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TV interview – ABC TV 730 with Laura Tingle

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subject: The Voice

730 HOST, LAURA TINGLE: Political divisions about the proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament seem to keep growing with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton last week writing to the Prime Minister saying he was making a catastrophic mistake in not providing adequate details to allow Australians to make an informed decision on the Voice. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has returned fire, challenging Mr. Dutton to make clear his position on a referendum on the issue. Mr. Dreyfus joins me now live from Canberra. Mark Dreyfus, why is Peter Dutton wrong here? Isn't the Government playing into the hands of opponents of the Voice by letting this perception believes that there's some hidden detail that you're not sharing with people?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good to be with you, Laura, and Happy New Year. There's already substantial information available on the Voice. We've heard from the Referendum Working Group, which includes people like Ken Wyatt and Marcia Langton and Megan Davis and Noel Pearson. They've developed key design principles for the Voice. And it's things like this that are already out there. The Voice will provide independent advice to the Parliament and Government. It is going to be chosen by First Nations peoples based on the wishes of local communities. It's going to be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It's going to be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, culturally informed. It's going to include youth. It's going to be accountable and transparent. It's going to work alongside existing organisations. And importantly, the Voice will not have a veto. It won't have a program delivery function. All of that information is already out there, Laura.

TINGLE: Even supporters of greater Indigenous recognition and of the Voice are a little bit mystified about some of these structural issues. For example, you've just mentioned, the co-design process, the Calma-Langton report, you often refer to them but you don't actually endorse their principles. Similarly, you've got a couple of bodies advising you on the referendum process but we're not quite sure what their reporting systems will be. There's not a formal process to allow people to make submissions on the wording of the Voice. Isn't that vagueness helping feed the uncertainty once again?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm looking forward to a successful referendum in the second six months of this year Laura. The question that Australians are going to be asked to support is constitutional recognition in the form of the Voice to Parliament. It's a principle that we are putting into the Constitution. And when the referendum succeeds, and I'm looking forward to it succeeding, then it will be the turn of Parliament to address the form and function in those fine details.

TINGLE: Well, let's just talk about that process, because I think a lot of people are a little bit confused about it. The first stage of what has to happen is that the Parliament has to vote to set up the referendum and I think also the question that we put to it, doesn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's right. That's what section 128 of the Constitution says - you have to have a bill to change the Constitution pass both houses of the Parliament. And then there's a timetable it can't be less than two months or more than six months after that then you go to the referendum. The Prime Minister has already set out a draft set of amendments to the Constitution some three sentences in his speech, his historic speech, at the Garma conference in July last year. And in the second six months of this year, we're going to keep our commitment to the Australian people that we made at the last election, which is to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart and to bring a referendum to the people to change our Constitution.

TINGLE: So who will actually determine the final wording that is put to voters in the referendum? Will the Cabinet decide that and what chance is there for the Parliament to debate the actual wording of that crucial question on for the Constitution?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There has to be a bill passed by both houses of our Parliament. There'll be ample time to debate the form of the question and what the sentence, what the changes to be included in the Constitution actually are.

TINGLE: Tom Calma, who was one of the authors of the co-design process observed that there wasn't a lot of value in releasing a draft bill on the structures of the Voice before the referendum, because people have already made up their mind whether they are vehemently opposed to it or not. Do you feel like the Government has to deal with a significant element of entrenched hostility to Indigenous people in the Australian community?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that there is going to be a need to campaign, Laura. And that campaign is going to start in the next several weeks and will run through to the date on which we hold the referendum in the second six months of this year. I'm looking forward to that campaign. I'm focused on getting a successful outcome to the referendum because I think this is going to be a unifying moment for Australia. We've waited a long time for constitutional recognition to take place. We've been talking about it for decades. It culminated, that recognition process culminated, at Uluru in May of 2017. With the magnificent, generous offer that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is. And my view is Australian people should accept that generous offer. That's what this referendum is about.

TINGLE: So when will we see that legislation to set up the referendum and the actual wording of the question because that's going to be fairly important in crystallizing the debate, isn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That will occur within some months. We've got first the referendum machinery changes, which is a bill already introduced to the Parliament at the end of last year. Now it's necessary to get that organised as well. And after that there'll be a bill to change the Constitution that we will bring to both houses of the Australian Parliament.

TINGLE: Within the next couple of months?


TINGLE: Beyond the referendum question itself, opinion seems to be splintering across the political spectrum about the order in which things should be done. We're seeing parts of the Greens and the Indigenous community arguing for treaties to be prioritised and for recommendations, decade-old recommendations of royal commissions to finally be implemented. Even if you're not prepared to change the order in which you do things what can you do to satisfy some of those demands?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I do think the order is important, Laura. The Uluru Statement from the Heart called for the Voice to be done first. Our commitment to the Australian people made at the May 22 election was to honour and implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart, starting as the Voice. The Uluru Statement called for starting with the Voice. That's what we're going to do and of course there are other elements in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. They include truth telling and treaty but they come next. They come after the Voice is put in our Constitution as constitutional recognition - long overdue of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

TINGLE: In the report on the co-design Tom Calma and Marcia Langton recommended that regional and state bodies which will deal with local and state government issues should be established first. What's the Federal Government going to do about establishing those voices and where do they come in the process?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, there's been a lot of references made to the Calma-Langton report. We've heard from Ken Wyatt, who is participating in the Government's Referendum Working Group, the former Minister for Indigenous Australians. He took, he's said publicly, that he took that Calma-Langton report and proposals for legislation to the Cabinet in the former government twice, but of course, nothing came out of that process. There'll be plenty of time after the referendum passes, and I'm looking forward to it passing, for there to be full discussion in the Parliament on the precise form and function that the Voice will take. And that will include looking at those matters that the Calma-Langton report is about.

TINGLE: Mark Dreyfus. Thanks for your time tonight.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Laura.