SUBJECT/S: NAIDOC Awards; Referendum Council report to the government.

MIRIAM COROWA: The NAIDOC theme is “Our Languages Matter”. Professor Tom Calma has stressed we do need more leadership and support from the Government, on language. Is that something the Opposition, that Labor, believe they will be able to deliver when they are in Government?

SENATOR PATRICK DODSON: Obviously supporting languages is tremendously important. The examples last night at the marvellous NAIDOC awards clearly show that senior people are wanting to retain and pass on language.  They need support for that and that is something all sides of Government appreciate and obviously, the resources that can be provided to enhance that is critical at this time.

COROWA: Is it understood and appreciated that language, perhaps bilingual programs for those that don’t have English as their mother tongue, their first language, that that can provide all sorts of benefits for indigenous Australians?

DODSON: Absolutely the learning process makes it very clear that bilingual education is an asset for helping speakers of many other languages apart from English get to understand the concepts and the ideas that pervade mainly through English - be able to interpret mainly in English, to interpret society mainly within their own cultural frameworks.  It’s critical that bilingual, bicultural education is part of anything going forward.

COROWA: Is it also acknowledged though that in the Northern Territory in 2008 when we had both Labor Governments Federally and in the Territory that we saw a reduction in bilingual education. So, where does Labor stand on this?

DODSON: Labor may have waxed and waned on it in the past but certainly it’s clear that the position I hold on this is that language is important, its critical, it’s vital.  It’s a right that people have got to have their languages sustained. Also it’s a critical matter that if we want indigenous people to be participants in our society that we should provide the learning framework with the language context that they can understand and be comfortable with and then deal with the ones that they are less comfortable with, like English.

COROWA: In the past week, we’ve had the handing down of the Referendum Council report to the Government.  We have not seen it publically as yet, it has been given the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader Bill Shorten.  Do you believe that there will be an ongoing bipartisan shared engagement with the document as its handed forward as people progress towards what may be a referendum on constitutional change?

DODSON: I have not seen what the Referendum Council has recommended as yet.  I know it’s gone to both leaders.  To date there’s been good bipartisan support for the process as well as for an openness to what comes from the work that the Council does.  We’re at the sharper point now.  The various parties will to have a look at what the Indigenous people have got to say, and see whether that’s going to get passed in a referendum of the Australian population.  I would hope that some of the distractions that are currently across some of the other parties don’t detract from the importance of these recommendations and the significance of adopting an approach that will take our country forward.

COROWA: Do you believe if there isn’t a sense that the proposal as it may well be drafted is not likely to be successful in a referendum that it shouldn’t go ahead.  Do you believe that there is a greater role to be played particularly at the  Government level to advocate for the position that is coming out of this process. We have seen the Uluru statement and we are still awaiting what’s contained in the Referendum Council report.  Do you believe that Government play a stronger role in advocating for that position?

DODSON: Governments will do what they need to do but it’s clear that there’s been a fair bit of time passed and a lot of effort has gone into trying to ascertain the views and opinions not only of Indigenous peoples but of Australians generally. There’s been a number of reports that have been undertaken and I’ve been party to some of those.  This is not an easy matter.  It’s not a straightforward matter.  It’s clear the Indigenous people want to interface with the Parliament of Australia over matters that concern them and on the strategies and policies that go towards relieving the challenges they face every day of the week. Both sides of the Parliament are keen to see something that works around that.  How we get the bipartisanship, the cross-party support for these propositions in the Parliament is going to be the challenge.

COROWA: In discussions, you’ve been having is there cross support in the community in various sectors around the country for the document that came out of the Uluru summit back in May.  Do you believe there is potential for ideas such as treaty, acknowledgment of sovereignty, and even some form of a voice that speaks to parliament?  Is there a general sense of consensus building in the community from your understanding?

DODSON: The public reporting tends to indicate that. It would need to be certain in reality.  We know that in politics, division is death.  If there are clear divisions among the Indigenous leadership and population that’s going to make it easier for the job of the Parliament not to do anything.  It’s important that there is unity.  There are many strong leaders who have differing views about how things ought to be done.  They’ve got to find common ground on the best way to go forward here and to advocate that to the Parliament.  So that then we’re clear when we consider these matters that these things are going to be of benefit not only to indigenous people but to the nation as a whole.

COROWA: What do you say to those non-indigenous members of the community who may be wary or concerned about concepts such as recognition of sovereignty or going through a treaty process?

DODSON: I’d say we’re slowly developing an agreement making culture in this country since Eddie Mabo had the victory in the High Court.  There’s been a lot of agreements made with developers, with local governments, with all sorts of entities and Indigenous peoples. Agreement making isn’t such a big issue I would have thought.  It’s getting an understanding of the position and the place of the First peoples in this country and where that recognition ought to reside in the Constitution and how it ought to reside.  That’s the challenge that was put to the Referendum Council.  They’ll report on it and we will weigh and consider it with open minds.

COROWA: Are you hopeful that there me a referendum question put to the Australian public, say within a year or two?

DODSON: Well I’m hoping that we will have question that will come to us and we can agree and have bipartisan and cross-party support for so that it can go to the Australian public with some confidence.

COROWA: And for you, Senator Pat Dodson what do you see as the main stumbling blocks or hurdles?  Do you feel you have enough of a relationship with the Coalition Government to be able to work in partnership at this stage?

DODSON: Well the question of the Coalition Government is a question for them.  At the moment it looks like there’s some infighting going on.  I hope that doesn’t distract from the really important nation-building response that’s required.  Certainly, once that’s put to one side and we can focus on the common good for the country then I am sure Labor’s up for that discussion with the Coalition.

COROWA: Thank you, Senator Patrick Dodson, thanks for your time.

DODSON: Thank you, Miriam.


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