Television interview – ABC Insiders

Minister for Indigenous Australians

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Linda Burney, welcome to the program.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Merry Christmas David.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: And to you. Look, there’s plenty of detail out there about how the Voice could work in the co-design final report from Professors Marcia Langton and Tom Calma produced in the last parliament. What we don’t yet know is whether this is the model you would put to Parliament. Can you clarify that for us this morning?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The Voice is being informed by two very important First Nations groups. There’s the Working Group, which includes Tom Calma and Marcia Langton. It includes people like Megan Davis, Pat Anderson and Noel Pearson, who were the original architects of the Uluru Statement. It includes people like Thomas Mayor. There is also the Engagement Group which is about 61 First Nations people that is extraordinarily, very, very representative and they are informing the government as we go along. We are being very deliberate and being very careful and listening to all the voices. The report, the Calma Langton report is absolutely fundamental, obviously, to what will be the final design of the Voice. It’s not the only report. But this is not something that’s come out of nowhere. This has been talked about for generations with First Nations people.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: So when you say that report from last year is absolutely fundamental, are your words. Are we to take from that, that this is basically the model that you will go forward with?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: No what you can take from that, is that there is a Working Group that will inform the government on the final design, or at least what the government will take to the Parliament, remembering and everyone’s forgotten this, it is the parliament that will decide finally, what was the design will be. There is some very well ventilated principles that have been agreed to, that will inform the design of the Voice. Things like it will be representative, things like it will be accountable and transparent, it will have gender parity, it will represent Torres Strait Islanders, it will have young people and most importantly it will be a representative body chosen by Aboriginal communities and not usurp existing organisations.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Let’s go to some of those principles then, as a starting point. That co-design report recommended essentially a voice in two parts, local and regional voices and a national voice is that basically the approach that you’re taking?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The approach as I said, will be informed by the Working Group in particular.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: But will there be local and regional voices?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: We’re not going to get ahead of the Working Group. I have been involved in Aboriginal affairs for over 40 years, and I know the importance of consultation. I know the importance of listening to people. And at the end of the day, David, this referendum is not about what politicians do or don’t do. It’s about what the Australian people believe in and I have faith in the Australian people.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: I appreciate that that the government will be the one that puts to Parliament, the model. Going back to that report, the Marcia Langton Tom Calma report, I mean, half their report is on the local and regional voices. This is fundamental to their proposed model. So just to clarify, will there be local and regional voices as well as a national voice?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: There is enormous amounts of work going on at state and territory levels, which has to be part of where we head nationally. I see what’s going on in, for example, legislation about to go into the South Australian parliament to create a voice there. There’s a First Nations Assembly in Victoria. Those things will inform and I think enhance a national Voice. What this national Voice is about, it’s very straightforward. It is about improving the lives and the outcomes which are completely unacceptable at the moment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But it will also be about telling the truth in our nation’s birth certificate and recognising that this country has the extraordinary gift of 65,000 years.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Let’s turn to what the Voice will actually do and what it won’t do. The Prime Minister in his Garma speech suggested that the Voice would make representations on quote ‘matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’. Are there any matters that don’t relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I think the important focus there is what the Prime Minister has said. And what I’ve also said. This Voice is about improving the life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It doesn’t matter what issues whether it’s housing, whether it’s incarceration, whether it’s educational outcomes, whether it’s domestic violence rates, all those things will be informed by this Voice, including, importantly, cultural issues, the fact that there’s going to be a move towards the standalone cultural heritage act. Things like a standalone domestic violence strategy for Aboriginal people. These are things that the Voice will absolutely inform.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: And in terms of transparency around that the co-design report suggested that all formal advice provided by the Voice be tabled in Parliament, and that there’d be a statement on all bills before parliament explaining whether the Voice was actually consulted. What advice was provided, is that how you see it working?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The way that I see it working is very clear in the principles. What I didn’t finish saying there, it will not have a veto right of the parliament and it is advisory, and it will also not have a program delivery function. I think those things are really important to make sure that the Voice is available to the parliament and to the executive government for advice and that advice can be sought and given.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: But will every bill before parliament include a statement that says the Voice was consulted or wasn’t consulted?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Those sorts of things need to be fully ventilated with the Working Group.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: What’s your view?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: My view is that issues that affect First Nations people, the logical thing is that the Voice would be consultant about that. There is no question, David that what we’ve been doing is not working. There is still overcrowding. There is still communities in this country that don’t have clean water. There are communities that don’t have connectivity. Those issues are very important. And there is an absolute commitment from the government to establishing this Voice and making sure that the notion of self-determination, the principle of self-determination guides us in what we do.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Just on that I mean, the Closing the Gap results that we saw the annual results during the week, lay bare the failure to date of tackling these problems. But the Nationals concern is ‘well what’s the Voice going to do to close the gap?’ Can you give us a practical example of how the Voice will help close the gap?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Well, let’s take for example, the fact that there is going to be a standalone First Nations domestic violence plan. It would be important to me that the Voice is very much involved in advising, working alongside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee on that, to make sure that what is in the plan reflects what First Nations people are saying about the issue of domestic violence for example. Let’s take another example. Let’s think about for the fact that we’re going to be moving towards a standalone First Nations or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage plan. Fundamental issues of that would be advised by the Voice, alongside the Alliance of First Nations people and cultural heritage. There is no doubt that what happened at Juukan cannot happen again.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: On the question of detail, you mentioned the Working Group and the Engagement Group that are doing their work. When will we see that finalised, and the government present the sort of model that it would legislate?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Let me be very clear about this. I am not going to get ahead and the government will not get ahead of the Working Group.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Will it be before the referendum?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I have named some of those some extremely important and significant people involved in the Working Group. I have been around this space for a very long time and I know what’s needed. I know what works, and I’ve got the amazing support of the Prime Minister and the caucus on this. And that to me is very, very important.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: I just want to be clear though. Will this be presented before the referendum or not?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: When people go into that ballot box, to have their say on the referendum, they will be well informed, and they will well understand the reason for the Voice, as I said to improve the life outcomes for First Nations people, but also issues around how it will work and importantly what it will mean in uniting this country. The Voice, the notion is not just about Aboriginal people. It’s about us as a nation finally having in our Constitution, recognition of something that no other country on this blue planet has.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Just on that and finally, you spoke in parliament this week about your own upbringing in the small town of the Riverina, you didn’t have much, you didn’t meet your father until you were 27. Why did you want to tell that personal story Linda Burney and was this in response in part to the personal attacks on you from Jacinta Nampijinpa Price?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I don’t worry about personal attacks, quite frankly, and I suspect that there will be more to come. What’s important to me, is that there be a Voice that I believe in, that will improve the life outcomes for First Nations people in this country. And what’s important to me and I have had, there is so much support David out there for the Voice both in the business community, in the broader community, in the churches, in the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council. What’s important to me, is that this Voice is about representing First Nations people to the parliament, to the executive government for better outcomes and bringing this country together in an extraordinary moment of truth telling.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: And are you confident 12 months from now, despite a bit of an ugly tone to the debate over the last week, in 12 months, we’ll be sitting here and Australians will have voted yes?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I am confident in the Australian people and I believe if the Australian people fully understand the need for this Voice, the powerlessness as described in the Uluru Statement of First Nations people and an enormous sense of fairness, I believe the vote will be yes.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Linda Burney, thanks very much for joining us on this final show and have a great Christmas.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Have a great Christmas to you and everyone watching and we’re very proud of the Socceroos.

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