Radio Interview – ABC RN Breakfast 7 November

Minister for Indigenous Australians

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Justice Reinvestment for First Nations people was a key funding measure of the last Budget. Part of the money will go to 30 community led initiatives including in Alice Springs, where the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney visited last week. She joins us now on Breakfast, Minister Burney welcome back to breakfast.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: You committed $100million in last month’s Budget. What is justice reinvestment and how will the money be spent?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Justice Reinvestment is a new or a different way of looking at the issue particularly of young people being incarcerated. It is as it says, instead of investing in additional jail cells and facilities, you invest in ways to keep young people out of incarceration, alternative methods of punishment if you want to put it that way, keeping kids at school, keeping young people invested in the community. And the wonderful thing about it, and I saw this in Alice Springs, Patricia, is the three levels of government, local, Territory, and Federal government actually get involved in this program as well as the organisations within the town, as well as the police, as well as school principals. And it is a very different way of looking at justice and in Alice Springs, that will be one of the 30 communities that you’ve referred to.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: What outcomes are you expecting from this investment? Will there be clear targets like a reduction in incarceration rates to know the money is being spent, you know, cause and effect?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Yes and the really instructive thing is, is that this has been going for about five or six years in Bourke in western New South Wales in Moree, and in Port Hedland, and a number of other places. And what we’ve seen in those places is more young people staying in school, we’ve seen an enormous reduction in domestic violence rates, we’ve seen a huge reduction in petty crime for example, break ins, for example, car thefts, and we’ve actually seen the community working together with civil society and the government, as well as local government, men’s groups, women’s groups, police all working together with the aim of reducing the incarceration rates of First Nations young people, which are just off the planet as you know, but really, it’s about the community and three levels of government working together towards a common goal.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Opposition Leader Peter Dutton also travelled to Alice Springs recently. He said in some areas, sexual abuse has been normalised. Now, I’ve already spoken to you about his call for a Royal Commission and you said to me, you didn’t, you weren’t going to call a Royal Commission but you did actually say that you did think there were issues to be addressed. Now that you’ve gone on the ground had those conversations, is he right about this being an epidemic of sexual abuse?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Well, you know, Patricia, I came away from Alice Springs feeling extraordinarily uplifted. I saw brilliant community organisations, I saw wonderful leadership. I visited things like the Lhere Artepe Native Title services, I went to Congress, which is the big health service there, I talked to Territory Families, I went to a women’s shelter, I went to a school, I went to two town camps, I went to Purple House, and the list goes on. I also went to two youth services, and importantly Patricia I went on foot patrol, with people that walk around Alice Springs in the night, making sure young people aren’t getting into trouble. And I did not hear one person call for a Royal Commission. What I saw was enormous commitment to young people. You know, I’m not pretending that there weren’t problems. There were kids on the street. There was certainly obvious alcohol issues, but it is not all doom and gloom. And that’s my message today. And there is such potential there. It is such an extraordinary place, I hear you describe it every morning as perfect weather. But you know it is, it’s a tough place but there is also just a feeling of hope with Labor’s plan for Central Australia. There is the capacity in my view, for that community to come together and to turn the place around. The town camps that I went to, one of them was a very difficult place for people to live, but I did not hear anything about a Royal Commission. What I heard, I went to a playgroup there, what I heard was we want to invest in our young people.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Okay, so you weren’t hearing about a Royal Commission and that’s, that’s fine. That’s a mechanism. But I’m talking about the underlying issue. People saying there are higher rates here we’re dealing with massive child abuse issues, which is what he’s alleging. Is that happening?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Well, I spoke to Territory Families. I also spoke to a new organisation called the Social Order Response Team, which is part of Territory Families as well. And what both of those groups said to me is that we need practical measures and buy in from community to address social issues, and I’m not for one minute Patricia, pretending that there aren’t social issues. There clearly are. But it is not the basket case that people have been describing. And it’s easy to play politics. It’s easy to be divisive, but what that community needs is for all levels of government, to collaborate, to work with them and to give them support and that’s certainly going to be my intention.