Bill's Transcripts


SUNDAY, 10 JUNE 2018

SUBJECTS: Barunga Festival; Indigenous Voice, Uluru Statement from the Heart; child protection.

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Bill Shorten thanks so much for joining us. I need to point out we've got a didgeridoo competition going on just over here which -

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Better than the noise of Question Time.

SPEERS: Exactly so we might hear that in a moment. Look, there's been a lot of talk here at this Barunga Festival about treaty obviously. It's 30 years since Bob Hawke promised treaty that was never achieved. Is a treaty something you would like to achieve as Prime Minister, if given the chance?

SHORTEN: Well, let's go and put this in context, I mean I am committed to resetting our relationship with Aboriginal Australians. I'll take - give me 30 seconds and I'll explain what I mean and then answer your question. First of all, First Australians don't have an equal relationship with the rest of Australia. I don't know if many people realise but their life expectancy is 10 years shorter. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are twice as likely to die in childbirth as non Indigenous women. On every health criteria First Australians are coming second. So I use that as an illustration of the bigger challenge. So we need to reset the relationship. Barunga was a place 30 years ago that Bob Hawke committed to a number of things, he accomplished some of them but what we didn't accomplish was a treaty. So what we want to do is use this festival to have a debate about resetting the relationship, about getting a fair deal for our first Australians.

Now that will involve a couple of stages, and this is where I come from the treaty point. The first stage is a Voice, a Voice to the Parliament from our First Australians - it's not a third chamber of Parliament as I think Mr Turnbull lazily dismissed it as. It's about making sure that when we make policies for First Australians, they're involved in their own decisions which affect their lives. Now what we would do if we got elected, is start the process towards establishing legislating a Voice and part of that would be a Makarrata Commission, a truth-telling commission. And part of it would be then asking this Voice to process through a treaty, it could be one treaty or a series of agreements, a series of treaties. I mean many other countries in the rest of the world have done it, Victoria, WA, Northern Territory have started that journey, so I think it's important that the Commonwealth shows leadership.

SPEERS: So the first priority is the Voice to Parliament, you would legislate that in your first term?

SHORTEN: Yes, so we would try and do it as quickly as possible. Right now, there's a bi-partisan Parliamentary Committee and hats off to the Liberal MPs who are working with us along - Pat Dodson is co-chair with Julian Leeser, a Liberal MP.

SPEERS: They report at the end of July.

SHORTEN: Yes, what we've asked them to do is put some meat on the bones, what does a Voice look like?

SPEERS: And do you have any preconceptions yourself about how it should look?

SHORTEN: It should be representative, in other words, bottom up.

SPEERS: Elected?

SHORTEN: Yeah, that's what I would like to see, but there's more than just my opinion. It should be regional, it doesn't have to replace all the existing structures let me hasten to add. It would be advisory, it doesn't have - it's not a third chamber of the parliament where laws passed in the Senate and Reps could then be stopped by this.

SPEERS: What would it look at, not legislation?

SHORTEN: I think it should look at - whenever the Federal Parliament considers matters to do with First Australians we should involve it.

SPEERS: I mean you've heard Malcolm Turnbull say everything affects first Australians, whether it's tax policy, health policy. 

SHORTEN: That’s a little bit of a cop out, but why wouldn't we when we're making policies on health make sure that we're helping our First Australians get a fair deal. Why wouldn't we when we're looking at our education policies, access to university or TAFE or child care, the first thousand days.

SPEERS: So it could be fairly busy in terms of what it does. If it's going to represent every region, be an elected body representing every region, it could be quite big as well.

SHORTEN: Well I'll leave the structure to others to work through. You asked me what I thought would be some of the principles, but it goes to - so representative and advisory and I would ultimately like to see some context of the Voice being enshrined in the Constitution. I haven't yet convinced the conservatives in Australian political life to agree to that.

SPEERS: Would you want that first, you'd want bipartisanship before a referendum?

SHORTEN: Well I think once people see the lived experience - I'm not going to let the Liberals veto change in this nation. But obviously constitutional change is easier if we have them on board. But what I'm hoping is that -

SPEERS: You won't wait for that, you won't wait for that?

SHORTEN: Well what I'm hoping is that the lived experience of giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians a say in decisions that affect them, I think people will realise once they see it in action, what was all the fuss about? Australian people are fundamentally, very practical. You've got five per cent on the far left and you've got five per cent on the far right but most of the rest of the body of Australian people, I think are up for reconciliation.

SPEERS: The other criticism I meant is that you say, the Prime Minister says it would be effectively a third chamber because ignoring their views would be difficult. But the other point it makes is, it separates us. Only certain Australians would get to vote for this advisory body, others wouldn't depending on how Indigenous you are.

SHORTEN: Well I think you're going to a fundamental fear which frankly I don't - I'm disappointed in Malcolm for fanning. He is a more educated fellow than that. But there is a fear when you talk about trying to assist First Australians, and it's not just in the Voice, it's any debate, it's any debate.

SPEERS: The treaty debate as well.

