Press conference - Sydney - Wednesday, 10 July 2019



SUBJECT/S: Uluru Statement 

LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Well thank you all for coming this afternoon. We hold this press conference on the land of the Gadigal people. And that’s an important thing to recognise on a day like today. It is the middle of NAIDOC week – the national Aboriginal and Islander week. And of course, the themes for this week are voice, treaty, truth. Which are the fundamental principles of the Uluru Statement.


Today Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians made a speech at the National Press Club. In that speech he talked about a number of things, but principally he talked about the entrenchment of an Indigenous voice to the Parliament by way of referendum change.


I have made a commitment, as has Anthony Albanese, to the Prime Minister, that Labor will work in collaboration with the Government in the journey… [construction noise interrupts].


I have made a commitment, as has Anthony Albanese, the leader of the Labor Party with the Prime Minster, to work collaboratively towards a voice and representation of Indigenous people in the Constitution.


Constitutional change in Australia is so difficult. We’ve had something like 40 odd referendums and only eight have been successful.


I honestly believe that the Australian public is ready for constitutional reform to recognise First Nations people in the Constitution. The time has well and truly come. And Labor will work with the Government in terms of this pursuit.


What does that look like? You might say. Well, it really is up to the discussions that we will have with First Nations people right across this country in terms of what the make-up, and the way in which that referendum and that voice should be framed. It is not the Labor Party that should determine that. It is not the Conservatives that should determine that. It is actually First Nations people.


For constitutions [constitutional referendums] to be successful, everyone has to be on board. The majority of states, and the majority of people in those states. It’s a hard ask. But we have to ask the question because what we’ve been doing for 200 years in the Indigenous affairs space is not working. We still have shocking social justice outcomes for First Nations people. A voice to the Parliament has come of – sorry. A voice to the Parliament is the time now – that’s terrible grammar. I’ll say that again. We are at a point in our development, in our history where a voice to the Parliament absolutely has to be entrenched in the Australian Constitution.


Labor embraces the Uluru Statement in full and I commit myself to working collaboratively with Ken Wyatt and the Government in terms of pursuing an Indigenous voice to the Australian Parliament.


JOURNALIST: In the same sex marriage survey, it was quite divisive, and gay people were worried about more damage being done to their community. Is this a concern for you in any referendum?


BURNEY: No. I’m not concerned along those lines. If you think about where the Uluru Statement came from. It came from the most comprehensive consultation of First Nations people ever undertaken. It was unanimous statement that embraced the three points that I mentioned earlier. It embraced truth, it embraced treaty and it embraced a voice. It has been well consulted on and I don’t think that this will be divisive. If people want to make it divisive – let them try. I think that their voices will be drowned out.


JOURNALIST: This is obviously the first time where we’ve had both a member of Government as well as a member of the Opposition being a Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs do you that this is a particularly seminal time in our history? And do you think that this would have happened without those particular positions being appointed?


BURNEY: I think this is seminal and I think the appointment of Minister Wyatt into the portfolio that he has. The appointment of me into the shadow portfolio of Indigenous Australians is important. I think it would have happened, perhaps, with not the same passion and understanding that Ken and I bring to the discussion. But I can tell you that the Labor Party has been committed to Uluru and a voice the Parliament for a very long time. And I am incredibly proud to be the Shadow Minister. Ken and I presented an award together at the NAIDOC awards on Saturday night, and the response from the Aboriginal community – I am getting goose bumps thinking about it – the response from the Aboriginal community was just one of joy. To see both Ken and I representing the two major parties, walking on to the stage together and doing something together.


JOURNALIST: What do you think about the three-year timetable for a referendum?


BURNEY: Look, I’m not as concerned as some people are about a three-year timetable. Referendum are difficult. You have to build the case. You have to bring people with you. And if it takes three years, then it takes three years. Of course, we’d all like to see it sooner. But it’s within the term of this Parliament that the Government is going to work towards a referendum. So that doesn’t necessarily mean three years. But it is crucial that this referendum be successful.


JOURNALIST: What’s more important here? The right words? Or the time period?


