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Television Interview – ABC News Breakfast

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: There has been a significant step towards a referendum to create an Indigenous voice to parliament over the weekend. For more, let’s bring in the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney. Good morning to you.


MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has suggested the likely wording of the referendum. He also says that details like the composition of the voice will come after the referendum, if it’s successful. I guess the question I want to ask you, shouldn’t Australians be equipped with as much detail before they vote, as opposed to afterwards?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: What we saw at Garma on the weekend was one of the most important, significant speeches from a Prime Minister around Aboriginal Affairs since the apology in 2008 by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. I can’t tell you how proud I felt, and the audience felt, when the Prime Minister stood up and made a commitment to the full implementation of Uluru and outlined to everyone there, and to the country, the possible question and changes to the Constitution, making very clear, that what we were entering now, was a consultation phase, and putting to the Australian people why a referendum is so important.

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: Ok, why can’t Australians therefore, when they’re given this question, be equipped with information about how the voice will be made up at the same time they vote on this proposal?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I understand there is debate around detail, but when you have a look at the fact that there has been 10 years of expert advisory groups, of parliamentary groups, of discussions with constitutional lawyers, of discussion with First Nations people, there is a lot of information in the public arena and I think Megan Davis has been making that point and of course there was the Marcia Langton and Tom Calma exercise in the last government that talked about what a voice might look like. The Prime Minister was very clear and I completely agree with him, that it is important that we now go out and consult about the voice. This referendum, Michael, is not a referendum of politicians, it is a referendum and a decision in the Australian public, and it will be owned by the Australian people. And that is very, very important.

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: You’ve told, what is a pre-recorded edition of Q&A which airs tonight on ABC TV tonight, that the voice will be elected. How would that work?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: What the Leeser-Dodson report said is that the voice will be representative. The point I was attempting to make was, in fact, that there is obviously – as the Prime Minister has pointed out – consultations, particularly with First Nations people, that need to be had about the way in which a voice would be constituted. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I want to make sure that there is involvement and discussion not only with Indigenous leaders, not only across the parliament, but importantly with the Australian public, about what we should do going forward. It is not about the “what” yet, Michael, it is about the “why”.

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: Do you believe casting forward to whenever the referendum is held – possibly next year – that there is the will within the Australian community, in the Australian public, for a big ‘yes’ vote?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I go back to 1967. You were probably too young and I was 10 years old when the referendum to count Aboriginal people in the Australian population was held. There was a 90 percent yes vote. The most successful referendum in this country and you know as well as I do how high the bar is, as the Prime Minister said on Saturday, how high the bar is in terms of referendum success in Australia. The feedback that I’ve had, the number of people who have approached me at Garma and in fact at the supermarket in Marrickville where I live, saying what is it that we can do to make a yes vote successful. And of course, the other thing is that we have received support from across the board, from faith leaders, from the BCA of Australia, from the union organisations, but we are not so naive to think that there will not be a scare campaign, that there won’t be people that will be detractors to this and the Prime Minister spoke about that again in Garma. But the thing that is important to focus on now Michael, is that this voice will be about two things it will be about entrenching in the Constitution a permanent Aboriginal body, so recognizing Aboriginal people in the Constitution, but it will also be about practical things that will be affecting the lives of First Nations people on the ground. Things like incarceration, things like child removal. Things like housing, things like educational outcomes. This voice is about making sure that what happens in the federal parliament is going to be a positive step forward both in terms of us as a nation, but also the life outcomes and the life choices for First Nations people in Australia.

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: Linda Burney, the Garma Festival was, and always has been, a tremendously moving few days for First Nations people, but, of course, while you were all up there came the news of Archie Roach dying. Truth-teller, musician, healer. I know you knew Archie fairly well. What are your reflections of him and his contribution to Australia?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Look, thank you so much for that. It’s devastating this news. Not just for First Nations people but I think for Australia. Like you said, Archie Roach, and his late wife Ruby Hunter, were remarkable people with remarkable stories. And Archie Roach was a songman, a truth-teller, and someone who really brought home to Australia – through that beautiful voice of his – the reality of the stolen generations. And today is also the 90th birthday of Lowitja O’Donoghue, another amazing First Nations woman who spoke truth to power. So, it’s a very emotional day for everyone.

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: I appreciate your time Linda Burney, thank you so much for joining us.


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