SHORTEN: The treaty debate, but it's any debate. What are people really afraid of? Are we afraid that a Voice will somehow mean that the AFL can't schedule matches on the MCG turf? Are we afraid that somehow having agreement making or talking to Aboriginal Australians about matters that affect them will see your backyard, and your Hills Hoist the subject of a land rights claim? That's rubbish. The real issue here is that I get that everyone needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and that should apply to all Australians. But if you don't own a pair of boots, you can't lift yourself up by your bootstraps, and the fact of the matter is that the question has to be asked by those who are afraid of what we are talking about. They are basically saying that Aboriginal Australians will get something special that the rest of Australia doesn't get. But the problem is for Aboriginal Australians, they don't actually get justice, they don't actually get the same education, they don't get the same health care, they don't get the same life expectancy. So before we start having a debate about our First Australians getting a special deal, they're not even getting the deal which most Australians take for granted.

SPEERS: But they do get access to the health, the education, the justice system.

SHORTEN: Oh yeah they do but is it working. I'm not saying they don't get access, I'm saying at the getting the same outcomes.

SPEERS: Well clearly they're not.

SHORTEN: And what is the explanation, what is the explanation why more Aboriginal women are the victims of death in pregnancy?

SPEERS: Why do you think?

SHORTEN: Because I don't think that we're providing the same health outcomes and the access to health care that other people get. Why is it that we've got levels of eye disease which you don't see outside of third world countries. It's not that Aboriginal people want to live shorter lives, full of less meaning and quality.

SPEERS: How's this Voice, this advisory body going to fix that?

SHORTEN: Well it's not going to fix all of it, but it’s part of the solution. See for 200 years we've either told Aborigines what to do, or be paternalistic, but it hasn't really worked. A lot of money has been spent, I know the conservatives say more money doesn't fix the problem, but I was at Katherine Hospital. The reality is that a little bit more money will fix quite a lot of the problems. So a Voice will be another missing ingredient which - what works for Aboriginal communities is self-determination.

SPEERS: Just on a practical example, say we've got a Shorten Government and this body in place, you introduce some legislation. It might be some health funding, or it might be something in the law and order space, this advisory body says no we think that is wrong, we think it should be done in another way. What would you do?

SHORTEN: Well I'd probably go back to the - and try and work it to make sure that they can see the merit of it for their people. Like, there is nothing wrong with taking advice.

SPEERS: Would you take what they recommend a lot more -

SHORTEN: Isn't it funny, when it comes security laws, if the security agencies say you haven't got the law right, we wouldn't think of questioning the security agencies. But if you have black people in this country saying we don't think you've got the law right, we say well oh well, what would you know.

SPEERS: So you would listen to their advice and change legislation?

SHORTEN: Well we would get it right, like it's not a dramatic, you know head off a cliff moment where you do go one way or the other. In my experience as being a union rep, my experience working to create the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is that you tend to get better outcomes the more you involve people who are affected by the changes in the decision making. It's just called empowerment.

SPEERS: Then down the track, obviously you're open to the idea of treaty, a national treaty or national treaties between the Commonwealth Government and Indigenous.

SHORTEN: Agreement- making, I mean agreement- making is not a brand new concept.

SPEERS: But why would we need this? What would that bring that we don't currently have?

SHORTEN: I think it gives a greater level of self-determination. At the end of the day we already have agreement making, this isn’t a radical concept. We have it through the Native Title Act, through the Land Rights Act. The Commonwealth negotiates with Aboriginal controlled health organisations on a very regular basis about health outcomes. So -

SPEERS: So what would we need this for, to hand control over on health and education?

SHORTEN: Well no - we love using the word control. I just think that we must recognise, and this is why I think we need to contemplate agreement making after we've created a Voice, and we've seen that work, working with the states. And I want to work with both sides of politics if we form a government on this.

SPEERS: And reparations, that's another big issue for some Indigenous leaders.

SHORTEN: I have said that the Stolen Generations, there should be compensation.

SPEERS: But more broadly?

SHORTEN: I'm going to walk before I run, I'm not going to commit to a wholesale set of matters and do exactly what I'm criticising previous governments for, which is not listen and talking to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. See when we have ideas we're going to make sure Australians are committed to them. So these are the principles I'll apply. If you want to know what sort of Prime Minister I'll be on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, you can judge me by four principles. I believe we should honour - they are the principles of honour, equality, respect and recognition. I think we should honour the fact that the First Australians were here and that we need to work with them. I think we should have equality, fair treatment. I don't think it is un-Australian to say that I'd like to see a child no matter what their skin colour, have the same chance to get an apprenticeship or go to university. I think we should respect as I said, the First Australians are here -

SPEERS: One of the other main recommendations from that Uluru Statement last year was for a truth telling commission. What's your own view on this?

SHORTEN: My understanding of this and it's only one understanding is it wouldn't be like what they have in South Africa. What it would be about is communities sitting down and working out the shared narrative about our co-existence in this country, the good and the bad. The story is not all bad, and the story is certainly not all good. So I just think it's about owning our past, the good and the bad -

SPEERS: The history is contested as you know, even in one area -

SHORTEN: Sure it is.

