SUBJECTS: Prime Minister rejects Indigenous voice to parliament  

JOURNALIST: Returning now to our earlier story that an Indigenous voice to parliament enshrined in the constitution has been formally rejected by the Prime Minister. Joining us live now from Canberra for more on this is Senator Patrick Dodson, he's the Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Senator, appreciate your time. You've criticised this decision today but do you really think that specific proposal actually had a good chance of being passed at a referendum?

DODSON: Well that's for the people of Australia to decide really. My view is you do your homework, you provide the best opportunities, and you explain what the proposition is. We haven't even got to that stage and the whole thing has been sidelined.

JOURNALIST: I've seen reports that you personally when this was announced you said you found the idea puzzling and a bolt in the dark, did you actually think there was a lot of merit in this idea? It wasn't too ambitious? We know that it was pretty light on detail in terms of how this advisory body would actually work.

DODSON: Well I'd obviously come from the Expert Panel experience and the proposition that came from Uluru about entrenching a voice in the constitution was relatively new. But it wasn't new in terms of the work that Noel Pearson had been doing with the assurances of the conservatives when he basically did a deal with them to trade off the proposed 116A which is a non-discrimination recommendation, for an entity as it was called at that time. Over the course of the consultations it morphed into this notion of entrenchment given the political history of how national entities have been treated by governments over the years. I think that notion was relatively new but that doesn't mean it was absolutely out of the blue in the sense that people want a voice, they want to have a say. The rest of the content from Uluru makes it very clear. People have been sidelined in terms of influence and capacity to ensure that policies are apt and appropriate. They want to be clear about how they resolve some of these long existing concerns about treaties and about compensation and about governance - these are big issues. The world has moved on. There is a United Nations Declaration on Indigenous People’s rights, Australis is yet to domesticate that particular declaration. We live in different times, there are nations around the world that have Indigenous Peoples who are advising those countries on matters that pertain to their uniqueness. The statement as I read it is not only a rejection of enshrining any Voice in the constitution but First Nations People having any voice in their own uniqueness to the parliament is quite a serious matter as well.

JOURNALIST: Well the Liberal Minister Ken Wyatt suggested just here on Sky News a short time ago that the Prime Minister is actually committed to some sort of Indigenous voice in the parliament just not enshrined in the constitution. Is Labor open to working with the Coalition on another way to make that happen, perhaps through legislation? Do you think that could be a viable way to now move forward?

DODSON: The Prime Minister’s letter to the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and his statement has only just arrived. I haven’t had a chance to look at the substance of that letter. I don’t doubt what Ken Wyatt’s saying but until I see the actual detail on what the Prime Minister is talking about – and he's been all over the place on this – then it’s very hard to say yes we will work with the Government. We’ve been waiting and Labor has put a proposition to the Government for a joint standing committee to deal with these matters and I notice he is talking about that.  So we will have to look at the terms of reference. I am concerned as I said about not only the entrenchment being rejected out of hand, but also the notion of having any kind of representative entity being interfacing with the Government. If that’s the case then it is going to be very difficult for Labor to take a bipartisan approach to this.

JOURNALIST: So yeah just to clarify Labor’s position, despite Cabinet now rejecting this idea is Labor going to continue to support it? Will you take this as a policy to the next election supporting enshrining this Indigenous voice in the constitution and if so what sort of time frame to you envision for a referendum on this matter if Labor does win Government?

DODSON: We have only heard the Prime Minister ten minutes ago say he’s rejected it. I haven’t seen the detail of the rejection, or his proposal, we’ll look at that closely, and we’ll listen to what First Nations Peoples are saying about this and we will be open to that discussion. But we are not going to be driven down a highway with a Prime Minister who is afraid of a referendum to entrench the Indigenous peoples aspiration, that is, a voice to the parliament. That’s dismissed out of hand it seems to me and Labor will certainly be entertaining this discussion with Indigenous leaders about how best to achieve such a thing. We haven’t tested this with the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Is there any point now pursuing symbolic recognition when we have heard from Indigenous leaders through the Uluru convention that that’s not exactly what they want?

DODSON: Look I think it would be highly insulting to revert back to something symbolic when First Nations Peoples have spent a lot of time, in consultations, around very complicated issues They have come forward with a proposal out of Uluru about a First Nations Voice, about a Makarrata Commission, about truth-telling and about agreement making and about really trying to move the agenda forward to ensure that they can participate in the policies that affect their lives and get better outcomes for the public sector outlays as well as resolve these age long divisions that have been between us. If we can’t as a Parliament face up to that debate and discussion, then Labor is not going to be party to misleading the First Nations about these matters. We’ll sit down and have discussions with them as we will internally, once we have a chance to look at the detail of what the Prime Minister is putting forward.

JOURNALIST: Senator Patrick Dodson thank you for joining us here on The Latest this evening.


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