ABC Radio Tasmania, Statewide Mornings Program with Leon Compton


Topic: Indigenous Voice to Parliament; Tasmanian retirement village fee hikes; Hobart AFL stadium.

E&OE …

LEON COMPTON: Yesterday, the Leader of the Liberal Party said … and indeed this morning with Sabra reiterated … that his party had joined the Nationals’ campaign against the Voice to Parliament referendum that’s coming up later this year. Just as a bit of a background, a potted history, the referendum would seek to change or seek support for a change, with your vote one way or the other, the Constitution to establish an Aboriginal group to advise Parliament on policy that relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It would give Parliament the power to make laws, who would be part of that voice, its functions, powers and procedures.

Senator Jonno Duniam, the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry, joins us this morning. Senator, good morning to you.

JONNO DUNIAM: G’day, Leon. Good to be with you.

LEON COMPTON: You’ve announced that you personally will be opposing this referendum. You’ll be voting no. I’d like to know who in Tasmania that you have been talking to is telling you that that this is the approach that they support.

JONNO DUNIAM: I’ve had a lot of contact from the community, both in written form and when I’ve been out and about on street stalls, and door knocking. A range of issues have been raised. Sometimes it will be on the issue of the Voice and constitutional recognition, and there are a mix of views on that issue. So, to that end, what has informed my decision is the work I participated in back in 2018 when I sat on the Joint Select Committee that looked into the issue of constitutional recognition. That was a bipartisan process that was chaired by Senator Pat Dodson, a man I respect deeply, a Labor Senator from WA, and of course our Shadow Attorney General, Julian Leeser.

That process was what enabled me to be able to gather the information I needed to be able to form my own view, and my contributions to the Shadow Cabinet process to the decision we’ve reached. I think it’s important to point out, Leon, that this is not just about opposing the Labor Party’s proposal for the centralised Canberra-based Voice enshrined in the Constitution. This is about proposing an alternative. And that was what was contained in the Langton-Calma Report – local and regional bodies – which we believe is a better way to go and to work through an actual, genuine bipartisan process to deliver constitutional recognition rather than a Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

LEON COMPTON: You say you worked with Pat Dodson on this. Doesn’t Pat Dodson support an Aboriginal Voice to parliament?

JONNO DUNIAM: My work with Pat Dodson in the Parliament between 2016 to 2019 was as part of that Joint Select Committee and, as a member of that committee, I signed up to the findings of our report. We talked about a bipartisan process. That has now been departed from. The Labor Party abandoned the approach to bipartisanship on this. They’ve abandoned what was set out as the way forward under the Langton-Calma Report.

LEON COMPTON: How can you explain specifically how they’ve done that, given that you could have been involved, or indeed decided, in the party room yesterday to support this? It would have been bipartisan and that is, in part, your choice. Why have you taken this approach?

JONNO DUNIAM: Before getting to that point – on the Langton-Calma Report – we inform the work that we do by seeking the input of people who are in the know, the experts, the people who have some view about what the best way to deal with these issues is. That recommended that we go with the local and regional voices first. They would be established under legislation, not in the Constitution. Our view is, and I believe it is the right view, that we should be getting the views from the ground up, the grassroots views – understanding from all of the unique communities the unique problems across the country that they need help dealing with. To work that way rather than follow a Canberra-down approach, which is where Labor are going.

LEON COMPTON: With respect, Senator, isn’t that exactly what’s happened over the last dozen years and that ultimately led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart a number of years ago and then all of the work that was done following that with Aboriginal people right around Australia?

JONNO DUNIAM: Are you asking me whether we have established those local and regional voices? Well, the answer is no.

LEON COMPTON: No, I’m not asking that. Weren’t local and regional voices sought the entire way through this process before it was ultimately taken to Canberra, the place where laws in this country are made?

JONNO DUNIAM: Through the several iterations of work that have been done on this, yes, there have been a lot of views sought and received from First Nations communities across the country. In that Joint Select Committee process I talked about before, we had 18 proposals for constitutional reform, which indicates to you just how diverse the views across the country are, which is why one model at the top talking down to the rest of the country is not the way to go.