SPEERS: So would this commission seek to establish an agreed history?

SHORTEN: No, I think what it would do, you know I don't believe in top down, but I believe that would it can do is provide - and this is what the authors of the idea have explained to me. But of course we'll wait to see what the Parliamentary Committee think and plenty of other people along the way, but it's about encouraging communities to own the good and the bad of their past. Not all of the history of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia is bad. There is a lot of hope. But there are some terrible, dreadful stains.

SPEERS: Just on that, you agree there were massacres on the frontier.

SHORTEN: Yes, that's a matter of record. In the Coniston region over five or six months in 1928 or 1929, don't hold me to the precise year, there were 60 people, Indigenous Australians killed. But that doesn't make me un-Australian - we treated our convicts badly. You know we had Lambing Flat, you know where Chinese miners were treated badly, it's part of our - we had the White Australia Policy. But do I also therefore think that Australia, the nation that I love is a bad country, no I don't.

SPEERS: Just on this question of what happened on the frontier. The one you cited is only one example of many such incidents. Would you regard it as an invasion, or do you see that as a loaded word?

SHORTEN: Let's be very clear here. Aboriginal Australians were never paid for the land that was taken off them. First of all, they were here first. They were never paid or compensated for the land that happened, they were dispossessed. The history of white and black relations in Australia is not one which has been marked by marvellous enlightenment for a very long time. You know, the great injustice which I think we've all moved beyond was that notion that this - Australia was terra nullius, the Latin word for empty land, it wasn’t empty, it was - cultures here which had been sustainable for 65,000 years. But what I’m not going to do is get trapped in the debate just about the history. Australians are all smart people, they'll work out their own view of history, I get that. I'm not going to be when I'm Prime Minister the historian and chief for the nation. But what I won't do is press what people, their experiences and the need for the communities to move forward. I actually think Australians would like a reconciled Australia.

SPEERS: Sure, and just before we leave this issue a reconciled Australia before we contemplate becoming a Republic? Because that's another ambition of yours but would you like to see these issues dealt with in the Constitution before we contemplate what sort of Republic we might want to be?

SHORTEN: I think we need to move on with an Australian head of state. I think it's remarkable that over two centuries after first European settlement we are still borrowing a very worthy person, but a monarch from another country.

SPEERS: Do we want to be a reconciled republic?

SHORTEN: What I'm saying is I think that both debates will move along under a Labor Government.

SPEERS: So which one comes first though?

SHORTEN: Well the first thing I want to do is make sure that we've got a proper health policy in this country, I mean you're asking about two matters.

SPEERS: In terms of constitutional change.

SHORTEN: We're going to be a busy government and in terms of the Constitution, I think that we're a nation capable of working on both issues. But I would certainly, don't want to see the steam go out of the debate of making sure we're a reconciled nation. And reconciliation isn't just about constitutional change. You know what I think, I think when we're reconciled it's not only when there's a voice, it's not only when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a say in decisions affecting their lives, but it's when we're a country where a young black man of 18 is more likely to go to university than jail is currently the case. It's the life expectancy, it's the access to health care, this is my view which I have, not just about Aboriginal Australia but about all Australia. We're actually very similar underneath the colour of our skin. We want to make sure that our families are okay, we want to make sure that we've got rewarding work, we want to make sure that our health is okay - family and health.

SPEERS: So just finally, one of the big problems that you’ve recognised as well is child protection. You know, kids and it's a vexed issue because clearly 17,000 is the figure - is way too many kids, Indigenous kids being removed, yet other kids are kept in homes when they should be removed.

SHORTEN: That's right, it is a vexed issue.

SPEERS: So you've said a summit is necessary.

SHORTEN: Well not just, obviously I don't want this government to have to wait for a change in government. I'd like to see them do that now. You are quite right, it is a wicked problem. On one hand where you see kids kept in unsafe conditions and you see some of the tragic and terrible, really terrible things that happen to kids - then of course you've got to step in. But by the same token the fact that when we had the Stolen Generations report brought down in the late 90s, 20 percent of Aboriginal kids were in out of home care, it's gone up to 35 per cent. So what I do know is that the status quo is not working. What I also know is that leaving kids in unsafe circumstances is unacceptable. I'm just not convinced that we've got the answer right yet.

SPEERS: And you don't have the answer yet.

SHORTEN: No and this is probably a pretty important point I'd like to conclude on. The sort of government I lead, the sort of Prime Minister I'll be is not top down. I've got a clear view on my priorities - the fair go all round, I'm interested in the people in Australia who don't get the fair go, I want to see more of that. But the way I'll reach that is announcing our directions well before the election, making sure we can pay for our promises, all of that, but what I'll also do is be someone who listens not only to the experts but the people on the front line. I want to hear at our gathering on the protection of Indigenous children, I want to hear from the police, I want to hear from the ambos, the child protection and I want to hear from communities. We have got the capacity in the Australian people to solve most problems. If we just take the time and listen, move beyond the sound bites and the political point scoring to a better place.

SPEERS: Bill Shorten, thank you.

SHORTEN: Thanks, great to have you here.


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