BURNEY: I think they’re both important. The right words are important. If we don’t get the question right, if we don’t keep it simple and to the point, I think it becomes a challenge for people to respond. The timetable is important. But we have to put the referendum when there is bipartisan support and when there is a majority of support evident in the broader Australian community. So both are very important, both the words and the timetable. And they have to be words that people respond to, words that people have a resonance to. And the timetable has to be, to make it a success.


JOURNALIST: How confident are you that it will be a success?


BURNEY: I’m very confident. I know that there’ve been many surveys done. Remember that this is not a new idea. This idea has been talked about for over a decade in this country. There’s been two parliamentary inquiries, there’s been an expert group and there’s been massive consultation. The real challenge is to get to those Aboriginal communities that perhaps haven’t got a loud voice, or a voice that is herd all the time. And make sure, particularly in small communities and more remote communities, that people understand what’s going on, that people are on-board with what’s going on. Which is why the consultation is so very, very important.


JOURNALIST: Can you even conceive of what a ‘no’ case might look like in that referendum?


BURNEY: Yes I can conceive of what a ‘no’ case might look like. I can see it. I can see people putting forward ideas about, you know, this will threaten your title to land. This is making one group of people more special than others. And they’re just rubbish, rubbish arguments. This is about all Australians. This is about making our nation more honest. Bringing people to a place of truth. And that can only be good for us all.


JOURNALIST: You mentioned earlier that the consultation has to come from First Nations people. We were speaking with elders from different communities today, and across the board they said they completely lost trust from moves like having an Indigenous Envoy in Tony Abbott, a sorry that didn’t necessarily translate to much. So how do you get that trust back?


BURNEY: I think that getting the trust of people is absolutely crucial. And I am not as naïve as to think that that trust is not necessarily there across the board. The trust comes from listening. The trust comes from being genuine. And the trust comes from demonstrating with your actions that you’re serious about this. If this is not owned, if this is not wanted, if this is not celebrated by First Nations people, then really, really it’s a very difficult road. And it’s a road probably not worth taking. But I know, from my discussions over the last three years, that Indigenous people, both in the Torres Strait, as well as on the mainland and Tasmania, want to see proper national representation of First Nations people in this country. There’s an absolute desire for that. There’s also a desire to make sure that regional assemblies are put in place, and we want to make sure, and this is absolutely desired, that First Nations people are co-designers of this. If that is not the case, then really it’s not going to be trusted. But co-design is absolutely crucial to us going forward in relation to a voice to the Parliament.


JOURNALIST: Do you expect that this might re-open the debate about Australia Day? Especially if this should be a successful campaign?


BURNEY: The debate about Australia Day will be opened again whether or not there is a campaign in relation to constitutional recognition. It’s something that happens every Australia Day. It’s a worthwhile discussion for us as a nation to have. I expect that this could have some perhaps discussion around what our national day is, what our national symbols are. And that’s fine. That should be part of the discussion.


JOURNALIST: The last Government rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Do you feel that the appointment of Ken Wyatt and his announcement today about the referendum that the Government has turned a corner on this issue?


BURNEY: Well let’s hope that the Government has turned a corner on this issue. My responsibility is to my party and I know that Labor is absolutely on-board with the Uluru Statement. I want to work collaboratively – as I said – with the Government. And I want the Government to really embrace, as Ken has indicated to today, what First Nations people are saying.


JOURNALIST: I’ve got a question on another mater.


BURNEY: Are we finished with that one? Can I add one thing before? One of the other things that Ken Wyatt spoke about today, was the importance of addressing the issue of First Nations young people taking their own lives. This issue of suicide is something that is such a blight on our country broadly. And when we see young Indigenous children and young people taking their life at double the rate of the rest of the community, those statistics are totally unacceptable. And I also join my party to the sentiments that Ken spoke about today in making that number zero.


JOURNALIST: My understanding is you have been briefed on this – so there was a NSW school where Indigenous children were performing. They were subject to racially motivated bullying. Do you have any kind of comment on the outcome of that?


BURNEY: Two comments. I say to the dancers involved; I am so proud of you and you keep dancing. And the second comment is that my experience with schools when it comes to NAIDOC Day has been overwhelmingly, just overwhelmingly positive. Most schools celebrate in some way or other. I’m sorry about what happened at that school. But to those dancers; just keep on dancing, I’m proud of you.