Transcripts

Buraadja | ABC News 24 Afternoon Interview Transcript

Patricia Karvelas

Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg has released a new book making the case for constitutional reform. He joins me now. Senator, welcome.

Senator Bragg

Hi PK.

Patricia Karvelas

Buraadja, the Liberal Case for Reconciliation, is your response to the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. Why did you decide to write this?

Senator Bragg

Well I think that it is very important that non-Indigenous Australians engage on this topic because it is very important to our national identity, but also it is very important to ensuring that all Australians get a fair go. As you know, for the last 250 years for the most part, our Indigenous people have not had a fair go in Australia.

Patricia Karvelas

You say some liberals think that liberalism and Indigenous affairs are in permanent conflict. Let’s unpack that. What are you saying here?

Senator Bragg

I think there has been some hesitancy or some reluctance to engage on the topic of Indigenous affairs, but I think that if you look at the historical record there is a good story to tell, well there is good and bad, but there is also some good in terms of the contribution of Malcolm Fraser, Harold Holt, Billy Wentworth in driving reform for land rights and the referendum. So I think we need to draw upon some of the past contributions if we want to be ambitious in the present and the future on things like the Uluru Statement.

Patricia Karvelas

There are many, many in your party room as you well know who have a very solid view against this. And in fact, the Government is moving to legislation rather than changing the constitution for an enshrined voice. You are in a very small minority. How are your going to convince your colleagues?

Senator Bragg

There are a few things that I would say here. The first is I am not sure we have ever really detailed the liberal and conservative arguments for providing more agency and providing more bottom-up control, which is what a Voice would do, and I think that has been missing from the debate. Certainly, it wasn’t part of the debate when Uluru was released four years ago. Secondly, I would say that there are mixed views on these things, and what I am hoping to do with this book is to convince more people that there are really strong liberal and conservative arguments for giving people more control and agency. The Uluru Statement is a good appeal I think to patriots, and liberals and conservatives are generally quite patriotic. I see this as very much a unifying agenda rather than a divisive agenda.

Patricia Karvelas

How would you counter your colleagues who may even campaign for a no-vote if it comes to that?

Senator Bragg

Well I think the most important argument here is that if you’re going to have special laws for people, and at the moment we have eighteen different laws on the federal statute books for Indigenous people being the only racial group we have those sort of laws for, you have to have a system to manage that. To do otherwise is to be very illiberal. So, I think that those rational arguments will be very important to unpack. But of course, we have to win hearts and minds, and I think that people want Australia to be reconciled. I think there is a restless in many of us until these things are resolved, and over the last five years we have been able to resolve sticky issues like same-sex marriage. 

Patricia Karvelas

You argue we should promote truth-telling in order to close the great Australian silence. What do you mean by this, what should that look like?

Senator Bragg

We need to continue to tell the full picture of our history. I think in many schools we do a good job of this. I would say that in terms of the national institutions we have a long way to go. There are no statutes of Indigenous people in Canberra. There is no significant Indigenous institution in the Parliamentary Triangle. There are no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander flags flying inside the Parliament building or permanently in the precinct. So I think there is a long way we can go to further imbed that very good culture in our national life and in Canberra. Reconciliation is many different things, but I do think that the nation, through the Parliament and the Constitution, needs to present the full picture of this nation’s history.

Patricia Karvelas

It is really compelling what you have just said. You said no statutes, no national institution. What does that say about where we are at? Because it is a pretty damning list you have just put out there for the country to listen to. This is the First Nations culture of our country, and a breathtaking silence and lack of recognition.

Senator Bragg

That is what the great Australian silence was all about. That is what Bill Stanner talked about in 1968, and today at the launch with Rachel Perkins who presented the 2019 Boyer Lectures, similar points were made. The great Australian silence is still there. Look, to your question – what does it say – it says that we still have a lot of work to do. The three percent of the population, which is the Indigenous population as a part of the whole, cannot do this on their own. So what I’m trying to do is not to speak for Indigenous people, but engage on the issues that they have raised on things like the Uluru Statement. I think that that is an important thing to do as a policy-maker, it is an important thing to do as a citizen, and I am committed to it.

Patricia Karvelas

How damaging was that ‘third chamber’ line that we heard? Some of your colleagues still reference the idea that a constitutionally embedded body would be like a ‘third chamber’ of Parliament.

Senator Bragg

That was hugely damaging, and the campaign that ‘race has no place’ is also hugely damaging because it is just not true. Even One Nation would accept the need for laws like Native Title and Land Rights. So, there is a lot of misinformation in this area, PK, and that is why I thought it was an important book to write because at least it could unpack some of the arguments. What I do in the book is set out how the ‘third chamber’ narrative is totally false, untrue, and quite hurtful. And I would say at this juncture now we are doing co-design, it is quite clear what a voice would do, it is quite clear that it wouldn’t be a third chamber, it is quite clear what it would do on the ground, and it is quite clear what it would do in Canberra, but we need to make the case.

Patricia Karvelas

Senator Andrew Bragg, lovely to speak to you. Thanks for joining us on the show.

Senator Bragg

Thanks a lot.

Patricia Karvelas

That’s Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg who has written this book. He is trying to spark a debate on the sort of right-leaning side of politics around Constitutional recognition, and the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is several years old now, is still not enacted. Long conversations about it but still certainly a long way to go until we see a referendum that is successful in this country it seems.

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