SUBJECTS: Uluru Statement from the Heart; Constitutional Recognition; reconciliation; cashless welfare card; Indigenous representation

This past week marked 12 months since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was delivered to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. The key proposition, a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament was subsequently dismissed by Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition. But Mr Shorten has thrown his support behind the proposal and so has Western Australian Labor Senator, Patrick Dodson and they join me now. Thanks for joining me.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: No, it's great. Good on you. 

BEHDRENDT: The national debate on Constitutional Recognition has culminated in the Uluru Statement. Bill Shorten, you've said you support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. What does that mean in practice?

SHORTEN: It means in practice that we will work with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on the design of it. I have Senator Dodson here with me in the interview, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee has been out talking about what a voice might look like. I'm prepared to legislate a voice till we get to a point where we can put it up for a Constitutional referendum, but we're not going to give up on it.

BEHDRENDT: The other aspect of course around a national voice is National Congress which has had its funding cut. If you're in government would you restore funding to the National Congress?

SHORTEN: We will support funding for National Congress, we haven't finalised the amount that we would give. There's no doubt in my mind that if we want to consult with Indigenous Australia about decisions affecting First Australians, then we have to empower their representative organisations to be part of that process.

BEHDRENDT: Senator Dodson, the Uluru Statement has put calls for a treaty firmly back on the national agenda. What's Labor's position?

PATRICK DODSON, SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Well Labor is up for the discussion about that. We're going to Barunga for the 30th anniversary, when we first heard the Prime Minister of the day talk about a treaty. So we certainly are encouraging the states and other places to pursue their agendas with the First Nations peoples. But we're up for that discussion, and we'll work it out as we as we will with First Nations peoples, when we are in power.

BEDRENDT: Senator Dodson, of course you've been involved in the long conversations around recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution. Where do you think that issue is at the moment?

DODSON: Well we're in - at least it's in the Parliament. It's in a Joint Select Committee, that's looking at this. It's co-chaired by myself and Julian Leeser. We don't intend to repeat all the consultation that was done under the dialogues that led to the Uluru Statement, but we need to make sure that experts in the law, on the mechanics of how this - of what it would look like, what words that may be entertained for a referendum, what they would look like etc. So that committee will report, will have an interim report in July, and a final report in November. So the work would consider all that was done from 2011 onwards. That's the expert panel's work, the Joint House Committee that existed then, and the other work that's gone on with the Referendum Council, and obviously the matters that have come from the Statement of the Heart from Uluru. So those matters are all in play. The government has put an additional clause in the Terms of Reference to look at how consultations occur by governments today and whether that is sufficient and whether it's leading to greater self-determination or greater economic prosperity for people. So there is a complex set of terms for the committee but it's working.

BEHDRENDT: Well we'll keep an eye on that one. Bill Shorten, since Kevin Rudd's apology in 2008 the number of children being removed from Aboriginal families has doubled. This is a state and territory issue but leadership can be shown at the national level. What is Labor proposing to do about it?

SHORTEN: Well you're right that the number of children being removed from their homes has doubled. In 2017 there's 17,664 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are living in out of home care - that's compared about 9000 a decade ago. Whilst it's a state issue there should be national leadership. We've committed to a national summit about First Nations children within the first 100 days of getting elected. We can't have a new stolen generation by other means. And what we need to do is to bring everyone together to focus on how we can make sure that if families aren't coping, we can help keep the families together rather than giving up on the families, and giving First Nations children a lesser outcome than other children.

BEHDRENDT: Senator Dodson how important are the Aboriginal community controlled organisations in addressing issues like the increasing number of children in out-of-home care and what will Labor do to support that sector?

DODSON: Well I think the focus point has got to be on how First Nations work with their communities and through their organisations but also has to be on the families as Bill said, and what support families require because I think they're the missing equation. Families need a lot of support in this situation and they've got to carry their responsibilities and they've got to be enabled to carry their responsibilities. I think some of the punitive measures that are currently afoot certainly aren't helping that. But really it's got to be a combination of both, and how the strategy and the practicalities of the day to day issues - again, we'll be listening closely to First Nations to advise us on it and building on some of the good work that they're doing currently. You know the women at Tangentyere for instance, are out there on the streets, they're trying to do something about domestic violence, they're trying to do something about the kids but there are many challenges here. And it's not only in the juvenile justice area it's basically in the family sector and the families have got to be enabled to take their responsibilities.

