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On Uluru

Jul 23, 2019 • 15m50s

Despite hopes that were placed in Ken Wyatt as minister, Scott Morrison says there will be no constitutional enshrinement of an Indigenous Voice to parliament. Karen Middleton on the campaign to keep the Voice alive.

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On Uluru

41 • Jul 23, 2019

On Uluru

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

The Uluru statement’s proposal for an Indigenous voice to be written into the constitution has been rejected again by Scott Morrison. Despite hopes that were placed in Ken Wyatt’s appointment, the prime minister says he would veto the enshrinement. Karen Middleton on the models that might follow and the campaign to keep the voice alive.

[Theme ends]

ELIZABETH:

Karen, what’s the government's latest position on the Uluru statement?

KAREN:

Well the firm position of the government that was expressed firstly by Malcolm Turnbull when he was prime minister, and now by Scott Morrison, is that it would veto any attempt to enshrine a voice, an Indigenous voice in the Constitution.

ELIZABETH:

Karen Middleton is the Saturday paper’s chief political correspondent.

KAREN:

The government is open to considering constitutional recognition, in fact it's in favour of it, in terms of a statement that acknowledges the place of first Australians in the Australian story. But it doesn't want to enshrine a voice - an advisory body in the Constitution.

[Music starts]

KAREN:

It feels that that somehow would subsume Parliament's power and it's not prepared to do that.

Archival tape —Scott Morrison:

“issues of -- the process of a voice were not being considered in the constitutional context. I mean, our position on constitutional recognition goes back to the time of John Howard.”

KAREN:

There had been some hopes I think among advocates for recognition that involved a voice that maybe that position was changing after the election. The prime minister had expressed a lot of sentiment in favour of doing something to address some of those issues related to Indigenous disadvantage and particularly the atrocious rates of Indigenous suicide. And he appointed Ken Wyatt the Western Australian MP, who is the first Minister for Indigenous Australians, who is an Indigenous Australian. And so the combination of those things, I think suggested to some people that maybe the position might have changed a little bit, but it remains the same.

ELIZABETH:

And Karen broadly before we go any further, what is it that the Uluru statement asks for?

KAREN:

Its drafters say they want a statement in the Constitution about the place of Indigenous people. Further, they want the establishment of a first nations voice that's enshrined in the Constitution, and they want a Makarrata Commission to supervise the process of agreement making between various levels of government and Indigenous Australians, so treaties effectively. And also to oversee truth telling in their history. So that aspect of telling Australia's historical story honestly and not airbrushing out some of the bad things that happened in relations between the European settlers and Indigenous people.

ELIZABETH:

So that’s where voice, treaty, truth is coming from.

KAREN:

That’s right. That’s the key aspects of the Uluru statement.

ELIZABETH:

And going to Ken Wyatt, let's start with the leak that happened in the Courier Mail in February. What is it that Wyatt presented to Morrison in the days just before he took the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians?

KAREN:

Yes well this is interesting, it didn't get a lot of attention at the time because this leak was published around the time the ministers were being sworn in, the opposition was trying to figure out who was going to be its new leader. So this sort of passed a lot of people by. But it was a draft proposal that Ken Wyatt had created and presented to the Prime Minister and he said subsequently that he had intended to present it to Nigel Scullion, who was then the minister. But this was leaked interestingly at the end of May in the Courier Mail Brisbane newspaper, just a day or so after Ken Wyatt was sworn in as Minister and it was seen in certainly in the Indigenous community and among those observers who did notice it, that it was a bit of a shot across the bow or it looked that way from perhaps conservative people who were opposed to enshrining a voice in the Constitution. This was maybe a message from conservatives to both Scott Morrison and Ken Wyatt to be very careful about what they were doing.

ELIZABETH:

So the leak had a political motivation?

KAREN:

That was the assumption I think from those who who noted it, that often these things are leaked with a reason and it looked as though this had been published to expose the behind the scenes negotiations to the light. It was a bit of a surprise to some of the Indigenous people because they hadn't been consulted on this and the whole point that was being driven home -- both the idea of the voice and through the Uluru statement -- is that Indigenous Australians want to be consulted.

