Transcripts

2SM – John Laws – Morning Interview Transcript

John Laws:

For too long now, you know, Australians have been comfortable with the gaps between the health and socioeconomic status of Indigenous and other Australians. We didn’t care enough. Historically, so called reconciliation has been on numerous government agendas. Really it has been all over the place, but it’s now 2021 and we have yet to see any effective action to close the gap. It is a gap that is a problem for this country and it really is. It’s a very contentious issue in modern society but it shouldn’t be. A man who agrees with me on that and who has written a book about how to address those issues is a Liberal Senator for New South Wales. His name is Andrew Bragg and I’m delighted to say that he joins me in the studio.

John Laws:

Andrew, good morning.

Andrew Bragg:

G’day John, good morning

John Laws:

You’ve written “Buraadja”, am I saying that correctly?

Andrew Bragg:

Buraadja

John Laws:

“Buraadja”, B-U-R-R –anyway, Buraadja ok. It’s a Liberal Case for National Reconciliation. Now tell me a bit about the book. It’s an interesting sub-title; “A Liberal Case for National Reconciliation”. So, you don’t believe that we’re reconciled sufficiently?

Andrew Bragg:

Well John, I’m 36 years old and the whole of my life we have talked about reconciliation and recognition, and I can’t say that we’ve made too much progress on those fronts and so I was determined to spend some of the time that I have in public office to make a contribution on this topic as a non-Indigenous person, because Indigenous people are only 3% of the population and so I don’t think that these issues can be resolved solely by Indigenous people.

John Laws:

Why is it a case for “national reconciliation”. That’s a big sweeping statement; “national”. You think we have a problem all over the country?

Andrew Bragg:

Yesterday I was in South Australia with the Premier Steven Marshall. He presided over the launch of the book there.

John Laws:

Yeah?

Andrew Bragg:

And we met in the Old Chamber of the South Australian Parliament where the second draft of the Constitution was issued back in the 1890s. And of course, the constitution was drafted without any input from Indigenous people -

John Laws:

None.

Andrew Bragg:

-and still there is no mention of indigenous people or the 60,000-year history in the constitution. John Howard said that he was committed to constitutional recognition back in 2007 and we have not completed that commitment, so I think that we should.

John Laws:

Can we?

Andrew Bragg:

It will be very hard. We haven’t had a successful referendum since 1977.

John Laws:

No.

Andrew Bragg:

So very difficult, but I think that if we get the messaging right and we explain that this is about improving the lives of people, without taking anything from any other Australian, then I think that we could get the changes.

John Laws:

Ok, but you tell me, I know, but you tell me how Indigenous lives need to be improved.

Andrew Bragg:

Well I mean, there’s a huge gap in economic participation. There are big challenges in terms of education attainment. And there is lack of legitimacy that the Australian Government has with many Indigenous people, because we haven’t made good on the promises we made around reconciliation and recognition. And so, I think that these are very important issues. There is a restlessness in many of us, that our constitution pretends that there was nothing here beforehand and so that is why I’m committed to spending some time I have on this issue.

John Laws:

Yeah tell me, what percentage of the Aboriginal people do you think really care?

Andrew Bragg:

So, it’s a good question. I represent 300,000 people in the Senate from New South Wales. That’s actually the biggest Indigenous population in the Commonwealth. I travel widely throughout the state. I’ve been to Bourke, Brewarrina, Nowra, Kempsey. It is true that the day-to-day interaction doesn’t include discussion of the constitution.

John Laws:

No.

Andrew Bragg:

But there are concerns about the legitimacy of the Government, and there is a real problem people identify with me about not having a say on the laws and policies which affect them. Now we make 18 different laws for Indigenous people in Canberra, but we don’t give those people a say on those laws and I think we should.

John Laws:

But if you offer them a say, how many do you believe would choose to be involved?

Andrew Bragg:

Well, in terms of service delivery; getting the kid’s bus to school, anti-natal classes and the like for pregnant women, I think there would be a lot of community interest in having a say on the laws but also having a say on community service delivery. I think that would be an important … I mean there is this sense of powerlessness and I think we want to try and empower these communities to take control of their own affairs as much as they can.

John Laws:

How can we be involved in communities that are way out in the middle of nowhere?

Andrew Bragg: Well, they’re all Australians. We need to think about them and travel widely. I mean in my role as a Senator, I take my role seriously and I try to get across the State. So, there are challenges in remote communities which are different from the urban communities, there is no doubt about that.

John Laws:

Ok, but what is the major problem in those communities where you see a problem?

