17 March 2021

SubjectsFirst Nations Voice to Parliament constitutionally enshrined; First Nations Union delegates;  Juukan Gorge 

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Firstly we just would like to acknowledge that we’re standing on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country and pay our respects to elders of this country, pas present and emerging and I’d like to take this opportunity to just acknowledge that we have FN members here from across Australia. They’re First Nations members of just about every union from across Australia. I welcome Thomas Mayor whose coordinated bringing them together and also Double R, Roy Roy, from the Gurindji nation, who will also speak here this morning.  

And with me is my colleague Senator Pat Dodson and Sharon Claydon, the Chair of our Labor Caucus is also here with us to show support, along with our First Nations caucus. 

It’s really significant to have Thomas and all our First Nations members here in this week in particular as we struggle with many pieces of legislation, but more importantly they’re here about a Voice to the Parliament being constitutionally enshrined. We’ve heard the concerns that Senator Dodson’s raised in relation to his motion in the Senate that was negatived yesterday and the Labor party will not give up on pursuing a Voice to the Parliament enshrined in the Constitution and that’s really what today is all about. So I’ll hand over to Thomas Mayor and then to Double R.  

THOMAS MAYOR, FIRST NATIONS UNION DELEGATE AND MEMBER OF MUA: Thanks you Malarndirri. We're here with possibly the biggest union delegation of Indigenous workers that there has been in a very long time. And we're here to talk about the First Nation's voice enshrined in the Constitution, because as unionists, we understand the importance of bringing our voices together, and that includes for truth-telling. We know that in this place, all of those that make the decisions in this place know the truth about the history of this nation and what has been done to our people. And what is missing is a voice to be able to use that truth, to begin to close the gap, to begin to reconcile this nation and to come together as one, a nation that we can be proud of, a nation that has over 100,000 years of continuous culture. So this is the most important thing that we're here to talk about today. We want to make sure that it's loud and clear, that a voice can not only be legislated, it must be protected in the Constitution, because every other voice that we've had in the past has been destroyed by hostile governments. It needs to be in the Constitution because we shouldn't be excluded. We have a rightful place and that must be found. And this government needs to make that choice. It's a disgrace that they have opposed truth telling and the talks about treaty. And if we had a voice, we think that would make it much harder for them to say no to things that are so obvious, that this legislation should achieve so thank you.  

MCCARTHY: I'd like to welcome Rob Roy, Double R, from the Gurindji nation just to say a few words on behalf of the Gurindji people. As you all know, the Wavehill Walkoff began to fight for land rights in terms of people in the Northern Territory, but in terms of Australia and in terms of equal wages and the fight for wages.  

ROB ROY, GURINDJI NATION AND FIRST NATIONS UNION DELEGATE: Thank you Senator McCarthy. First of all, I just wanted to say, acknowledge the land I'm standing on and pay my respects to the TOs. I've travelled over 15 hours from my community of Kalkarinji in the Northern Territory. I'm the member for the union as well, but also a proud Gurindji man. You know, it's people like us that live remote in the Northern Territory that the decisions are made for us from here from this building. And it would be good to have an enshrined voice, a voice that represents my mob here in tis Parliament House. There's a lot of changes that we want to see brought to our community, right across the Territory, for our people.  

MCCARTHY: Over to questions.  

REPORTER: Can I ask you, as someone who lives this life in community in the Northern Territory, when you see members of the government say they're concerned that a referendum won't get up, that Australians won't necessarily back that change, so that you can have this change in the Constitution, what's your message to them? 

ROY: Well, before they make any decisions like that to people who live out in the bush, they've got to come and live out there and experience how we live before they make any decisions for us. You know, whatever decisions they make here, it affects us, living remotely in our community in the Territory. So, I'd like to say, they go on about sitting in Parliament making decisions, but they ought to come and visit us living out there, first hand.  

REPORTER: What is the truth that you think he does need to heard here?  

ROY: We've come so much like a long way for us to be where we are since almost 65 years ago since Vincent Lingiari walked off for better education, better health, better housing. You know, some areas we're still struggling out there. The way we live is the Government that's making us live so that needs to be told and it needs to be heard [inaudible] out in Kalkarinji.  

MAYOR: And that's one of the great lessons we learned from the Gurindji experience. My union, the Maritime Union was a huge supporter of the Gurindji mob and great friends continuing and what we learned from the Gurindji is that, although they won some land back, the decisions were still made here that affected the way that they were able to live on their land, the way that they could achieve the dreams that Vincent Lingiari had. And so this is really the next step in this long walk that we've had to enshrine a voice in the Constitution so that we can influence those laws and policies in a greater way, so that we can live in our country the way that we want to live.  

REPORTER: We've seen a lot of delays in terms of {inaudible} you know next time next time. From your perspective, why do you think that is?  

MAYOR: Well, the reason there's delays from government, as far as the things that I tell us, what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need is because of the lack of political power on our side to be able to speak for ourselves, which is the key reason that we're calling for a Voice. The politicians need to be held accountable for the decisions they made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives that are chosen by the people and are accountable to their people. So that's why we so strongly support this.  