ELIZABETH:

And a spokesperson for Ken Wyatt told you that this proposal wasn't intended to go into the Constitution?

KAREN:

That's correct. She said that that was not the intention, that this was a body that would sit outside the constitution, would be legislated, but it wouldn't be entrenched in Australia's founding document.

ELIZABETH:

A little while later he gives a pretty major speech to the press club. This is now just a couple of weeks ago. What does he say in that press club address...

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Ken Wyatt:

“The concept of the voice in the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not just a singular voice, and what I perceive it is - it is a cry to all tiers of Government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians at all levels… The voice is multilayered and includes voices of individuals, families, communities and Indigenous organisations, who want to be heard by those who make the decisions that impact on their lives. All they want is for governments to hear their issues, stories and their matters associated with their land, their history. They're asking the three tiers of government to stop and take the time to listen to their voices.”

[Music ends]

KAREN:

Well he talks about, with great passion actually, about the Uluru statement from the heart and the importance of it. But he talks there about it not being a singular voice. Now Ken Wyatt favours a model of a voice outside the Constitution as we now know, although even that was a little unclear to some people listening, that involves regional level representation and then the coordination at a national level. And he points to the Productivity Commission which is also I suppose for some of us outside the process watching a bit confusing just because that is a very administrative body that looks at government policy and government programs, but obviously wouldn't have the same emotional place or status as the proposed Indigenous voice would have. But he says it's a model in terms of giving sound advice to government that government can take on board and then use to draft its legislation or redraft when improvements are suggested.

ELIZABETH:

And how does the Prime Minister respond to the press club speech that Wyatt makes?

[Music starts]

KAREN:

Well he didn't respond publicly at all really but what happened was that the Australian newspaper a couple of days later, after there'd been some speculation that perhaps Ken Wyatt was still leaving open the possibility of enshrining a voice in the Constitution, the Australian published a story that suggested that Mr Morrison was very much ruling that out... reemphasising the position that he had expressed after he took the prime ministership late last year that there would be no voice enshrined in the Constitution under his watch.

ELIZABETH:

So Karen was that piece in The Australian seen as a pretty clear veto from Scott Morrison?

KAREN:

Yes I think it was.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Karen the government seems to be ruling out constitutionally enshrining a voice to parliament, which was called for in the original Uluru statement from the heart. Nonetheless, there is money in the budget for some action. How much has been set aside and what do we expect it will be spent on?

KAREN:

Yeah that's right. The budget set aside about $7 million dollars for a process of co-designing an Indigenous voice. Now that is an Indigenous voice we now know is designed to sit outside the constitution but nevertheless exist to advise government. So it's in a sense government going halfway towards what the Uluru statement requests. And then there's a separate amount of money that's been in the budget for a constitutional referendum that would recognise and acknowledge Indigenous people. Now that would be a statement of acknowledgement of the place of Indigenous people - that's what the government says now. So there's a lot of money set aside for that process if and when it begins. But of course we haven't seen that process start formally yet.

ELIZABETH:

So a key part of the Uluru statement is for the voice to be enshrined in the constitution. Why is it that the drafters of the statement insist on this?

KAREN:

Well they argue that back through history whenever there has been an Indigenous body that advises government on the impact of government policies on Indigenous Australians, and that's government policies that are directly made to impact on Indigenous Australians, those bodies have always been controlled by government, it's either controlled the way that people were appointed or the way that it's run. And it's also been able to abolish those bodies whenever it wanted to. And so they are asking that even though the detail of such a body would still be worked out in legislation which would give the parliament the supremacy to control the way that it was formed, and the way that it operated, it couldn't be abolished.

Primarily people when they think about this talk about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, ATSIC, which was formed under the Hawke government and eventually abolished some 15 years later under the Howard Government. John Howard and his government didn't like ATSIC at all, were very critical of it from the moment that it was created. It was an elected body that involved regional councils and a national body. And it did have its problems. Now Indigenous people argue - and many people who've studied it also argue - that what should have happened was that there should have been changes to improve the structure and remove some of the problems that caused its demise. There was infighting over money, there were some structural problems, but the regional councils worked well according to those who most recently analysed it and there was scope to build on it and to make a more successful body under a better model. But instead that was abolished. And so those who are critical of Indigenous people being given a further say will point to ATSIC and say, ‘see it's a disaster. It didn't work.’ Others will say, ‘actually it wasn't as bad of a disaster as people think. It could have worked much better but it wasn't given the chance.’

