26 JUNE 2018


26 JUNE 2018
SUBJECTS: Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition

SABRA LANE: By the end of next month, a federal parliamentary committee will hand down an interim report on where to next with the issue of Indigenous recognition. It was set up after the Prime Minister rejected the Uluru Statement of the Heart's idea of an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. This latest parliamentary committee has the support of both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Joining us now is committee's co-chairmen; from the Government, noted constitutional expert and MP Julian Leeser, and the Opposition's spokesman on Indigenous Affairs Senator Patrick Dodson. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining AM this morning.
Mr. Leeser, first to you. You recently heard evidence from the Barunga festival. Is there a consensus view on what Aboriginal people want?
JULIAN LEESER: Well, one of the things that we’ve seen both at Barunga and in the Kimberley when we’ve been there is there’s a wide variety of views about what Indigenous people want. But there does seem to be quite a good amount of support for the broad direction outlined at Uluru. And the purpose of this committee as I’ve always said is to put meat on the bones of the direction that they have given us at Uluru. How do you establish a voice, and in particular what we have seen from some of these evidence we’ve got in remote communities is that people want to have a voice about local issues and local problems particularly.
SABRA LANE: Senator Dodson, one of the submissions you have received and I think the committee has received something like 300 submissions so far is from Mark Leibler who chaired the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition. He writes of the rejection of a voice to Parliament that quote ‘are we so mean-spirited, so lacking in national ambition, and imagination that we would tell Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people they reject their advice to Nation as to how they wish to be recognised. What’s your view on that?
PATRICK DODSON:  I think that there is certainly frustration and disappointment about how the Uluru Statement was received. But I think beyond that, we’ve now got a committee which both leaders have agreed to the setting up of. And there’s been a lot of work going on with consultations to not only deal with the entrenchment question, that is the referendum question bit to look at the Voice and legislative ways in which that might be done. And also to look at the Makarrata idea and the truth-telling and the agreement-making as well as how Government’s consult currently. So there’s been a good variety of diverse, as Julian said, diverse views put to us of very interesting corporation structures or Governance structures from some of the corporate entities that come from not only Indigenous people but also non-Indigenous people, they have come from academics and experienced bureaucrats of the past that have had various roles in either crafting the ATSIC sort of arrangements or participating in that. I think we as a nation have got to look forward. We’ve got to look at how we can come towards a response to what the people want, in terms of a Voice to the Parliament, and how best to do that. And we’ve been trying, as Julian said, to get the nuts and bolts of how this can be done in a way that we can mutually report on this and to encourage our colleagues in the Parliament that this is a good thing. It’s not going to upset the normal processes of Governance in this country.
JULIAN LEESER: And I have to say we’ve both approached the process in the spirit of goodwill and bipartisanship because frankly if you’re looking at something constitutional you need bipartisan support to get something constitutional and if we’re looking at things to be designed by way of  structures they need to have broad support because one of the features that I’ve heard repeatedly as we’ve gone around is that there’s so much change and chopping and changing in relation to Indigenous policy in our country and Indigenous people are pretty upset about that. And so I think it’s really important that we do get a wide degree of consensus here, and that’s what we’ve both tried to foster.
SABRA LANE: Mr. Leeser, a group including former Chief Justice Michael Kirby will put forward two ideas today on how the Voice could be a reality because one of the criticisms last year was that there was no structure and no ideas behind it as we’ve mentioned previously. Prior to your entry to politics, you were part of this group that’s come forward with these ideas today. Will these plans be examined by the Parliamentary committee?
JULIAN LEESER: We actually interviewed a couple of members of the group that has been putting this together last week in advance of their launch. So we’re certainly considering the submissions being put forward by the Uphold and Recognise group as we are from a whole range of other communities. I mean we need some ideas from the community about what the structure of the Voice might look like, how should it be constituted, who should comprise it, should it be appointed, should it be elected? What powers and functions should it have? And my understanding is that the proposal that’s coming forward has presented both a local option and a national option and we’re looking at both options seriously.
SABRA LANE: Both of you are on the record I think as saying a non-constitutional model established by legislation might be a way of gaining bipartisan support. I think Labor has certainly promised that. Will that be enough Pat Dodson to satisfy Indigenous ambition on what they want?
PATRICK DODSON: No, it certainly won't be. But again, these things don’t happen with a big bang, these are incremental matters and to some extent we're going back to the concept of a representative entity to the Government. We’ve had a history of this with the NAC, the NACC, ATSIC and so forth. But we’re in a new climate. I think we are seeing States and Territories discussing treaty arrangements or agreement-making with their constituents, we’re seeing Parliaments now talking about voices or entities to their own jurisdictions. I think there’s a growing awareness that for the goodwill of Governments of all persuasions over a long period of time, we need to seriously have the participation of the First Nations in delivering not only the policy proposals but the strategic ways to get the best outcomes for the community. So I think there’s some development going on. We need to take that on board and I think to find the way in which our colleagues in the Parliament get to understand that for the public sector outlays that we are making, we’ve got to get better outcomes and we will only get that if we have the First Nations participation in that.
SABRA LANE: Are all key Indigenous voices participating with this committee or are some boycotting it given what happened last year?
PATRICK DODSON: No, there’s been good participation. People have come along with their frustrations. Some people say ‘this is just another committee’ but I don’t think it is. I think this is the only mechanism the Parliaments got or one of the key mechanisms it has to deal with complicated issues like this. And it’s to the credit of the Parliament that we’ve actually got this committee in order to grapple with these things. So it could have easily slid off the edge and disappeared.
SABRA LANE: What’s the weight of expectation on both of you in trying to secure an agreement that’s both acceptable to Indigenous Australia and politically palatable? First to you, Julian.
JULIAN LEESER: Look if this was easy it would have happened already so we don’t underscore the task here or underplay the task, it’s a difficult task. But I think trying to approach it with as much goodwill as possible, trying to listen as much as possible to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is very important. We’re not able to do the extensive consultation that the Referendum Council did or that the Expert Panel did and nor should we. We don’t have the time but I also respect the processes that went on in both those bodies. But we’ve got to get something here that’s got the support of both sets of our parliamentary colleagues and the crossbenchers as well so the committee has crossbenchers too.
PATRICK DODSON: Well I think it’s really important that we find a way forward. That’s critical. We do have people who have come to us and talked about trauma, within the Indigenous community. Who’ve talked about the need for healing, and the need for moving on. Not just political presentations to the Parliament but a serious reconciliation or a reconciling of those dynamics that have given rise to the trauma that people experience in their daily lives. Some of those things can be solved by programs, but at the very centre of this is the question of recognition and how that recognition is given expression not only in the Constitution but in our legislative processes. So this is a real appeal and that was underpinning the Uluru Statement. People are making a plea to the Parliament of Australia and to the Australian people to shift the relationship. Let’s get a better way of dealing with each other over complex issues.
SABRA LANE: Julian Leeser, Patrick Dodson, thank you both for joining AM this morning.
JULIAN LEESER: Thanks Sabra.

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