The Hon Linda Burney MP TV interview – ABC Afternoon Briefing

Minister for Indigenous Australians

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Now, we’ve attempted to cover the fact that it’s Reconciliation Week this week, even though it seems less visible to most this year. We did that with Ken Wyatt on Monday. We took up some reflections on setbacks to reconciliation that he had made with the incumbent Minister for Indigenous Australians today. Linda Burney spoke to us from her office here in Parliament House.

Linda Burney, you know, we always appreciate you having on the program, so welcome back once again. You’ve spoken in parliament, of course, about this being Reconciliation Week. I can’t help observing, though, that compared to last year, generally through the community, Reconciliation Week awareness and activity levels don’t seem to be running as high as they did this time last year before the Voice. Do you acknowledge that it, like other Indigenous programs, has hit a flat spot since last year?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I understand that people have mixed feelings about reconciliation at the moment. I also acknowledge that people are still very much feeling the outcomes of the referendum. Reconciliation, to me, is not a destination, it’s a journey. And Reconciliation Week is so important to remind people of the importance of reconciliation, of the importance of truth telling, of the importance of working together.

I’ve been to a number of reconciliation events this week. I was at the Coota Girls gathering in Sydney on National Sorry Day last Sunday, and the generosity of those people that were actually victims of the Stolen Generation and their commitment to reconciliation and working together and understanding each other is astounding. I also went to, didn’t stay for the game, went to Michael Long’s Long Walk, where there were thousands of Australians gathered in the spirit of reconciliation. And then last night here at the parliament, we had the illumination of parliament. And there were so many Members of Parliament and the broader community here to see Parliament House lit up in an Aboriginal artist’s design.

GREG JENNETT: I’m sure it still attracts lots of support and certainly at the events that you attend. We spoke to your former colleague and predecessor on the program this week, Ken Wyatt, who I think it’s fair to say came across quite deflated about the lingering effects after the Voice vote. Stagnation, he called it. But he was also pessimistic about initiatives, new ideas, new policies on closing the gap between now and the next election. He was pretty frank about it. What he said is those who oppose the Voice are unlikely to support governments pandering, his words, to a small minority.

LINDA BURNEY: Look, I am good friends with Ken, I respect him deeply. But on this one I respectfully disagree. The efforts, the investments that my government has made in terms of closing the gap in the last budget and the budget before are unprecedented. $4 billion in housing in the Northern Territory, $40 million in Central Australia for Learning on Country in the education arena, doubling the number of Indigenous rangers to 3800. Investments in renal dialysis machines. Investments in justice reinvestment. 3000 new real jobs in remote Australia. That’s where my focus is and that’s what we are delivering as we speak.

GREG JENNETT: And will that policy area be replenished and reinvigorated between now and the next election?

LINDA BURNEY: The commitments that we’ve made are unprecedented. You know, just, just think about it. $4 billion in partnership with the Northern Territory Government to halve overcrowding in the next decade. That changes lives. It means people can be healthy. It means children can learn. It means there are adequate facilities for cooking in homes. It means there is a lot safer, there is much more safety for young people. And the other thing that we are doing is investing in clean water. I think you and I have spoken about just how so many communities don’t have clean water. We are investing to give communities clean water and plentiful water. In fact, I was in Maningrida just two weeks ago and saw the literal work of proper water supply into that community.

GREG JENNETT: These are very important practical initiatives, I don’t question that for a moment. But now that the dust has settled, seven months has passed since the vote, what about very important things that are symbolic, including constitutional recognition? Have you yet turned your mind to when the country should return to some of those questions?

LINDA BURNEY: The states and territories, every single one of them, have various treaty and truth telling processes underway. And in fact, I spoke with my ministerial colleagues in states and territories this morning to hear some of the things that’s happening at that level. But the issue is this, unless we close the gap, unless we get some sort of equity in terms of life outcomes for First Nations people in this country, we are going to be going around and around and around.

Yes, constitutional recognition is important and the Albanese Government fulfilled its promise in terms of holding the referendum. It wasn’t the outcome that we all hoped for. But what I am on about, Greg, is that there were some really fabulous silver linings out of that defeat. Six and a half million Australians said yes. A new Aboriginal leadership is emerging with young people. And in communities like Tiwi and Wadeye and Maningrida, where the population is mostly Aboriginal, the votes were around 80% to 90% plus. So, these are things that I take out of it. I also say this very clearly is that the referendum was not a full stop, it was a comma. And what I hear from people as I travel around this country is that we have to find a new way forward and a new way forward we will. You know, reconciliation is a long journey. It’s a twisty road. Progress is never easy, but progress is happening and we just have to stay with it.

GREG JENNETT: It’s going to be geographically varied, though, isn’t it? When you look at the fact that this is not in large measure being driven now by a national government, but by the states, as you acknowledge, and some are decidedly less active than others, Western Australia would be a very good example. Is that satisfactory?

LINDA BURNEY: I think states and territories are at different levels and I’m not going to prejudge any of them. I’ve got a good working relationship with all states and territories, including Roger Jaensch in Tasmania, and that’s really important that we’ve got good lines of communication. We meet regularly and importantly, we meet regularly with the Coalition of Peaks, which of course helps us drive the Closing the Gap agenda. I am full speed ahead, I can assure you, on making sure that equity is in front of this country. And the really good thing about the referendum, for whatever the outcome is, it put Aboriginal disadvantage front and centre and every Australian understands it now, absolutely.

GREG JENNETT: That is true. And your former colleague Pat Dodson spoke about the 60/40 problem that Australia is going to have to resolve. One question that’s arisen and has been discussed nationally these last few days is whether Australia is or is not a racist country, does or does not have a problem with race. What’s your view on that?

LINDA BURNEY: I don’t think Australia is a racist country. But does racism exist? Of course it does. I mean, we can point to years ago now, but the Cronulla riots, for example, we can point to the experience of Adam Goodes, we can point to many instances of racism. So, racism does exist. But to say that Australia is a racist country in my view, is not accurate. The point about racism is it’s completely unacceptable. It doesn’t matter where it happens, whether it’s on the football field, whether it’s in journalism, whether it’s in school yards, it is not acceptable. And what really fills my heart is that we are hearing more and more, for example, the AFL, the NRL, where racism is not acceptable and will not be tolerated and people are acting on it.

GREG JENNETT: I definitely sense your optimism as always, Linda Burney, in Reconciliation Week. One last question, because we’re asking it of everyone in the Albanese government right now. You are a Cabinet Minister, in difficult days, I think it’s fair to say for Andrew Giles as immigration Minister, should he quit?

LINDA BURNEY: I know Andrew very well. He is a good Minister. He is diligent, he is compassionate, and he is engaged. He has been delivered a decision by the High Court. He has been delivered decisions by the AAT. But I can assure you that he has my admiration, he has my respect, and he is a good Minister.

GREG JENNETT: We’ll keep an eye on him and on the rest of the Government. Look forward to a discussion, who knows, maybe about Reconciliation Week this time next year. Linda Burney, always appreciated.

LINDA BURNEY: Thank you, Greg.

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