REPORTER: Do you have faith in Ken Wyatt's job in the ministry and if so, do you think he has enough sway with the government?  

MAYOR: Well, I think the Australian people need-- there's a wonderful thing about the Uluru Statement, in that it is written to the Australian people. And it says that basically we cannot rely on a minister or the government to do this without us getting behind it. I think over the last four years, that has been strongly demonstrated by the Australian people that they do support the reform that the Uluru Statement calls for and that we can win a referendum that enshrines the voice in the constitution. The Australian people are ready and, you know, it is that thing that is missing with delays to the things that we need and we can do it, so that's what the message is here today.  

REPORTER: Have you had the chance to meet with the Minister ot has any interactions with his office while you've been here?  

MAYOR: The campaign will be meeting with the Minister, yes absolutely.  

REPORTER: And what will you tell him?  

MAYOR: I won't be in that meeting personally. There are others from the campaign that are doing that, but it will be the same message that we cannot just legislate a Voice. The Voice must be constitutionally enshrined so it's protected from a hostile government, because if you can imagine this. The Voice is going to be speaking on behalf of our people and it should do so in an unapologetic way. There should be nothing to fear from that. But that is the most important thing, that it is protected to be able to do that, that it is empowered by the Constitution and the Australian people. A referendum and the Constitution, therefore, is a powerful thing. A double majority of people saying that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives must be heard will make a huge difference in the way that things are done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.  

REPORTER: In your view, do you think there is any appetite on behalf of the Prime Minister who has so far not shown much interest in accommodating the [inaudible]. 

We had hope. You know, we have hope, that's why we're here. That's why we have people meeting with both sides of and parliament. We think that this is a fair thing to do. We think that it's time that we do it. We don't think it's something that anybody should be afraid of. There's so much more to be gained, over 100,000 years of continuous culture, actually closing the gap and stopping the wastage of money, you know, going into the wrong hands, not going to the communities, not being spent, you know, as it needs to be spent to help our people. And there's nothing to fear from that. And I think that the politicians, we think that the prime minister can be convinced.  

REPORTER: Consultations into the government's proposal opened in January. Have any of you had any feedback from any of your contacts about how those consultations have been going?  

MAYOR: Yeah, we understand, the campaign's had a look at the submissions so far and there's close to 200 submissions. They'd be more than that now. And over 90, over 95 percent of them are saying the same thing. They're saying that we need to constitutionally protect and empower this Voice. And so it goes against what the parameters or the terms of reference of the committee are. But just this overwhelming surge of support for Constitutionally enshrining this is coming through once again. It's consistent with what happened at Uluru. It's consistent with the 2018 Joint Select Committee. And all the indicators are that we can do this.  

REPORTER: If it went to referendum and was defeated, what next?  

MAYOR: Well, we just keep going. I mean, other countries don't stagnate in. You know, constitutions need to evolve, constitutions need to improve like any organisation, rules, anything like that. And when something is right, you just need to keep taking it back and educating a whole lot of more people every time until we win. But, you know, all of the indicators are that we can win this the first time that we do it. All we need is the leadership from Parliament. We need the leadership from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders. There's already the leadership showing  from corporates, from unions like we're here today with the full support of. And we can win this.  

REPORTER: Senators, you two sit in Parliament. Do you think there's any real appetite from the current Government to actually move on this?  

SENATOR PATRICK DODSON: Well, there's absolutely no will. The government is dragging the chain. We've got descendants here from Mr. Vincent Lingiari. I was a boy when the town hall of Katherine was packed with white fellas who called for rights for whites when the Gurindji walked off Wavehill Station. You know, these things have dragged on and dragged on. Everyone knows what's there that we have to do. And that is face up to the truth, begin the truth telling process, the stories that all of these people here can tell you so it's well and truly understood in the public space so we don't have to pussyfoot around with more and more delays, waiting for someone to come do the numbers of the back bench to give them support. So, you know, this is a national disgrace, that this is four years old, this statement, and it goes back to 30 years ago, goes back in 1938, the day of mourning in La Perouse. Australians don't know their own history. And that's what the truth telling process is about, is learn about the Australian history and the interface of First Nations peoples with governments and agencies and the way that the rights of the First Nations people have been denied and the quality of life has been subject to the administration of inept governments over the years. So this Government, whether it's got an appetite or not, it's got an obligation. It's got a clear obligation given to it by the 67 referendum to occupy the space if necessary, to pass laws in favour for the First Nations peoples in collaboration with the states. It's got to lead. And that's what the prime minister has to do. And that's what the minister for Aboriginal Affairs has to do, is get out there and lead and bring the rest of those troglodytes behind them into the front space or expose them for what they are.  

REPORTER: [inaudible – Question on the Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia]. 

DODSON: Well, that's a matter for the committee. The committee will weigh and consider the evidence that's been given. It has made, as you know, an interim report that relates to Western Australia. I think now that the Western Australian government has had an election and the Labor government's been returned, that that heritage law can be improved beyond what the draft is. That's the first thing that needs to happen. And that'll be one of the things that I would be looking at very closely, as the West Australian Senator, to make sure that the state law is raised up so Section 18, which allows for the destruction of sites, is actually moved out of it