Q&A: Indigenous leaders rule out compromise as Wyatt, Pearson and Dodson fail to show | Australia news
Indigenous Australians should not be forced to adopt a compromised position or endure another round of consultation on constitutional recognition because Indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt has ruled out supporting a key proposal, Aboriginal leaders have said.
Wyatt, the Labor senator Patrick Dodson and the Cape York leader Noel Pearson were all invited to be panellists on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday, but none attended.
The Labor MP Linda Burney and the APY Lands chairwoman, Sally Scales, criticised Wyatt, four days after he said in the annual Lingiari lecture that a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament would not be considered as part of a referendum on constitutional recognition.
Instead he said he would take a “pragmatic” approach foreshadowed in a joint select committee report last year, and in his press club speech last month.
Enshrining a representative First Nations body in the constitution was one of two key recommendations of the landmark Uluru Statement.
Burney, the shadow Indigenous affairs spokeswoman, said Labor supported the Uluru Statement in full but she would continue to work with Wyatt in a bipartisan way.
She said she was “disappointed” that “Ken made the decision – someone made the decision – that Ken wasn’t appearing” on Q&A, but that only he could explain why he felt a First Nations advisory body should not have constitutional protection.
Scales said Wyatt’s position pushed the debate on constitutional recognition back to 2015, before the idea of a symbolic reform was soundly rejected by national community dialogues.
“We have had eight reports in eight years around constitutional recognition in one form or another,” Scales said. “Do we want to wait another eight years? Do we need another eight reports?”
Asked by host Tony Jones if she or other delegates who signed off on the Uluru Statement in 2017 would be prepared to compromise, Scales said: “I won’t.”
“We have compromised so much already,” she said. “As Indigenous Australians, as First Nations people, we have compromised a lot. So why do we have to keep compromising?”
Liberal senator Julian Leeser, who co-chaired a joint select committee, said Wyatt and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, both supported a referendum and an Indigenous voice to parliament, just not combining the two. He would not comment when asked if Wyatt had been told not to advocate for a constitutionally enshrined voice.
Leeser, a leading constitutional conservative, has advocated support for the Uluru Statement and said he remained “committed to constitutional recognition that involves recognition of some form of consultative mechanism for Indigenous people.”
Both Leeser and Burney said the next step of the process, the co-design of the voice between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, should be the urgent priority.
“We should celebrate the fact that we have got a commitment to constitutional recognition and that’s a bipartisan position, and we have a commitment to a voice and that’s a bipartisan position, and we’ve got a commitment to co-design.” Leeser said.
Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, also on the panel, said the debate was a “distraction” from grassroots issues like high rates of Indigenous suicide and family violence.
The chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Patricia Turner, rejected that suggestion.
“Well, it hasn’t distracted me,” Turner said. “We’re working very hard to close the gap and to ensure that Aboriginal voices are at the table in negotiations with government as equals.”
Burney said the debate was not “a zero-sum game.”
“This is not about a voice as opposed to social justice issues,” she said. “This is about both of those things at the same time.”
Burney, Turner and Scales said the government needed to “get on with it”.
“We can’t leave this for another generation to have the same discussion about a permanent, secure voice to the Australian parliament, representing the views of First Nations people,” Burney said.