Labor listens to First Nations Women at regional policy forum

Linda Burney on ABC Pilbara
Wednesday, 24 September 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s First Nation’s Women’s Forum

 KELLY GUDGEON: Good morning Linda.




GUDGEON: I’m well thank you. What are the most pressing issues in your view that will be discussed today?


BURNEY: Well in terms of your introduction, and thank you for that, I’m now the Shadow Minister as well for Indigenous Australians.


GUDGEON: Congratulations.


BURNEY: So obviously the headline issues in that portfolio, things like constitutional recognition and change, but today – I attended the first Aboriginal Women’s forum in Perth that Sue Lines organised some time ago. The issues are very real issues that face people every day in the community. Things like the removal of children. Things like the number of people who are in custody. But also the issues that you talked about: health and wellbeing, homelessness, but particularly keeping culture alive, keeping language alive. And the other thing is Indigenous women coming together to ensure that a woman’s voice is in policy decisions and making.


GUDGEON: How different are the issues between the forum that was held in Perth and the issues that are likely to be raised today?


BURNEY: I think there will be some different issues because obviously the women that attended in Perth – and there were women from regional Western Australia – but I think we’ll hear today what the issues are on the ground, particularly in the Pilbara, as you said up as far as Port Hedland. I did a road trip through a lot of the Pilbara, the Goldfields, and Central Australia, not so long ago. And one of the huge issues was the availability of clean water in communities. If there’s no clean water you can’t have dialysis and of course the health issues around kidney disease is so huge in the Aboriginal community.


GUDGEON: I will talk to you about the desert tour in more detail in a minute but I just wanted to go back to the forum today. Why is it important to hear from women?


BURNEY: It’s important to hear from women because the issues from a woman’s perspective are seen differently. And we know very much at a local community level, in Indigenous communities women play such an important role in keeping families together; keeping culture alive; and making sure there is community safety. So I think that to have a forum where it is only women able to talk freely; able to feel safe, is really important for us to hear and really important in terms of putting in policy that is going to be policy that means something, that is actually the right policy. And hearing from Aboriginal women is incredibly important in that.


GUDGEON: And that’s what the plan is for what comes from today, isn’t it? So what will happen with the ideas and the issues that are put forward today?


BURNEY: Well in Perth, the views that came forward from Aboriginal women at the Perth forum that we had about two years ago certainly formed the basis, particularly as you indicated in the introduction around family violence, family safety, and today will be the same. What we hear today is not just people coming together for a talk fest. It will actually formulate – because Malarndirri McCarthy is coming over as we speak from Northern Territory – it will actually formulate a really solid part of what our Indigenous Affairs policy is going forward but also what our women’s policy and women’s safety policy is as well.


GUDGEON: Now last time you were here you mentioned you thought moves for an Aboriginal voice in the constitution needed some further exploration in the Pilbara. Can you talk about hwat this might mean?


BURNEY: Well, that’s a fantastic question. The really big issue facing I think Australia broadly is the outcomes of the Uluru Statement. I think that most people would familiar with that. And obviously we are looking at seeing whether or not there is an appetite within the parliament and more broadly across the community, by way of referendum on whether there should be a First Nations voice advising the parliament, protected by being enshrined in the constitution. That’s the fundamental issue. Labor believes that that’s what should happen. The government believes there should be recognition of Aboriginal People in the constitution but not enshrining an Aboriginal voice and Torres Strait Islander voice to the parliament in the constitution. So we need to work through those issues. That’s not the main topic today but it’s certainly one of the big headline topics if you like, that we’re dealing with in the parliament.


GUDGEON: Yeah ok. Now going back to the Western desert tour, you have just finished the Western desert tour.


BURNEY: We have.


GUDGEON: Yeah, so that took you through as you said the central region, a lot of the Pilbara and the Goldfields and the Kimberley as well I believe?


BURNEY: Well it started off in Broome. I wasn’t there for the Broome to Port Hedland section. We went to Port Hedland, places like Newman, Laverton, Warburton, Meekatharra, Leonora and then over to Kata Tjuta and Yalara in Central Australia.


GUDGEON: So what was – you mentioned water before – what were some of the other issues that …


BURNEY: Some of the other issues – a lot of the issues were to do with community development; issues that are to do with endemic poverty that you had in the Pilbara – such an incredible mining industry and what the benefits were for people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal whose lives are permanently in the Pilbara; there was also, as I said Kelly, the really big issue about the availability of clean water. That came up more than any other topic that we talked about as we moved up through those communities. Of course there were issues around infrastructure; issues around developing local government and decision making; things to do with community safety, community development. But every single place we went to – we went to a lot of health centres – but every single place we went to without exception talked about the lack of clean water, which meant that very often people who had kidney disease had to leave the community and go to here or Broome or Perth for dialysis, and very often coming back in a wooden box.


GUDGEON: Ok. That’s very confronting to hear.


BURNEY: It was.


Yeah. Yeah.


BURNEY: And I think that you know most Australians would be shocked to know that there are communities right throughout this area and a whole range of other places that don’t have potable water. So that means things are more expensive in the stores. It means that more sugary drinks are consumed by children, that leads to obesity, and all the issues …


GUDGEON: It’s a vicious cycle …


BURNEY: It’s a vicious cycle – you know dental issues and issues eventually to do with kidney disease. So it’s a vicious cycle. And somehow or rather we’ve got to break that cycle. We’re traveling to the APY lands next week in South Australia and a number of those communities have overcome this issue by way of capacity to clean water at a local community through desalination plants and a range of other methods. And I’m really interested to see what happens in other communities to see if there’s applicability in communities where there isn’t clean water.


GUDGEON: That will be very interesting. Unfortunately, we are out of time. Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, and for Preventing Family Violence, and now for Indigenous Affairs as well.


BURNEY: Yes. Can I just say fairly quickly that any women that would like to attend the forum in Roebourne today, they can if they haven’t registered. Just got to be there by 9.30 …


GUDGEON: Where is it being held?


BURNEY: It’s at the Ngurin Cultural Centre, in Roe Street in …


GUDGEON: In Roebourne.


BURNEY: In Roebourne.


GUDGEON: Yes. Okay.


BURNEY: Very welcome.