ELIZABETH:

And when ATSIC was in existence when it did function, did it function effectively like what's being proposed for the voice to Parliament but without constitutional protections?

KAREN:

The general idea is similar, a body that would involve genuinely representative people, whether they are directly elected, partly elected and partly appointed, or some other model. The leaders of the Uluru dialogues are arguing that what should happen first is a referendum on the general principle that there should be an invite advisory body that is permanent, and that there should be a general question put to the people for constitutional change to enshrine a voice. And after that, there should then be the detail thrashed out involving a co-design process like the government has funded, to work out what form that should take. But ultimately Parliament would be the body that decided how that should look and could legislate it, but it couldn't ultimately abolish it.

ELIZABETH:

And what is likely to be the next chapter of this debate do you think? I mean Ken Wyatt has said we’re likely to have a referendum within the next three years, but what do you think is going to happen next?

KAREN:

Well a number of things are happening. On the government side Ken Wyatt is convening consultations with all kinds of groups, he's been speaking to business leaders and interestingly some big corporations in Australia are actually saying to him: ‘we want a voice enshrined in the Constitution, we don't think it's a scary thing. You should think about it.’ There are other people who have differing views. Separately from that we're seeing the indigenous leaders run a process of engaging and informing the general public outside the political process. They are going around and talking to people. They point to the 67’ referendum where it was a people's movement that succeeded in getting such a strong vote in favour of constitutional change at that point. And you're starting to see people speaking out in public, in fact, we've seen the former Chief Justice in recent days Murray Gleason give a speech in which he says that a voice enshrined in the constitution is nothing to be afraid of that it's perfectly reasonable as long as the supremacy of Parliament is maintained and that's exactly what the Indigenous leaders say they want to do.

ELIZABETH:

And Karen even in the wording of the statement, there is a very clear message that this isn't just directed toward the Australian Government, but it's written for the Australian people as well to consider themselves. That's why they're going around to fetes and other sporting events to say ‘this isn't actually just about our engagement with government, it's our at batter engagement with the Australian people.’

[Music starts]

KAREN:

That's right. The statement from the heart is both practical and symbolic. It is both hard hitting and passionate and emotional and poetic in some places. And at the end of it - and I'll quote from it - it says ‘in 1967 we were counted, and that's a reference to the referendum in 2017, when this was written. We seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.’ So that's the statement that says: ‘we're talking to you directly, we're appealing to you directly, to understand our predicament that the state of our people and the need for us to be a much more integral part of policymaking and decision making as it affects our people in this country going forward.’

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be back with headlines right after this.

[Music ends]

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[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne have been found not to have breached the ministerial standards after taking jobs in the private sector. Pyne, who was defence minister before leaving parliament, took up a defence consultancy with EY. And Bishop, who was foreign minister, is now on the board of Palladium, which has millions of dollars in contracts with her old department. The investigation, by the head of the Prime Minister's department, found no breach but also found there were no actions that could be taken against a minister who had left parliament.

And Australia swimmer Mack Horton has refused to acknowledge his Chinese rival, Sun Yang, after the latter won the 400m freestyle at the world titles in South Korea. Sun was allowed to compete despite the fact he’s waiting to face a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in September, where he might be banned for life after allegedly smashing blood vials last year. Sun has previously served a ban for doping.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Wednesday.

[Music ends]

The Uluru statement’s proposal for a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament has been rejected again by Scott Morrison. Despite hopes that were placed in the appointment of Ken Wyatt to the portfolio, the prime minister says he would veto the change. Karen Middleton on the models that might follow and the campaign to keep the Voice alive.

Guest: Chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton.

Background reading:

Coalition divided on First Nations voice in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

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