SUBJECTS: Indigenous recognition, Closing the Gap refresh


SABRA LANE: As AM reported yesterday, there is anger and confusion over the pace of lack of it in progressing ideas from the Uluru constitutional convention. Supporters of the idea of a referendum on whether an elected Indigenous advisory body should be set up fear the whole idea has fallen off the political agenda while politicians focus on the same-sex marriage survey. Senator Pat Dodson is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, he too thinks the process has stalled, and he joins us now, Senator good morning and welcome to AM.

DODSON: Good morning Sabra.

LANE: Your words on this issue were pretty strong, you interpret the Government’s silence as ‘shutting it down, leaving this issue to fester and die on the vine of resentment,' what do you think’s going on?

DODSON: Well there’s a whole lot of inertia on the Government side. There’s been no indication for over five months now to the Uluru statement, over four months since the Referendum Council made its recommendation and not a word from the Government in relation to how they might proceed to take these matters forward and certainly very little response to the Labor proposition to set up a joint house committee to try and progress these matters.

LANE: What happens if this issue isn’t tackled in the near future

DODSON: Well, it will die on the vine basically. The hard work over ten years or more of the Expert Panel initially, the Parliamentary Committee, the Referendum Council, those many 12 or so dialogues around the nation culminating at Uluru – that will all dissipate and go to nothing.  It will leave the nation still wondering how to recognise the Indigenous people. Because Indigenous people are not going to go away, the First Nations are going to agitate for recognition in some shape or form.

LANE: Have you tried to speak to the Prime Minister about this or the minister responsible Nigel Scullion?

DODSON: I’ve spoken to Nigel Scullion on many occasions, and he keeps saying ‘yes it’s coming, yes it’s coming, it’s coming’ it’s a bit like waiting for Godot you’re waiting for something to turn up. I have hopes that the bipartisanship that Labor is still open to can be realised. But you’ve got to understand that Indigenous people are very frustrated that our issues and concerns go to the heart of the nation as well, they are not just about Aboriginal people, this is about Australia’s identity and Australia’s reputation internationally. We are now sitting on the UN Council, so we have got some reputational issues here as a nation to deal with such as the legacy of the displacement of Aboriginal people What they have said to us very clearly is we want a voice to Parliament, we want a Makarrata Commission to deal with truth-telling and Agreement making, and we want to get on with life.

LANE: What do you think about the argument here, some people have said look, the Government is pretty focused right now on the same-sex marriage plebiscite, that it is taking one big issue at a time. What do you think about that?

DODSON: Well they are a government, and there are many big issues they have to take on at any one time in government.  Some of them may not be of your choosing, and normally Governments are capable of doing that. But in this case, this is not as if it has just been sprung on the Government, this has been going on in a very orderly manner for over 10 years with recommendations made by the Expert Panel, recommendations made by the previous parliamentary committee, recommendations now made by the Referendum Council and by the Uluru gathering. So, the Government has had about ten years to weigh and consider some of these issues.

LANE: Do you worry about how the resentment might present itself in the Indigenous community if people get really frustrated that nothing is happening?

DODSON: Well I think it certainly adds to the disillusionment and the hopelessness out of the social policies that are not delivering the outcomes that people had hoped for. We now have a reshaping of the goals for Closing the Gap rather than focusing on making those goals better. They want to refocus and obfuscate it seems to me what it is the Government is going to do. But this matter is of national significance in terms of recognition of Indigenous people. A clear proposition has been put to the Australian nation, and we should respond to it.

LANE: Respond to it before Parliament rises at the end of the year?

DODSON: Well, we should set out a clear process going forward. We may not be able to solve all those issues because there are many issues to be discussed with First Nation’s Peoples, but there should be a clear assurance given by the Government that this is the framework, this is the timetable, and this is the process that is going to carry forward when Parliament rises.

LANE: Many local governments are now debating Australia Day, not recognising it. The Government has taken away the right of some councils to hold citizenship ceremonies as a response. Some MP’s have attacked these councils saying they should just concentrate on emptying peoples bins and stay out of politics. What do you think?

DODSON: Well I think democracy starts at the grassroots really and people in communities are going to have a discussion about many matters that concern them on a day to day basis. Obviously, there is a whole lot of rethinking about how to reshape and reposition the relationship with Indigenous peoples in this country that is happening. Local government is a good forum for some of those discussions to take place.  I don’t believe that they should be penalised if they are going to have difficult discussions. But ultimately they need to make their own decisions.

LANE: The Government as you mentioned is working on an overhaul of Closing the Gap ceremonies what input have you had in the process?

DODSON: Well I’ve expressed my view in the Parliament as to what I think about that. Basically that democracy starts at the grassroots and at a community level and that people should be free to discuss. I get the feeling that we’re becoming more and more draconian, we haven’t quite hit a fascist state but we are becoming very Gestapo-like when it comes to the freedoms and democracy adverse to the Government’s interest. That is something that as Australians it seems to me we have to take note of and start to protect. These things happen incrementally, they don’t happen with a big bang, and I’m worried that some of the foundations to our freedom in our democracy are being eroded.

LANE: Senator Dodson thank you very much for talking to AM this morning. 

DODSON: Thank you very much.

LANE: And AM invited the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion for an interview, and he was unavailable. 


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