Television interview – ABC 730

Minister for Indigenous Australians

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: In an unexpected move yesterday, the National Party announced its opposition to a Voice to Parliament. Party leader David Littleproud said ‘the Voice would make no practical difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians’. Coalition Senator Jacinta Price went further arguing the proposal is divisive and empowers so called urban elites. Linda Burney is the Minister for Indigenous Australians, I spoke to her earlier from Canberra. Linda Burney welcome to 7.30.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Thank you, Sarah.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Were you taken by surprise by the National Party’s pre-emptive strike on the Voice referendum?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The voice has not come out of nowhere. There were 12 regional dialogues that reached right across this country. 1200 people participated. It has been in the making for five years. People have been talking about having representation permanently to the parliament for much, much longer. The National Party, there are many good people in the National Party, and they represent really good people that know Aboriginal people and that’s important. They have made a very, in my mind, early decision. There is much work to be done in terms of the campaign. It’s disappointing, of course. But it is not the fatal blow that people are talking about.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Are you concerned however that it will have some influence on Peter Dutton’s decision and the Liberals decision?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I don’t know. I hold out great hope and respect Peter Dutton. I think there are many people in the Liberal Party that understand that there has to be better outcomes for Aboriginal people. What is happening now is unacceptable. I said that today in the Parliament and having a voice to the Parliament is absolutely about better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, when it comes to health, child removal, education, housing, incarceration, all of those things Sarah.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Noel Pearson’s response to the Nationals announcement yesterday was to say this decision is being driven by Senator Jacinta Price, how big a problem is it for the referendum that an outspoken Indigenous politician has become the face of the No campaign?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Look, the campaign has not really started. I have enormous faith in the Australian people. We know that a referendum is a high bar in Australia. But I have travelled extensively Sarah, and I know that there is enormous support in the corporate sector. There is enormous support amongst the unions. There is so much support out there in the community. This is not about politicians. This cannot be about politicians. This is a decision that the Australian people will make. This referendum belongs to the Australian people not politicians.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Nonetheless, politicians like yourself, like Anthony Albanese and Jacinta Price who says she will be leading the no campaign, will play a very important role in informing the Australian people about the choice before them. We know they’re going to be, and you are going to be hugely influential. Senator Price went further, she made it personal. She accused you of taking a private jet to remote communities to “dripping with Gucci, to tell people in the dirt what is good for them.” How did this debate get so nasty?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: There is going to be many nasty things said and I don’t take things personally. I grew up in a very small country town. I was raised by my great aunt and uncle. And they raised me to be respectful. They raised me to listen to people. And they raised me, understanding that kindness is free and I live by that. Giving up is not in my blood Sarah. And I know that this referendum and a Voice to the Parliament will improve life outcomes for First Nations people in this country.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: The thrust of Senator Price’s argument and others who support her is that “Aboriginal urban elites have no connection to nor understanding of remote communities.” What do you say to that?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Look I don’t want to respond directly. But what I can say is that I can come from a very small country town. I have spent my entire career working with First Nations people and the broader community across this nation. And I know, and I am so proud of the fact that we have a Prime Minister who believes in good manners, of people having a say about their future and things that affect them. I really am just buoyed by that. And the other thing is that if we ever think this about ourselves, then we are not doing our job properly.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: From those opposed to the referendum and this is not the ad hominem attack on you, but more generally the argument, it is that there’s no detail yet for a voice. Would it have been more effective to have come up with a concrete model before going to a referendum?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Well, let me respond to that whole heartedly. There is an extraordinary amount of information already in the public arena about the voice. The principles have been established and well ventilated. Things like the voice will be representative. It will be chosen by the community. It will be inclusive. It will have gender parity. It will include Torres Strait Islanders. It will include young people. It will be accountable. It will not usurp the role of existing organisations. And of course, the other thing is that we have not even started the campaign. That will start next year. And I can assure you and everyone watching tonight, that there will be plenty of information out there, by the time the referendum comes, for people to make an informed decision.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: And in that case, will you be funding both sides of the argument, will there be money for “yes” and “no” campaigns?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The Labor Party has made what I think is a very prudent and responsible decision. We will be using public funds to fund a civics campaign, so people know about what referendums are. People understand what the constitution is about and that people are well informed about referenda and how you vote in a referendum. We will not be using public funds to fund a Yes or a No campaign. We believe those campaigns can raise their own money, through private means. I believe that this is a responsible, prudent approach to what is a very serious question that we’re asking the Australian people in the next financial year.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: You say there’s plenty of time for people, for the information to reach the public, to finally go back to what the Nationals have done, do you understand why they have come out so early in opposition?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The Nationals have made a decision, but I do note that it’s not unanimous. We’ve got a member of the National Party in the Federal Parliament, Andrew Gee, the Member for Calare, being very vocal today through a Facebook post saying that he will support the voice. We’ve had the leader of the National Party in Western Australia saying that they will support the voice. So, I think there is some way to run in terms of this discussion.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Linda Burney, thank you very much for joining us.

BURNEY: Thank you, Sarah.

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