Andrew Bragg: There is a lack of an economy in many of those communities. Many of these communities have been granted land rights but the land isn’t worth that much and there’s no capital to develop the land and there’s not a whole lot private enterprise. So there are unique issues in the regions John, and that is why what Rio Tinto did with the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia is a serious national issue because mining, pastoral sectors, they’re a big deal in the remote parts of Australia.

John Laws:

You bet.

Andrew Bragg:

Right, so they’ve got to make sure that they do the right thing by the traditional owners and work with the communities. Now blowing up those sacred sites was a very bad thing.

John Laws:

Well it was. The Uluru Statement was comprehensive and clear in its suggestions and its targets for constitutional recognition but it wasn’t fully put into action. Why is it taking you to write a book to actually instigate real change? Because it is.

Andrew Bragg:

We are progressing the idea of a Voice and the Prime Minister and Ken Wyatt, who’s the first Indigenous person to be the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, is progressing what’s called a co-design framework which is getting advice from the community as to how a Voice could work. And once that work is completed later this year then there will be a discussion about legal and constitutional arrangements.

John Laws:

The book gets into ‘truth telling’, which is spoken about a lot these days and it also references the ‘great Australian silence’. What do those terms actually mean? I mean they’re cute terms but what do they mean?

Andrew Bragg:

Well the truth telling, it really is making sure that we tell the full balance of our history, that there was 60,000 years of history before the British settlement. And really from my point of view as an optimist, I really like the Noel Pearson formula that Australia has – almost said Britain – Australia has an ancient Indigenous heritage, British institutions and a multicultural flavour. And those three things coming together is our national story. In terms of the great Australian silence, which was the subject of the 1968 Boyer Lectures by Bill Stanner, I mean that was basically saying look we’ve tried to pretend there was no Indigenous heritage. Now over the course of my lifetime I think that has been corrected in schools. I mean in schools people are taught about Indigenous heritage quite widely.

John Laws:

Yes, at long last. Took a while to get that to happen but they are. But do you think that they are concerned about it? Do you think that Australians who aren’t Indigenous are that concerned about those who are Indigenous?

Andrew Bragg:

Well I want to give you an example because I think in Canberra, we’re going back next week for the Budget, that’s a national capital there’s no statues of Indigenous people in the Triangle. There are no significant Indigenous institutions in the main part of Canberra. There are no Aboriginal flags permanently displayed inside Parliament House. So, I think that that great Australian silence lives on in many parts –

John Laws:

Ok but why has that been allowed to happen? Why hasn’t somebody spoken up before?

Andrew Bragg:

Well I’m - we’re trying to fix that. And I think that in –

John Laws:

Yeah but you’re not answering the question. Why has been left to lie the way it is? Why hasn’t somebody spoken up before?

Andrew Bragg:

Well I’ve only just arrived so I can’t tell you what happened in the past but can tell you that is my resolve-

John Laws:

Well of course you can tell me what happened in the past!

Andrew Bragg:

Well I don’t know why that there are more statues of dogs than there are of women and Indigenous people in Canberra. I don’t know why. I imagine that is probably because we haven’t been very good at presenting the full balance of our history and our society.

John Laws:

Well we chose to ignore them, didn’t we?

Andrew Bragg:

I think so. But it’s never too late and I think the good thing about the Uluru Statement and the Indigenous advocacy is – what they’re saying is we want to be part of the Australian constitution, we want to be part of Australia. They’re not saying they want to be divisive, they’re saying they want to be part of Australia and we have to embrace that.

John Laws:

There’s a fairly good example of reconciliation if we ever look at New Zealand, isn’t there?

Andrew Bragg:

Exactly right and I think when they open their Parliament each year in New Zealand the leaders don Maori cloaks as a mark of respect. Now in Australia we don’t do that. I think that we should do that and I think our leaders should, with the consent of the traditional owners, wear Indigenous cloaks if that was appropriate as a mark of respect.

John Laws:

I don’t know, are we lagging behind other countries in our attitude to our Indigenous people?

Andrew Bragg:

Well in terms of the economic statistics we are doing worse in terms of life expectancy and also in terms of incarceration rates. And some people would say “why are you focusing on these symbolic issues?”, I mean I’m focused on both. I’m in interested in the practical issues and the symbolic issues because we need to present that full history of Australia if we are to be fully reconciled and I think that the exclusion of Indigenous culture from mainstream Australian  national life is a real problem.

John Laws:

Tell me this, I mean you’ve got an Indigenous affairs minister who I am sure would want greater recognition of Indigenous Australians and would want to see the Uluru statement better implemented because it hasn’t been. Do you think he’s hamstrung by conservatives in your party?

