Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
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Uluru Statement Joint Doorstop 26 May 2021

26 May 2021

SUBJECTS: Uluru Statement from the Heart; US military base in NT; War Crimes investigation and closure of Kabul Embassy.






SUBJECTS: Uluru Statement from the Heart; US military base in NT; War Crimes investigation and closure of Kabul Embassy.

SENATOR PATRICK DODSON: Thanks for coming along. Today, as you know is Sorry Day. It's the beginning of a week, tomorrow being marked by the 27th of May, the anniversary date of the referendum that gave the Commonwealth power to make laws for Aboriginal people, the change to section 51 (xxvi). And that was a unanimous acknowledgement by the Australian people that the Commonwealth should have powers to do things to improve the lives of Aboriginal people and that is against the backdrop of appalling social conditions, some of which we still see today. 

So the other terminus point, of course, is the third of June, which is the anniversary date of the High Court decision in Mabo. And it's also the period when we reflect on what's happening with the statement that came from Uluru. A very modest request by First Nations peoples, for a Voice to the Parliament to be entrenched in their Constitution. And today, we recall that the Reconciliation Action Plans that are being implemented across Australia really are calling for action. The fuzziness is gone. The time to redress systemic problems that we've known about for a long time now, going back to the Deaths in Custody report, the decisions in Mabo and Wik, we've known that Australian relationship, the period of reconciliation itself, culminating at the start of this new millennium. So, where are we at? And what's the Government doing to heal the wounds, advance First Nations positions, stop the incarceration rates which are out of kilter, stop the taking away of kids, impose some leadership on draconian laws that go to youth incarceration and bail applications and to do something about a serious Voice to the Parliament to help guide policies and legislation for the future of the Indigenous peoples in this country. 

So Sorry Day today, while we recall the awful policy that took kids away, that placed them in institutions where heinous things were done, and where the reparation process still hasn't been fully implemented across all jurisdictions and people still live with the legacy of the abuse that took place in those places and the denial of their own heritage and their connections to their peoples. So when you look at the many things that are not being done by this Government to redress the causes and the effects of First Nations peoples social, economic and political circumstances in this country, you have to have a sorry sentiment in your body to lament the fact that we've been given knowledge. There's no hiding from the fact that we've been given knowledge. The High Court, various inquiries, First Nations themselves calling for a Voice to the Parliament. There's no excuse for non-action. So we've got to ask ourselves why is this Government so lackadaisical, so laid back and waiting for something to happen, maybe in the you know, the dim distant future?

LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Thank you, Patrick. As Patrick's indicated, I'm joined today by Patrick Dodson, the Senator from Western Australia; Malarndirri McCarthy, the Senator from Northern Territory; Warren Snowden, the member for Lingiari; and our Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Patrick has spoken about what the Government is not doing. 

Today, everyone, is also the fourth anniversary of the Uluru Statement. It has gone nowhere under the Morrison Government, absolutely nowhere. We have had a process, a national conversation about the Uluru Statement except the people participating in that national conversation were forbidden to talk about the Uluru Statement. Labor today reaffirmed its commitment to the three elements of a route to a Constitutionally enshrined Voice to the Parliament. Labor has announced that in our first term of government we will hold a referendum to enshrine a Voice in the Constitution. We have also made a commitment to the establishment of a Makarrata Commission that would oversee two things, a process of national truth telling and treaty and agreement making. We are now in the throes of putting some meat on the bones of how we would go about making sure that Uluru becomes a living reality. The consultations that lead up to Uluru right across this country said loud and clear “this is what we want”. It was a generous statement. It was an inclusive statement and the Government has forbidden it to be even thought about, let alone considered. You cannot on the one hand say we will not do things to Aboriginal people but work with Aboriginal people, as the Government has said, and on the other hand completely ignore what First Nations people said loud and clear at Uluru four years ago. Four years ago today, and this country is a poorer country for not having listened to what people said. Well, Labor takes the view strongly that we will back in the Uluru Statement. We will back in self-determination. We will back in what First Nations people told us were the asks, most modest, generous asks that actually considered all Australians, not just First Australians. 

JOURNALIST: Malarndirri and Warren could I ask you if that's okay, as members of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory, reports this morning that the US Defence might be housing more military hardware, defence equipment, munitions in the middle of the Territory. The concerns about what could happen with conflict in the region. Would you be comfortable with a stronger US relationship, military agreement between Australia and the US based in the Northern Territory?

WARREN SNOWDEN, MEMBER FOR LINGIARI: Perhaps I should respond to that by saying I haven't seen those reports. But whether it's a permanent relocation of equipment is one thing. We have a relationship to the United States around the presence of United States Marines. Not on a full-time basis, but on the basis of annual visits to the Northern Territory. Until we've seen the detail of what you're talking about, I'm not prepared to make any further comment.

JOURNALIST: We had some evidence yesterday from the special investigator in regards to the possible impact of closing the Kabul embassy on war crimes investigations here in Australia. Are you concerned shutting an embassy could have a legal implication on the impact of the war crimes investigations?

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course this is a very difficult investigation and we are watching closely to make sure that the Office of the Special Investigator set up within the Australian Federal Police, now assisted by a former head of the Attorney-General's Department in Chris Moraitis, and a very eminent Australian lawyer and former Justice at the Court of Appeal Mark Weinberg, are properly resourced and able to pursue the recommendations of the Brereton Report. It will be a concern if there's a permanent loss of resources in Afghanistan because, quite clearly, pursuing prosecutions, laying charges and then bringing them to court is going to require resources on the ground in Afghanistan. It's unlikely that all of the prosecutions can proceed simply on the basis of evidence to be given by people who are now living in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: Should there be some sort of diplomatic presence, Australians in Afghanistan? 

DREYFUS: So your question was about the future conduct of prosecutions arising from the Brereton Report. All I can say is we are going to be keeping a very close eye on the whole of that process. That's why we asked questions about it in Senate Estimates yesterday. And it's early days. The unit in the Australian Federal Police has just been established.

JOURNALIST: But no view on whether the embassy closing will impact this?

DREYFUS: No, I wouldn't go beyond what was said yesterday in Senate Estimates by those involved in process. 

JOURNALIST: Linda, can I ask you, as somebody who has obviously worked very, very closely on this issue, what actually is needed by the Government?

BURNEY: What is required by the Government now, is a clear indication on whether or not they are prepared to constitutionally enshrine a Voice to the Parliament. My view, and the view of all of us, is that the Prime Minister is playing chicken on this. On one hand he says, yes, we'll have a legislated Voice, maybe a referendum. What First Nations people want, what this country needs, is a clear indication from the Government about what they do. I mean, look at their timeline. If there is an early election they have no chance of even legislating a Voice, let alone constitutionally enshrining it. 

BURNEY: Thanks everyone.