Transcripts

ABC Radio Canberra - Dan Bourchier – 29 July 2021

Dan Bourchier: 

I hope you saw the opinion piece that was written by Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg in the Canberra Times this morning. Well I tell you what, it didn’t pull any punches when he described Canberra and our nation as having a hole in the heart without a building that recognises Australia’s Indigenous heritage right in the middle of where everything’s happening in the Parliamentary triangle. This also comes after the book that the backbencher has written and also many discussion points around a greater voice for First Nations people. Well, Senator Andrew Bragg is here with me. Good afternoon.

Senator Bragg:

Hey there, how are you?

Dan Bourchier: 

Yeah good, it’s good to have you along. “A hole in the heart” – you’re certainly making a point with this article you’ve written.

Senator Bragg:

Well Dan, I think that Canberra is a terrific city. It’s a city I’ve spent a lot of time in and one that I’m very proud of. And I do think that there should be a very important structure or institution inside that triangle. So, I’m very keen for us to complete the triangle. I’m hoping it’s something we can fund in the upcoming few months. 

Dan Bourchier: 

Firstly, why do you think this is important for our nation?

Senator Bragg:

Well I think that if you consider the institutions that are inside that are in the triangle; Parliament Houses, museums, libraries and courts, there isn’t anything really that the government has put in place which is a serious cultural institution to reflect the 60,000 years of Indigenous history. And I think when you imagine those Grade 6 kids coming to Canberra each year, they’re missing a big part of our history, and our present and our future. So, I just think that it’s such a no-brainer.

Dan Bourchier:

And there’ve certainly been calls from many within the Indigenous community here in Canberra and across the nation calling for this; that it could have dual purposes of being a place of repatriation for remains that return from abroad where it’s not clear where they go in Australia. But also as a point of information, of research and the like. Is that the kind of dual purposes you see it as having or even more than that?

Senator Bragg: 

Yeah Dan, I think that’s right. And, you know, I’m not seeking to speak for anyone obviously, but I think the Indigenous traditional owners in the Canberra region are very supportive of this concept to be on their country. And there have been many instances where remains have been found in other countries, museums and the like. – so I think that with the consent of the traditional owners I think that we could have a resting place there. But I think it would be more than just a resting place. I think that it would be something that would be a representation of cultural heritage as well. So, it appears to have very broad support.

Dan Bourchier:

And you’ve touched on – or it’s been touched on today rather around AIATSIS already having a role in this. Where do you see that fitting in this picture?

Senator Bragg:

Well I’m a big fan of AIATSIS, and I think - AIATSIS was set up by the Menzies Government to preserve and conserve Indigenous culture and language, and that’s what it’s done. And it’s got an amazing collection for anyone who hasn’t been, I highly recommend going down to AIATSIS. I think the proof is in the reading in terms of what AIATSIS has been able to do already. And I think for AIATSIS to have a more prominent permanent home, that could be attached this institution. So, yeah, I think in my own party I don’t think we’re particularly good at talking about these things and as I say, this was an institution that was established by the Menzies Government because it saw preserving Indigenous language and culture and heritage as a conservative instinct. So, I think that’s a good thing.

Dan Bourchier:

Why do you think, as you point out there, that your party’s not necessarily good at having those conversations? Why do you think that is?

Senator Bragg:

I just that that the Labor Party people write more books, and are more obsessed with themselves and the like and venerate people –

Dan Bourchier:

And what about your party?

Senator Bragg:

Well I think that we’d do well to better understand our history, and certainly in terms of Indigenous affairs. You know, it was Harold Holt who pushed through the referendum and Malcolm Fraser who passed the first Land Rights laws, which are really significant Land Rights laws in Australia. But these things are not things that we associate with the public profile of those two men, and I think that’s regrettable. And, I just think if we want to be ambitious in the present, we need to better understand our past when you consider things like the Voice to Parliament and the Uluru Statement. If we don’t understand all that history, then I don’t know that you can be as ambitious as you’d like to be.

Dan Bourchier:

Well I want to get to those issues in a moment but first I just I kind of want to round out on the discussion you’ve kind of kicked off today, which is an extension of some of the aspects of the book that you recently wrote. This institution, do you have an idea of where exactly it should go in the Parliamentary Triangle?

Senator Bragg:

Well look, I suggested in my book Buraadja that it could go in the lake. There could be a nice little bridge, you know a small piece of land connecting to an island in the lake which would put it right in the middle. But it’s something that I think we really want to get the view of the traditional owners on, as well as the National Capital Authority, bureaucrats and the like. You know, I’m happy to put an idea on the table and I suggested that it should be somewhere in the lake. Which of course, again, the lake is really only there because Menzies, you know, drove it to being there, so there you go. 

Dan Bourchier:

Quite a few synergies there then.

Senator Bragg:

Yeah I think so, yeah.

Dan Bourchier:

Senator, why is Indigenous recognition/reconciliation so important to you? You’ve spoken about it in your first speech to Parliament. You’ve written a book about it. You’re kicking off a very forward facing discussion right now. Why are you passionate about this?

Senator Bragg:

Well think that when you stand back and you look at the Australian achievement which, without being too political about it, I think has been, even if you look at the pandemic, we have performed strongly. But the great unfinished business is this question of reconciliation, manifesting itself in poorer life expectancy, lower levels of economic agency and the like. And I just feel we haven’t really made good on any of the promises that we’ve made in my lifetime. I mean I’m 37 and I think that the time has come for us to make good on some of those commitments we’ve made. And that there is a maturity that will come once we actually conclude our commitments.

