SUBJECT/S: Uluru Statement

TOM CONNELL, SKY NEWS: Joining me now is Linda Burney, the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians. Thanks very much for your time today Linda Burney.


CONNELL: Nothing locked in from Ken Wyatt, so we’re sort of fleshing out where this heads. But he did seem to indicate he could try for this Indigenous voice through legislation mainly, even if it’s possibly one line in the Constitution. Can you clarify if you are open to that idea?

BURNEY: Well the Labor Party is very clear Tom, and that is that we endorse and embrace the Uluru Statement in full. And what the Uluru Statement clearly said is that the aspiration was absolutely for an entrenched voice in the Constitution. And what people are forgetting is that the reason for that is that there would not be the capacity for any particular government with a particular view to be able to get rid of that voice in the way in which we say ATSIC be gotten rid of. And I just want to say something else to people like Tim, and others that are pouring a bit of water on this today. And I saw some ridiculous comments quite frankly. But what we need to think about, is on every single social rung. It doesn’t matter whether it’s health outcomes, education outcomes, overcrowding, domestic violence, life expectancy – Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are on the bottom rung. And that is because there has not been Aboriginal people at the table helping design the legislation and advise on legislation and programs. And that’s what this voice is actually about.

CONNELL: When we talk about this voice, the indication as well, another option; it is enshrined in the Constitution, but without going into too much detail about what it actually does. But then Parliament has some control over how it’s actually formulated for one example. Are you open to that idea?

BURNEY: That’s exactly what the idea is, actually. The whole idea of the voice, and what came from Uluru, and I’m so familiar with it - was it would be the responsivity of the Parliament to design the voice. The voice has no veto power, it is an advisory body only. And this nonsense about being a third chamber of the Parliament is just what I said – it’s absolute nonsense. There are a number of ways you could get to a voice and that’s what you’re going to. In relation to; should it be legislated with recognition in the Constitution, or should the voice be entrenched in the Constitution. That’s why it’s important to look at the 10 years of, body of work that’s gone into this so far, including two Parliamentary inquiries and an expert group. Plus what Ken Wyatt’s suggesting, and that is another round of consultations to actually get to the point of what it would look like. And in essence, what the question might be for a referendum.

CONNELL: That’s obviously a key part of it all. So just to further clarify on this particular point, if it’s going to help people uncomfortable with constitution change to make the actual change to the Constitution on this voice element quite small, but then the Parliament really gets to decide what to do with that. That is a position you’re open to? Is there a threshold there – what it must it must include, the enshrining of the voice?

BURNEY: Look I think we all need to be open to whatever possibility is. But our responsibility as elected officials is to respond to what people tell us, which is why it’s so important to have the conversations. Particularly with First Nations people. But with the broader community. I mean, you know as well as I do, just how difficult referenda and constitutional change, and what the bar is in Australia - I think it is the majority of states with the majority of people in those states. So, like the ’67 Referendum, this will require the continual building of support. And I have no doubt in my mind that the notion of fairness amongst the Australian people – like in ’67 – would support a referendum, understanding that this is going to improve the outcomes for First Nations people.

CONNELL: What about the other idea floated yesterday by Ken Wyatt – it’s been spoken about before – voices, rather than a voice. Would that necessarily mean multiple bodies and would that be an issue? That a message could get confused? Or would it actually allay fears about the third chamber argument? That one voice would be impossible to ignore politically?

BURNEY: Sure, I mean, I think people need to understand what the actual reality is today, right now, in First Nations Australia. There are a number of elected bodies. There are a number of prescribed bodies. And there are many different local and regional organisations. One sensible approach might be, that you would look at what already exists on the ground. Be it the Land Councils. Be it the Prescribed Body Corporates. Be it the health organisations. And see what infrastructure is already there, and what need to be built. There is no doubt in my mind, and certainly Patrick Dodson and the Labor Party took to the last election, what was a map of regional assemblies that would feed into a national arrangement.

CONNELL: But to you need that national arrangement to – I guess – to still have a cohesive element to this and elevate that body? That’s required?

BURNEY: I actually think you do. And that’s something that we’re all very familiar with in the Westminster system. You have a series of local, feeding into regional, feeding into a national body. I mean that’s how many organisations are structured. And certainly that’s how the old ATSIC was structured as well. Look, the most important thing to say is that, to say is that, we need to work collaboratively on this. We need to listen absolutely to what First Nations people, and build the case within the broader community about the good sense, the fairness and the appropriateness of having a First Nations voice that can advise on First Nations issues to the Federal Parliament.

CONNELL: Obviously the referendum legislation goes through, anyone votes no on it, a ‘no’ campaign is in effect triggered. The Government has spoken already about providing funding for the ‘no’ campaign. Do you have any issue with that?

BURNEY: My personal view is that the ‘no’ campaign can go as hard as it likes and I don’t think that it should get public funding. I know that many referenda, there is public funding for a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ case. But really, there is no argument against this. It is nonsense to say that it is some form of apartheid. It is nonsense to say that its mucking around with the Constitution in a negative way.

CONNELL: Right, but there are people opposed. Should it be a case of neither side gets money? Is that what you are saying?

BURNEY: I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that if people want to run a ‘no’ case, that’s fine. But should public funding go into a ‘no’ case when we are trying to address one of the most fundamental issues that we face as a nation? And that is the disproportionate disadvantage for First Nations people, which is undeniable.

CONNELL: Right, right. Should the ‘yes’ case get Government money?

BURNEY: Look, that’s not my decision. I’m in the Labor Party, we are in opposition. That is a decision…

CONNELL: But you are saying the ‘no’ case shouldn’t. Are you saying they should be on equal footing?

BURNEY: That is a decision for the Government. I said my personal view, because I am very supportive of this. But I know exactly what the detractors will say. I’ve heard the arguments all my life. And I think the time has come in our nation, and I speak to hundreds of people a week, where there is no threat. It can only be a good thing for all Australians, to make sure that we finally address those terrible social justice outcomes for First Nations people. That we face the truth of our nation, which will liberate us all. And of course there is no threat to anything with this notion.

CONNELL: OK. The NAIDOC theme is around voice, truth telling and treaty. On treaty we had the Minister indicate yesterday that this is perhaps something best handled by states and territories. What do you make of that indication?

BURNEY: I listened very carefully to Ken’s speech. And he and I have met, and we are going to do some travel together. And obviously, the most important thing to say is that for successful referendum, you do need bipartisan support. And the issue that Ken raised in relation to treaties, I mean, the issue of treaty has been around for as long as I can remember. And there are some fantastic things happening in Victoria, in Northern Territory. The South Australian Labor Party when it was in power started a treaty process, and they’ve just announced some very significant issues. The Labor Party Aboriginal spokesperson in New South Wales is Indigenous Affairs and Treaty. I think the word treaty was very frightening for a lot of people, for whatever reasons. But in essence, we have what really are treaties already existing in Australia. They’re called agreements, and the Noongar one in Western Australia is a perfect example. There is a place for a number of treaties. That’s the way in which Aboriginal societies organise – through different nation states. But I do think there is an argument for a national treaty as well. But we need to make sure that we’re not tripping over each other and that they incredibly serious agreements and they are legal agreements and we have the absolute capacity to do it.

CONNELL: Linda Burney, we are starting probably a pretty long conversation here. I appreciate your time.

BURNEY: I think so. Thank you very much.