that the issues in Aboriginal affairs is so complex and, you know, you’ve got the closing the gap; you’ve got incredible disparity in relation to social justice outcomes; and those things cannot be put on hold or forgotten while we undertake this process. They both need to happen at the same time.

GREEN: There’ll be the argument that’s made though isn’t it, that we need to focus on practical outcomes, not these lofty gestures that will have no practical impact. So there’s an argument that has to be made about the importance of constitutional recognition.

BURNEY: I have no doubt that you’re absolutely correct and my response to that is that it’s not waffly. It’s not symbolic. It’s actually something in the document that frames the way in which our country operates. And it’s doing something that’s recognising first nations voices and the fact that in all social indicators Aboriginal people are at the bottom. And part of addressing that injustice is to have the voice of First Nations people as part of the legislative process, and that’s what the voice is talking about. And it’s not got veto rights. It’s not a third chamber –

GREEN: - We know how that’s been represented by some –

BURNEY: - Well, I think there are very fine arguments and simple arguments to make here. If people want to run a no case, go your hardest, because I believe that the sense of fairness and justice is what will win the day.

GREEN: And it resolves what Tony Abbott referred to, if I can quote him, the gaping hole in the national soul –

BURNEY: - I think Tony Abbott said he would bleed for it –

GREEN: - And this remains to be seen –

BURNEY: And then he described it as a third chamber so go figure.

GREEN: Makarrata is a very important part of that Uluru Statement and that is a process in parallel to what we’re talking about around that voice to parliament. Where does that sit in the current conversation?

BURNEY: Well, Ken didn’t address that today but certainly from my party’s perspective, as I said, Jonathan, that’s what I can reflect and I know where our leader Anthony Albanese is at. And I know where our party has been for a very long time on this. The idea of the Makarrata commission is to undertake the process of agreement making or treaty making. And I also see it as an instrument that can also oversee the truth-telling process. Those things are not sorted through. They’re going to require resourcing. But they are important parts of the Uluru Statement, but remember, the Uluru Statement only recommended one referendum change or constitutional change and that was the voice. The Makarrata commission and the truth telling process were the other parts of the Uluru Statement but do not require referendum change for them to happen.

GREEN: In this three year term, at the end of that period, what do you think will be success? What needs to be achieved within that time?

BURNEY: Well, Ken was very careful today to say that they would work towards a referendum. And I know that there is an enormous desire with Ken and many others on that side of the house, that there be a proper Indigenous representation to the parliament. The Labor Party is absolutely lock-step in what was taken to the election and what Anthony Albanese has said subsequent to the election and that is the embracing the statement in full. What I want to see is a referendum in this term of government that entrenches in the Australian constitution a First Nations voice to provide advice to the parliament on issues pertaining to First Nations issues.

GREEN: Linda Burney, there’s much to do, we best let you get cracking. Thanks for your time.

BURNEY: Thank you very much.