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: And if you’re just tuning in, I’m speaking to the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney. Linda Burney former Prime Minister Tony Abbott says we should bring back national service for school leavers to spend up to 12 months giving back to their country including serving time in the armed forces or volunteering in Indigenous communities, in aged care homes. Does that sound like a good idea to you?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: It’s the first time I’ve actually heard that idea Patricia and my initial response is that in Aboriginal communities, what I heard time and time again. And I also went to the APY Lands, Kings Canyon and Mutitjulu in Central Australia, on this trip was the, how can I say it, the outcomes from what was the intervention and people did not see it lightly. I think that what is out in those communities Patricia is the potential for and the demonstration of great leadership. And what those communities need is support from an Aboriginal worldview. They do not need another intervention coming in over the top.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to move our conversation to the Voice to Parliament and there is still a lack of detail around what the Voice would be and Professor Marcia Langton warned last week that not enough leaders in First Nations communities were stepping up for the Voice. Are you concerned or do you acknowledge that there is still a vacant field when it comes to the yes, you know, if I was to walk on any street in Australia and ask people what the Voice is and whether they were going to vote yes, I’m not sure everyone would really understand it.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I think that assessment is reasonable in the sense that there are still a lot of people that need to know what the Voice is. And I have enormous respect for Marcia Langton, and she is playing such a pivotal role in the Working Group and the Engagement Group. But I do challenge that not a lot is happening. I mean, we’ve got the Engagement Group set up. We’ve got the Working Group established and about to start its third meeting. What you’ll see before the end of the year, Patricia is the introduction of the Referendum Machinery Act, which will modernise the Referendum Act. You’ve seen a commitment in the last Budget towards the referendum. And I think you’ve also seen the principles that the Voice will be established under produced as well. So I would challenge that there isn’t a lot happening there. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Absolutely. That’s the issue though, that’s the point. That’s the point, behind the scenes. Absolutely I know a lot of people who are very busy here, but in terms of your average person who will have to go into a ballot box and vote yes or no. That sort of piece of the puzzle appears to me, to still be missing.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Yes, well, I would ask people to look at the websites of the Uluru Dialogue group, and also From the Heart group, based out of Queensland because they have actually produced interactive mechanisms to be able to explore the Voice. Look at the government website, which has fantastic explanations of the Voice on it, there’s been an ad produced and a whole range of other things. But the other thing that I would say Patricia, is that there is a very sizable civics campaign that we need to undertake and, I, I’m risking things here, but I suspect that you’re young enough to have never voted in a referendum. And you’ve certainly never voted in a successful referendum, because that was in 1977. The last referendum in Australia was in 99, about a republic. So there is a lot of work to do in getting people up to speed with what a referendum is. What the Constitution is. But the point you’re raising is a really important point. And I just draw people’s attention to the fact that the Prime Minister has suggested a question and amendments to the Constitution. He has also said that the referendum will be held in the next financial year. So what you will see in the first half of next year, and it won’t be run by the government. This is a referendum for the people. It is some very major efforts in terms of the campaign towards the referendum.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Some quick questions Yes or no funding? Will it come?


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Funding, public funding for a yes case and a no case, do you support it?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The public funding will certainly be there for the holding of a referendum and also the civics campaign that needs to happen.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Yeah, but for a yes or no campaign. Money for, what do you think? Where are you leaning?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: That decision has not been taken. I’ve noticed that the Leader of the Opposition says that there should be equal funding for a yes and no case, but I’m being very genuine with you, Patricia. That decision has not been taken.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Noel Pearson says we are a much unloved people about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, is he right? And what impact will that have on the vote?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Noel Pearson’s Boyer Lecture, the first one was absolutely brilliant. And I can’t wait for the second one. He is right in the sense that with the Equal Marriage plebiscite, a lot of people knew people that would be directly affected by this. I don’t think that’s the case so much with Aboriginal people. But the great thing is that Noel also described the Voice as a bridge to unite at long last, First Peoples and the rest of the country and that to me is where we should focus.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Thank you. So much for joining us this morning.


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