SUBJECTS: First public hearings of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, Barunga Festival.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:  In 1988 in the NT community of Barunga, PM Bob Hawke promised Indigenous Australians a treaty, including self-determination, land rights and an end to discrimination.  Federal recognition of Indigenous Australians seemed to fall off the agenda last year after the rejection of the Uluru statement and the Voice to parliament.  But at a state and territory level, progress continues. 

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the Barunga statement, the NT Government committed to a treaty process of its very own, and of course, last night on RN Drive, you heard about Victoria voting in the lower house for the first treaty process.

Senator Pat Dodson is the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He was there thirty years ago and again today. Senator Dodson, welcome back to RN Drive.

PATRICK DODSON: Thank you very much.

KARVELAS: The agreement signed today commits the NT Government to treaty talks with all four of the NT’s Aboriginal Land Councils, how is that process going to work, what do you make of it?

DODSON: Well I think it’s a great initiative between the Territory Government and the Land Councils, in part representing most of the First Nations people within the Territory.

The Territory will appoint a Treaty commissioner, and that Commissioner will undertake the task of inquiring into the scope and parameters of what might be in a treaty, and whether there will be a treaty or many treaties, will also be part of the discussion. There will be no-one in the First Nations community that will be left out, everyone’s to be included, so while it’s an agreement signed by the land councils it intention is to cover the diversity of groups and interests within the First Nation community of the NT.

KARVELAS: The Agreement says the key objective is to achieve real change and substantive long term benefits for Aboriginal people.  Now in the NT of course Indigenous people do have a lot of land rights if you look at the land mass, what would change under this agreement?

DODSON: The Chief Minister indicated today that there’d be the beginnings of the devolution of control and management and implementation of policies in the social policy area, so that’s a great initiative. To negotiate how that’s going work how we rearrange the public sector, and how First Nations people get to be in the driving seat over those things that matter most to them on an everyday  basis, like health, housing, education, employment, the fact is that people want to have a say in the first instance, so that’s a great initiative.  It will be challenging of course, but the Chief Minister is not just making nice platitudes, in fact he’s down the track of implementing things.

KARVELAS: Galarrwuy Yunupingu handed the bark petition to Bob Hawke 30 years ago.  Today he said the only secure lasting treaty would be a Federal one. (audio of Galarrwuy Yunupingu).  His frustration is clear, what do you say to Indigenous people who are frustrated by the lack of progress and who just want to see a Federal treaty?

DODSON: Well I’m not sure that’s the case.  Obviously, the Victorians are engaged in a process, with the state Government there, the Western Australians have indicated they’re looking to Voice to their Parliament. South Australia was going down that track before the change of Government.  So, not everyone’s waiting for a big bang treaty, as it were, for the Federal Government. It’s great that the states and the First Nations in those jurisdictions are getting on working their way through the complexities of it.  The Territory is in a unique position of course because it’s a Territory not a State.  It has a section of the Constitution that enables the Federal Government to intervene and over-ride legislation that the territory might make.  In fact, that power s.122 of the Constitution was used to intervene in the Northern Territory. Territorians and First Nations are completely aware of that, and the NT Land right Act is a Commonwealth Act, and the self-government capacity of the NT is a Commonwealth Act as well.  As a Territory it is subject to Commonwealth interventions, if the Federal Government is of a mind to. So I can understand people like Galarrwuy being disillusioned about the process not being a Federal one, but that doesn’t mean that there are not many, many people who were at that gathering at Barunga, who were really impressed and ready to go with the process the Territory is outlining.

KARVELAS: You’re part of the Parliamentary Committee looking at the way forward post Uluru, in fact you are the Chair of this Committee doing this work. Is now the Committee going to be looking at all these individual treaties, the one that’s been passed at least in the lower house in Victoria that will eventuate, also of course as you mentioned the NT. Does this process now change because of all of this work going on in different States and Territories?

