Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: ABC News Breakfast Saturday 13 June

June 13, 2020


SUBJECTS: Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; Black Lives Matter protests; racism.

JOURNALIST: We are now joined by Labor MP Andrew Giles and we're also joined by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman. Welcome to both of you. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Trent I want to throw this first question to you. So, the Government has said that there will possibly not be a recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution and that won't be happening within this term of Parliament. Why is that, what is the holdup?

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Well, firstly I think you're going to accept that there had been months lost this year because of COVID-19, but what we are doing is really a two stage process. Firstly, Ken Wyatt the Minister is leading the process to get the Indigenous voice properly established in Australia and that's our first priority, and there are three working groups that are working on that at the moment. I understand that it's Ken Wyatt’s intention to be able to take their recommendations to cabinet in November this year. And then that will trigger a process of engagement with the Australian community on what a voice might look like and I really think that
that's a very important step. Constitutional recognition is the second stage of that process and it's really important that we get this right because what would be a disaster is for the Government and the parliament to put a proposition to the Australian people that was rejected, that would set back the cause by decades. So I think it's important that we get it right, and we get something that will have consensus. If we can do it in this parliament, I think that that would be a good thing and I think that we should still be ambitious in this regard, but getting it right is the most important criteria as far as I'm concerned.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Giles, Trent says that months have been lost due to the coronavirus shut down, but of course there's been a Coalition Government for many, many years. What do you make of the comments by Ken Wyatt saying that it is unlikely that this will happen in this term of government?

ANDREW GILES, MEMBER FOR SCULLIN: It's incredibly disappointing, in particularly for it to happen right now when there's such a focus on indigenous disadvantage in Australia. The Shadow Minister Linda Burney put it well when she said progressing this issue, this fundamental question of who we are as a nation, is a question of ‘leadership and commitment’. We have not seen the leadership and the commitment from the Prime Minister, that this issue warrants, and that the statement of the heart demands of all Australians.

JOURNALIST: Trent I want to go back to something a little earlier that you said, working on this indigenous voice to parliament and Indigenous Minister Ken Wyatt had said that there are options for an Indigenous voice to be presented to the government by November. What do you think that is going to look like?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, look, I think the important thing to be said is that this process is being driven by working groups in partnership, obviously, and involving in effect, being guided by the indigenous communities, looking at a voice at the local level at state level and also at the national level. It is being conducted at arms length from the Minister, at arms length from Government for very good reasons, so there aren’t politicians being involved in this process, so that it can be an independent process that really does bring the Indigenous community together with other experts. So I don't want to prejudge what those committees are going to produce. I think it's important that we don't prejudge that.

JOURNALIST: Sure. Just going back again to the fact that there won't be a Indigenous recognition in the constitution within this term of parliament, some people are saying well is this an election promise in the next term of parliament for the Coalition, is this part of election campaigning?

ZIMMERMAN: The Government's commitment towards constitutional recognition is as strong as it always has been, it's what we want to achieve, but we want to achieve it in a way that's successful. As I said, the key thing is establishing a consensus around a proposition that will enjoy popular support in the Australian community because we've had one go at a preamble in 1999 which wasn't successful, 20 years since then, we don't want to see something fail and will be another 20 years before we see some type of constitutional recognition. So, the voice is the important first stage, and I think that's going to be a very meaningful outcome from this process, getting the constitutional
recognition is also going to be important. If we can do it this parliament, I think we should, but we also have to be realistic about that prospect.

JOURNALIST: There are protests happening again in various locations across the country, one in Sydney last night where one arrest was made, the Chief Medical Officer yesterday and the Prime Minister made it very clear that there was no safe way to protest during the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Giles do you think that people should stay away from these protests?

GILES: Look, I think there's a few points to be made here, firstly is that protest is obviously an important part of any democratic society. And I think we all recognise at the moment, the anger and frustration in Indigenous Australia, that's so evident and so important. What we've also said, Anthony Albanese said in the parliament yesterday as well, is that people have to in these circumstances follow the advice of the medical authorities. And I know that there are some different positions in different states and territories as well. So I think we do need to think about how people can effectively maintain protest activities in a way that is consistent with the health advice through this pandemic.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Giles earlier this week you were calling for a national strategy to tackle racism now the call was made in relation to racist attacks against Chinese people but also I'm presuming It would also include general racism in Australia. What would a national strategy to tackle racism look like?

GILES: Well firstly it would acknowledge that while Australia is I believe the world's most successful multicultural society that racism is on the increase, and was on the increase before the COVID pandemic. It would involve at the first instance a campaign around public education. We think the campaign that the federal government formally funded Racism it stops with me is a great
model, calling on all Australians to unite to recognise racism, to recognise the harm it does to individuals and to all us in our society, and to take collective responsibility for that. But we think there's a bit more to be done to understand how we can really maximise the benefits of our wonderful diversity and see it reflected in every aspect of society and understand what barriers there are that might deny some people for participation in society. And I think engaging with the full diversity of that in designing a strategy will be a really important first step forward.

JOURNALIST: Trent Zimmerman, the Government seems very focused on stopping these protests from happening because of health reasons, because of the coronavirus pandemic. But is the Government actually listening to what the protesters are asking for and perhaps looking at ways to end these protests by taking action on those demands.

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I think that is very much the case because if you look at what's been happening this year. In fact the year started with the Prime Minister convening Indigenous leaders to talk about the closing the gap process, which obviously includes the issue of Indigenous incarceration. The
work of governments and that is a COAG process, a state and federal process has continued, and that is being done in partnership with indigenous organisations. In fact uniquely about this process, rather than governments telling the Indigenous community what closing the gap targets are going to
look like. We are now actually for the first time working in partnership and collaboration with the council of the peak Indigenous groups, and that is set to report I think in the next month or so, and that is going to include justice targets, which I think is going to be very important. At the federal level, we're spending something like a quarter of a billion dollars in trying to address Indigenous incarceration, but it's got to be a collaborative process, recognising that policing in the justice system is largely operated at the State level. So, while the cause of reducing Indigenous incarceration, Indigenous deaths in custody is a really important one. I think what is also important is the point that Andrew made, and that is we do need to respect the health advice and whilst we've done so well as a nation in tackling coronavirus, it is still present, and what we don't want to see happen is the type of second wave that some other countries have experienced.

JOURNALIST: Trent Zimmerman and Andrew Giles we really appreciate you coming on this morning. Thank you.

ZIMMERMAN: Thanks for providing an excuse not to be at the gym.

GILES: Great to be with you.

JOURNALIST: We would be in the gym, Fauziah and I but we have to work, how unfortunate!

GILES: On that issue you speak for me Trent!

ZIMMERMAN: I'll see you the coffee shop next week, Andrew.

GILES: Cheers.