Linda Burney tells Peter Dutton to be ‘on the right side of history’ regarding voice to parliament | Indigenous Australians

The incoming minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, has urged the new opposition leader to return to “the right side of history” by offering bipartisan support for enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution.

Burney said on Tuesday there was “no shame” in learning from history, and the forthcoming proposal was an “opportunity for Peter Dutton to show his much-talked-about different side”.

Following his election as Liberal leader on Monday, Dutton conceded he had “made a mistake” by boycotting the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations but said he would “wait for the detail” on a proposal for a referendum to change the constitution.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, reaffirmed in his first post-election caucus meeting on Tuesday a commitment “on behalf of my government to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart” – beginning with a voice to parliament.

Delivering the annual Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration on Tuesday evening, Burney said “no one for whom supporting a referendum for a voice to parliament represents a bigger political opportunity than for Peter Dutton”.

“After a decade of divisive political discourse, of lifters and leaners, of those who have a go – and by inference, those who don’t – this is an opportunity for unity and leadership,” Burney told the Don Dunstan Foundation.

“It’s also about being on the right side of history. And Peter Dutton has recently reflected on what it is like to be on the wrong side of history, after walking out on the apology to the Stolen Generations.”

Burney said: “We all grow and we all change, and there is no shame in that.

“That is what the journey of reconciliation is all about, and it is a path I would be very pleased to walk with Peter Dutton and the Liberal party,” she said.

Linda Burney

Burney said the Nationals and the Greens also had important decisions “about putting the national interest ahead of narrow political ambition”.

“I know Australia is ready for this,” she said. “And if we are all flexible, and we all accept some level of compromise, together, this parliament could unite to inspire our country to something great.”

Burney acknowledged her predecessor as minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, saying she was “very pleased to continue where Ken left off”. She noted the co-design process instituted by the former Coalition government “was prevented from considering constitutional change”.

“I say to Ken: I need your support, brother,” she said.

Burney acknowledged a referendum was “a very high bar in Australia,” given that it would have to be supported by a majority of people and a majority of states to pass.

She said she remembered the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissing the notion of a referendum on a voice out of hand, which she believed was “heavily influenced by his experience with the 1999 referendum on a republic”.

“While profoundly disappointing that the prime minister of the day did not have confidence in the Australian people, it was at least a better reason than Scott Morrison’s retort during the recent campaign – ‘why would I?’”

Burney said a referendum was needed because “the existence of a First Nations voice to parliament should not be subject to the whims of the government of the day”.

She said Labor’s agenda was broader than implementing the Uluru statement and involved “turning the tide on incarceration through justice reinvestment” and “reinvesting in housing and services in the Northern Territory homelands”.

Burney said she would work ambitiously with business and in the public sector to lift First Nations employment and continue to work with the Coalition of the Peaks on Closing the Gap “and lifting the ambitions for our people”.

On Monday, Dutton said he understood “the symbolism” associated with Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations and had made a mistake by not attending.

“For me, at the time, I believed that the apology should be given when the problems were resolved, and the problems are not resolved,” Dutton said this week.

Albanese on Tuesday night said he was appointing the Labor senator Pat Dodson to be the special envoy for reconciliation and implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy was appointed assistant minister for Indigenous Australians and for Indigenous health.

The prime minister said he wanted to introduce structures to allow people across the parliament and society, more generally, to participate in constitutional reform. “This is a priority for the government,” Albanese said.

David Littleproud, who defeated Barnaby Joyce to take over as leader of the Nationals on Monday, told reporters he would seek “guidance and clarity” from the new Country Liberal party senator for the Northern Territory, Jacinta Price, regarding the voice to parliament. Price has previously expressed skepticism about the proposal, questioning whether it would lead to any practical action and suggesting it would be divisive.

The Greens have said they support the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Still, they have a different stance on the sequencing of actions, arguing that a “treaty-first approach is essential to ensure that sovereignty is recognized”.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.