DODSON: Firstly let me correct the concept that I’m the Chair. I’m the Co-chair. Julian Leeser from the Government is the other Co-chair. So this committee is being co-chaired and it has multi-party representation with the Independents Cathy McGowan and Rachel Siewert on it as well, so it’s not just the two major parties. The question of what we’re charged with is going back to 2011, the Expert Panel’s recommendations to the Parliament, the Parliamentary Committee that was set up with Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris chaired, the dialogues that took place that culminated at Uluru and also the Referendum Council that made recommendations to the Parliament. So there’s a range of things and in addition to that, the Government have put a term of reference in to consult about how effectively is Government consulting First Nations now and is that leading to self-determination or greater prosperity. And we’re also not necessarily going to be repeating all those consultations only in the First Nations communities. It’s open to people in the broader community of course to make their submissions, to seek to have a presentation of that. We’ve made the decision to come to Barunga because this is the 30th anniversary of the proposal for a treaty and we were given a time by the Land Councils. There was a two-hour slot that really was a very positive engagement between members of the land council and our committee. The efforts between now and July when we have to pass an interim report, is that we will do further consultations. We’ll do some in the Kimberley next week, but then we will be in other parts of Australia as well. So it’s not just these remote places we will be going to. We will be going to Sydney and Melbourne and Tasmania and hopefully meeting with experts. The challenge we have really is the detail around legislation that might be used to bring into existence a Voice and the detail around many propositions that may be subject to constitutional referenda. There are proposals around on those things. I don’t think they are well understood by the broader public, or even by First Nations. But there are proposals around that put down the way in which a referendum could be conducted or the topic for which a referendum could be conducted.

KARVELAS: So does this mean that you see this committee as potentially deviating from the Uluru Statement of the Heart? Because a lot of the advocates of the Uluru Statement of the Heart, people that went to Uluru and signed off on this statement, say that a year on from the rejection by the Turnbull Government, I know Labor’s said that you would implement it but you need both sides of politics to change the Constitution realistically. A year on they are saying they want the Uluru Statement of the Heart to be Honoured, does that limit your scope?

DODSON: No, it doesn’t limit the scope. I mean there is nothing dishonouring that statement in what we are doing. It’s part of the terms of reference and the consideration. The positions that have come from that are about entrenchment of a Voice, the proposal initially is to try and find legislation, or agree legislation that could be enacted to give expression to the Voice. The intention would be that that Voice once put into existence would be part of the negotiations for what a referendum question might look like and many other things. So the process, the Parliamentary process for these things, is normally a committee, a joint house committee like this or a joint standing committee. So we’re just undertaking the task to try and pull together the various propositions that have been put forward and to try and gain greater insight as to the nuts and bolts of what any legislative proposal would look like for a Voice and what any referendum question would look like if it was to be entrenched in the Constitution.

KARVELAS: Of course, that report would ultimately go to both sides of politics. The Coalition has made it crystal clear they don’t want a Voice embedded in the Constitution. Does that mean that this Committee will look at exploring the option of an Indigenous body that is created via legislation?

DODSON: We’ll look at all options and as you mentioned earlier we’ll look at the good work that the State of Victoria is doing and we will obviously get to understand more what the Territory Government is doing and no doubt there will be other initiatives during the course of the year I’d hope in other jurisdictions. So it’s not a question of one cab fitting every situation here and what comes first. It was made clear to us in Barunga that we ought to legislate, that there ought to be a legislated response, something akin to the ATSIC kind of arrangement. That was a pretty clear proposition that came to us. That’s one strong position that has been put up. There are other people who will no doubt have other views, even at that meeting in Barunga they were concerned about s.122, the Territory power and they talked about the Race Power which didn’t come forward out of Uluru at all.

KARVELAS: Lots of complex issues there... This comes as Bill Shorten says too many Indigenous children are being taken away from their families and he has vowed to hold a summit to tackle this issue in the first 100 days as Prime Minister if Labor, of course, is elected. Now you’d be a Minister in the Labor Government, first 100 days, do you think this needs a serious national response and do you see this as a serious area for reform?

DODSON: It’s absolutely a serious area for reform. I mean there are over 17,000 young people in out-of-home care, twice the number since the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission out of Don Dale, there are many things about that are cross-jurisdictional that have to be dealt with that deal with youth and that deal with their families and that deal with the age of criminal responsibility. All of those matters are part of this process. It’s all part pf how families can be enabled to take their own responsibilities and not being constantly vilified and victimised by draconian policies.

KARVELAS: Senator Pat Dodson good luck with your work, I know you are going to be traveling around the country. It’s been a pleasure to have you on RN Drive.



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