Andrew Bragg:

There are certainly mixed views about these issues inside the Parliament and inside my party. When the Uluru statement was released, people said that it would be a third chamber and that really has salted the earth amongst many of the colleagues. And of course, giving people a say on laws and policies that you make is not a third chamber, it’s not even binding, but that has taken hold and that has been very damaging. So, what I’m trying to do with this book is to try and rebalance that and ensure that people are aware of all the liberal and conservative arguments for this agenda. I mean the Menzies Government delivered voting rights, the Holt Government delivered the referendum, Fraser delivered land rights. The Liberal-National parties in government have delivered significant reforms over the time, and so I’m concerned that if we forget about that then that will shrink our ambition in the present and in the future.

John Laws:

What has your party done historically to address the inequalities faced by Indigenous Australians? Historically, nothing!

Andrew Bragg:

We have committed and Scott Morrison the Prime Minister has just in the last 18 months changed the closing the gap framework in collaboration with the Coalition of the Peaks, which is the peak Indigenous association, because for the first 10 years of the closing the gap agenda that was just driven by bureaucrats. Now it’s being driven by the community and driven by the Prime Minister and so now I think it’s a lot more practical and focused on what the community needs and there will be real accountability on this occasion. So that is a serious that the Prime Minister has done.

John Laws:

Yeah but I’m asking what’s been done historically.

Andrew Bragg:

Well historically what the Liberal party has done has been to address the historical wrongs. Voting legislation ’62, the referendum ’67, land rights ’76, so there are those significant things we have done in Government to try and address these issues.

John Laws:

Can you guarantee the lives of Indigenous people will improve?

Andrew Bragg:

If people are given more agency and more control over their own affairs, I am positive that it will improve their lives.

John Laws:

And you believe that the Indigenous people are capable of handling their own affairs?

Andrew Bragg:

Of course. And in many respects-

John Laws:

Why “of course”?

Andrew Bragg:

Well in many respects, John, we’re making generalisations about a population of almost one million people. One of great things that Stan Grant has written about extensively is this emerging Indigenous middle class, because you’ve seen thousands of Indigenous people educated through Universities becoming doctors, lawyers, and teachers and the like. And there is real capacity emerging in that broader community so I have great confidence that giving people a say - I mean at the end of the day they know better we do about their own affairs.

John Laws:

I would’ve thought so.

Andrew Bragg:

I think that this the great mistake, right. We have for 250 years said “we know better than you” and that was wrong.

John Laws:

We assume that they would prefer to live under our rules but I don’t believe that they do. I think that that’s why we see difficulties every now and again with Indigenous people.

Andrew Bragg:

I think the Indigenous people are a very generous people. This Uluru Statement is the third serious attempt for agency. There was the bark petitions in 1963 which were given to the Menzies Government. There was the Barunga Statement in ’88 given to the Hawke Government. Both of those things went by the wayside. Nothing. This was the one that we can’t let go. This Uluru Statement is the one we have to deliver on because there might not be a fourth one.

John Laws:

I think one of the main facets of the Uluru Statement is the constitutional voice. I don’t know what a “voice” is. Do you mean they’re going to have more opportunity to express their desires and needs?

Andrew Bragg:

Correct, and that is desirable because we have 18 different laws on the Federal statute books which are made only for Indigenous people. Now Indigenous people are the only Australians –

John Laws:

How does that, out of interest, how do those laws differ from laws that apply to non-Indigenous people?

Andrew Bragg:

Yeah so land rights, Native title, heritage protection, Aboriginal corporations, I can go on and on. And effectively these laws are there now, and what I’m saying is we need to give those laws a special system so that the people the laws are made for are consulted about those laws. Because if you make special laws, you need to make a special system. At the moment we have special laws but no system.

John Laws:

So, in other words you believe the Indigenous people aren’t consulted enough.

Andrew Bragg:

They’re not. Their laws are just made for them. And there is no special system to manage those laws. So, in a liberal democracy if you want to make special laws for a group of people you have to have a special system. And in my view if you don’t do that, that is illiberal.

John Laws:

Ok, well Andrew it’s been very interesting talking to you and I’m sure the book will be interesting. How do you say it, “Buraadja”?

Andrew Bragg: Buraadja.

John Laws:

Buraadja. It’s a good-looking book too. Somebody did a good job of the cover. Andrew, thank you very much for coming in and I wish you well with the book. And I’m sure it’ll be enlightening to many people. People who don’t really understand the Indigenous people should read the book and I’m sure that when I’ve read the book, I’ll have a better understanding. And I thank you for that opportunity.

Andrew Bragg:

Thanks John. Thanks for having me.

John Laws:

It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

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