BEHDRENDT: Mr Shorten, we've heard many concerns from the Aboriginal community about the Community Development Program, CDP with many claiming it's too punitive and restrictive. What's your policy on this work for the dole scheme?SHORTEN: I think it's clear that the CDP is not working. I think it's clear that it's discriminatory, it's too harsh, the number of breaches for relatively trivial matters are too high. It's effectively forcing people to live in poverty. We want to develop programs which allow for the creation of real jobs in communities, so we don't accept the status quo and we're going to work on real jobs in remote communities. And underpinning that, and this is something which I've been heavily influenced by Pat Dodson on is, our whole approach across First Nations has to be one of partnership. But it's also got to be based on several core responsibilities and I'm going to use these following values - honour, equality respect and recognition. And so what we'll do when we form our solutions around CDP and reforms is look at those values.

BEHDRENDT: Senator Dodson will those reforms also mean looking at the cashless welfare cards?

DODSON: Absolutely and we've already been active in that space. We don't support a national rollout of that card. We don't believe the information in relation to its success is sufficient to even extend it to Kalgoorlie where, you know, we're not supporting that process and certainly no further out. So it hasn't proved to be the panacea that I think the government was trying to pretend it was, and that it is having detrimental effects in many of these communities. So it's not the solution that people thought might lead to other changes. That whole wraparound service component has been lacking. The whole shift to enabling people to carry their responsibilities hasn't happened by the punitive measures that are in place.

BEHDRENDT: This does seem to indicate that you are going to have a big rethink about the policy agenda in the Stronger Futures legislation, is that right?

DODSON: Well I think there are many things that we'll have a big think about but this is one of them. And obviously, the way in which budgets are crafted and how we respond and what First Nations say they would see as working in the various context is what we'll take on board. But yes it has to be shaken up, I mean we can't continue to have a policy that's based on focusing on the deficit aspects and First Nations. We've got to learn to be able to celebrate and enhance their capacities and for them to be doing the things that they are best at, and that is looking after their children.

BEHDRENDT: Senator Dodson, we've seen obviously an increase in the number of Indigenous people in the Federal Parliament and I guess what we're also seeing is the influence they're having inside their parties on policy. What advice would you give to an Indigenous person who aspires to enter politics?

DODSON: Oh look, I think come into it with your eyes open. I think it's a great place to be, particularly if you join my party the Labor Party - it's a great place to be. But because it's about social reform, it's about you know, not forgetting people and leaving people behind. It's about looking at the workers. It's about trying to deal with the real social justice challenges that we've got to face. But it's a career not just to be a politician but to look at reform and look at how to influence you to know, the nation in its process towards national reconciliation as a nation not just under programs. So it's a bit different than being out on the organisations and advocating to the Parliament. It's a great place where you actually are a part of the lawmaking process and debates and discussions and people have got to take note that you're here in the Parliament and Indigenous First Nations people, they can't be ignored.

BEHDRENDT: Well finally tonight Mr Shorten it's not easy being Opposition Leader one would think, and there are by-elections coming up and a National Conference. Are you, Chloe and your family going to get to do something to relax over the long weekend?

SHORTEN: Well I'm taking my wife away for a belated birthday holiday. We're not taking all of the kids either so, I don't know if that will please everyone in the family. No, I think it's important that families of people in political life that are, you've got to give them emotional space in your week. By that what I mean is that - and I don't always achieve this but when I'm home I've got to be home. Turn off the phone, focus on the family because none of us are anything without the support of our families and we ask a lot of our families in public life. So I just, for me the big challenge is when I'm home, to be home.

BEHDRENDT: It's probably good advice whether they're in public life or not.

SHORTEN: I think it's probably just good.

BEHDRENDT: Well thank you both for joining me this evening on Speaking Out. 

SHORTEN: Yes great to chat. Thank you. 

DODSON: Thank you.



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