Dan Bourchier:

I wonder then what you make of the details coming out today that not only are we not progressing on many of those, formerly the Closing the Gap targets, but in some of them things are getting worse and worse.

Senator Bragg:

Well I think there’s also been some suggestions – I mean you’ve had Indigenous import and control over health outputs. You’ve had probably the best in the world health performance of Indigenous Australians compared to other comparable communities. But we have a long way to go in terms of those Closing the Gap targets which have been refashioned, as you know, recently. And so I think of the Voice reforms as supporting the Closing the Gap agenda. I see it as quite complementary and I’m not prepared to give up on these things.

Dan Bourchier:

And on the Voice, this is clearly a politically contentious one within your own party. There was an assessment done of the comments and the submissions to that Voice process that found 90% of those public submissions to the co-design process demonstrated support for constitutional enshrinement of a First Nations Voice. How’d you react to that?

Senator Bragg:

I mean, well, I agree there should be a Voice which has constitutional backing. That is my position. 

Dan Bourchier:

Can I just jump in? When you say constitutional backing, what does that mean or what does that look like?

Senator Bragg:

Well the Constitution is a practical charter of government and I think there could be a section which says that the Parliament should consult with Indigenous people on laws and policies that are made for Indigenous people. I think that would be an entirely appropriate thing to be in there, which effectively would be a Voice. There are other ways that people would like to see that drafted, but if you ask me do I think the Voice should be in the Constitution, the answer is yes. The question is what sort of drafting will we have that could win a referendum. Am I surprised about the number of people who put in submissions who said it should be in the Constitution? No, I’m not surprised.

Dan Bourchier:

Just to look at that a bit more deeply, is the thing that is worrying or bothering you is the idea of having the substantive mechanism of the Voice written into the Constitution?

Senator Bragg:

I just don’t think a detailed, hugely detailed model will be approved by the Australian people. So I think that if the objective is to ensure that there is constitutional backing that is enduring, that has the appropriate power, then let’s just make sure that we put forward words that are agreeable by the Indigenous people but are also possible to get past the referendum. I mean we can’t – we don’t want to put forward a highly detailed complex model that gets defeated. 

Dan Bourchier:

And I guess the challenge there is that for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people there’s a level of distrust about some of the governance structures. Particularly because of – I mean the most recent example I think that sticks out is probably the Northern Territory Emergency Response and also ATSIC. So, I wonder how you reconcile that; that clearly there’s a desire to have something that’s a bit more secured but not withstanding the challenges you pointed out.

Senator Bragg:

But I agree that there should be something. I’m not pushing back on that at all. I’m saying that – 

Dan Bourchier:

When I say something I mean the more substantive model.

Senator Bragg:

Well, but I mean the most substantive model - I mean I think there should be a national voice which can advise the Federal Parliament on national issues. There should also be local, regional voices which can deal with local service delivery. You know, antenatal services and AMS and the like. But all those things you can ultimately wrap up under a constitutional amendment which gives it permanence. You can do all these things.

Dan Bourchier:

And would such an amendment, Senator, protect whatever that body is that’s created, so it couldn’t simply be scrapped by the stroke of a pen?

Senator Bragg:

Yes, so the way it would work is there’d be a constitutional obligation that you have to have this sort of consultation. You have to have a body the Parliament determines. I mean everyone thinks that parliamentary supremacy is important, Dan. So, I’ve never heard anyone say that they didn’t want to have this body under parliamentary control. The only question is what do the words look like. And my suggestion is have it as a flexible set of words, so you’d have to be there, it’d have to be a body or institution. But let the Parliament determine what it should look like as the years go by. I mean, we haven’t been particularly successful at getting changes to the Constitution over the last 120 years, you know.

Dan Bourchier:

We’re pretty reluctant in fact, as you’ve pointed out in some of your written material. The ones that have been most successful are around Indigenous recognition. But just to go back to that point, this is where the challenge is going to be because I completely agree with you that I don’t think there is a reluctance to have a Voice under the Parliament, I think it’s where the politics comes in that there is a real challenge.

Senator Bragg:

Well some people would like to see the legislation-only approach. I just think that that would be wrong. I mean this is a discussion that was started by John Howard about constitutional recognition, so it has to end with constitutional recognition. I mean, the Constitution will be incomplete until these matters are addressed in some form. So, I just think we can’t kind of cut and run to a legislation-only approach. And, you know, some people would like to see nothing. I mean, some would people say to me why are you pushing this? I mean my response is usually, well we have these 18 different laws on the books in Canberra which are made especially for Indigenous people, so we need a system to manage those. I mean there is a – you know, most Australians don’t know about these special laws, which I think is a very strong argument for having a special system. 

Dan Bourchier:

It seems to me the bigger challenge will be within your own party, how do you enhance some minds there? 

Senator Bragg:

Well I think there’s been a campaign to discredit the Uluru Statement that goes back to 2017, where people said, you know, race has no place even though that was clearly false. And then, other discourse was of a third chamber, which also was false. 

Dan Bourchier:

The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister - I think the Deputy Prime Minister at the time actually apologised for that.

Senator Bragg:

He has, yeah. So, I’ve documented that all in the book, and I think we’re in a much healthier position now. I think there are people who are aware of the level of support for this on the ground. People are aware that this could be a highly useful reform that could be complementary to the Closing the Gap agenda, for example. So, I think things are moving in a positive direction, but this is not something that can be resolved tomorrow.

Dan Bourchier:

Certainly a part of a longer conversation. Senator, really appreciate your time this arvo. Thanks so much.

Senator Bragg:

Thanks Dan. Appreciate it. Bye.


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April 22, 2021
By 
Senator Andrew Bragg