Transcripts

Transcript of interview with Tom Connell - Sky News, 4 May 2021

Tom Connell

On the back of Reconciliation Week, one Liberal Senator is renewing his push for an Indigenous Voice in the Constitution. Well, so far, the Prime Minister seems reluctant to adopt the change. Senator Andrew Bragg believes if details on a Voice are provided, people afraid of the change will come on board. He's written a book advocating for change. I spoke to him a short time ago. So much spoken about the Indigenous voice, the Parliament. How do you envisage it working?

Senator Andrew Bragg

Well, I think a voice to Parliament would give people on the ground more agency and control over their day to day lives from a service delivery point of view. And here in Canberra, there is a real need for us to have some sort of a national voice to offer views on legislation and policy.

Tom Connell

The obvious example, and you've used for specific policy for Indigenous Australians, so land rights, for example. So the voice could what?  Review laws, give summaries to Parliament, give opinions?

Senator Andrew Bragg

So Indigenous people are the only people in Australia that have rights based laws made on a broad scale. So 18 different laws made native title, land rights, heritage protection, Aboriginal corporations. So I think we need to have a system to manage those laws. I think denying people of say or no special laws is very illiberal. And that is one of the key arguments in my new book.

Tom Connell

It's a, say, and this is sort of the key bit of that argument. It's not binding, but it might be hard to resist if it's a really strong opinion. Right?

Senator Andrew Bragg

The parliament could do worse things and get more information from the citizens about laws and policies that is not binding. I think it's a very inoffensive concept, and I think it could make quite a big difference. I mean, for example, like last year, we made amendments in the Senate to the Native Title Act. And I thought to myself, well, gee, wouldn't it be good if we knew where the people on the ground thought about these amendments and formalise.

Tom Connell

I guess because you always get views, there are different advocacy groups, but channelling it through one, giving it prominence, I suppose, means perhaps people are listening to, they give you a piece of paper from a central office telling you what the stakeholder views are on the Bill. But I think it would be important to get that particular advice from Indigenous people when we're making laws that are made for them. What about laws that are not made for them that disproportionately affect them? So the cashless welfare card in Ceduna, would the voice be able to look at this whole enquiry, make recommendations?

Senator Andrew Bragg

I think definitely. And and my sense is that the cashless debit card, which has been used in predominantly Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, you know, you want to get as much community data as you can, because when we had the debate in the Senate, which was protracted, it was clear that there wasn't enough data. And I think at the moment we're trying to get some more information so it can be properly measured. And that is something that a voice could do tomorrow.I mean, there's a whole lot of things that a voice could do tomorrow. I mean, for example, if we were to purchase the Aboriginal flag rights, that's something that could be vested in the Voice

Tom Connell

 You mentioned as well, one of the sort of mechanisms, would it be a type of Productivity Commission so it could assist the cashless welfare card on that element? But could it also look at how it affects indigenous Australians, how they feel about something like the cashless welfare card?

Senator Andrew Bragg

I think you would want to make it as broad as possible to get as much information as you can, because, again, it's not binding. So we spend thirty three billion dollars on indigenous projects and initiatives each year. As the Productivity Commission has said, the evaluation of these programmes is terrible. There's no broad, broad based methodology to give advice on whether or not these things are working. When I go into a community in the far west of my state, one of the constant complaints is, well, we had a programme that was there for two years.Now it's gone. It was actually starting to work. Right. So I think it could make a real difference.

Tom Connell

So when you think of that cashless welfare card, I mean, if the voice comes back and sees slight benefit, we did see a slight decrease perhaps in violence, gambling and so on. But we find this too demeaning to be an overall benefit. There are more people who are upset with it. That's going to be hard to ignore for legislators, isn't it?

Senator Andrew Bragg

But I'm not afraid of it. I think you want to get as much information as you can. There are always different views, are always strong views on things. I mean, often when you've got, you know, strong views on things, pushing you into the middle makes you actually do quite a good job. So I don't think we should be afraid of getting strong advice.

Tom Connell

The foreword to your book is written by Scott Morrison. And yet enshrining a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution doesn't seem likely under his watch, does it?

Senator Andrew Bragg

We're following the recommendations of the Dodson report from the last parliament, which said that we should do a co-design of the Voice first. And once that is concluded, we should have a discussion about constitutional legal arrangements. For what I set out in the book basically is a way that you could put a constitutional amendment in place that could win the support of the Australian community and would ensure that indigenous voices are heard.

Tom Connell

So you're hoping once the details are there, because he's not he doesn't seem open to it right now. Let's be frank about it. You're hoping once the details are there, perhaps the sort of scare campaign goes?

Senator Andrew Bragg

I think the way that it was characterised as a third chamber did this agenda huge damage. It was never designed to be a third chamber. The constitutional amendment that I think would work would definitely not be a third chamber. And I think that that will be considered by the executive government and by the party room in due course.

Tom Connell

If it's not in the Constitution, if it's legislated, is it still worth it?

Senator Andrew Bragg

Well, it has to be,  this has got to end in a Constitutional amendment, because the reason we're discussing Constitutional reform is because John Howard said that we should do it back in 2007. So we need to keep our promises we make to indigenous people.

Tom Connell

So you think legislation wouldn't be accepted and then there wouldn't be much point in doing it accepted by the people that came up with The Voice?

Senator Andrew Bragg

Well, of course, it would be an improvement on where we are today. And you don't want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But this has got to be a credible promise that we've made. We need to keep the promise that this is going to be a constitutional amendment. Tony Abbott used to say the constitution is incomplete. Of course, it's incomplete. There's no mention of Indigenous people.

Tom Connell

The book, Buraadja, it means tomorrow.  We're speaking about it in Reconciliation Week as well. Andrew Bragg, thanks for your time. 

Senator Andrew Bragg

Thanks, Tom.

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