LEON COMPTON: How can it be anything other than one model? You talk about this as the ‘Canberra Voice’, which is an interesting way of describing it. Isn’t part of the issue for Aboriginal people in this country that the politicians in Canberra have too often forgotten over more than a century what the experience of Aboriginal people is like when framing policy? Is it unfair to say, in fact, that yours is the Canberra response in this matter?

JONNO DUNIAM: I don’t think anyone could codify empowering local communities and the input that people like Julian Leeser, who’ve headed this up on behalf of the Coalition, have received from local communities is that they want a Voice. How is a Canberra-based Voice going to deliver better Indigenous women’s healthcare on Palm Island?

LEON COMPTON: Because Federal policy ultimately is crafted in the bureaucracy, which is based in Canberra. This Voice would be representative, as it’s described, of people made-up from right around the country. Then they would work as those Bills were formed potentially, or maybe as they’re presented to Parliament. To look at them and try and assess their impact in Palm Island or East Arnhem Land or indeed in Tasmania?

JONNO DUNIAM: Well, indeed, these are the things we don’t know. They’re the questions we asked to which answers were never received. But the point being that we’d be better off hearing from the people of Palm Island through a local and regional model, rather than getting someone from Canberra to fly up to Palm Island to try and have a through the glass look at what is going on there.

This is the point, Leon. We’ve got 11 Members of Parliament now, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, who are of Indigenous heritage. People like Malarndirri McCarthy, Pat Dodson, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price to name just three. Linda Burney, another who is in fact the Minister for Indigenous Australians. I don’t think this Parliament has forgotten Indigenous Australians.

On the debate we’re having now: yes, there is a difference of opinion about the best way forward and Australians need to have their say on this through the referendum. But it is important we get this right. That is why enshrining in the Constitution a body which cannot be undone, of which the details we are not aware, could in fact result in bad outcomes for First Nations Australians, and indeed for the country as a whole. So we have to get this right. Our model is to go with the local and regional grassroots-up approach and to also have a bipartisan process to restore where we were at the end of the Joint Select Committee process and find a way to enshrine in the Constitution recognition of First Australians.

LEON COMPTON: We need to acknowledge, of course, that you’ve just left government after a significant period in power and that model, in spite of many years of talking, never came to pass. The Tasmanian Premier supports the Voice and has said he’ll actively campaign for it. Former Premier Peter Gutwein says your position, the no position will, and this is talking about the Federal Liberal Party, “simply accelerate your increasing irrelevance”. That’s a Tasmanian view, as is yours. What’s your response to their thoughts?

JONNO DUNIAM: I respect both of the men you’ve mentioned and their views are not a surprise to me. I’ve talked to both of them about this issue and related issues many times. So I know exactly where they stand and appreciate their willingness to have a crack in the public domain. They’re entitled to do that. That’s the good thing about democracy. We will have a process as this debate progresses for both sides of the argument here to advance their views. I’ve made my views clear and I’m sure they’ll do that with theirs as we move forward. But the point is, though, that we’ve got to make sure, whatever the outcome, that it actually does deliver for people on the ground in communities like Aurukun or Palm Island or Ceduna.

In response to you talking about a long period of time in government and these things not having come to pass, the final Langton-Calma Report was provided to government in the middle of 2021. In accordance with that, there was a response to that delivered in December 2021 which set out our plan to fund and establish these local and regional voices. That, of course, has now stopped because there was a change of government, as you say. We were on the way to doing what we are proposing now, as part of this debate, and it’s an important debate to be having. It is important we get it right and I think we need to make sure that we take it absolutely seriously.

LEON COMPTON: You’re on Mornings around Tasmania. Senator Jonathon Duniam is our guest this morning. Liberal Senator for Tasmania and also a Shadow Cabinet member. I was just having a look at your Facebook page this morning in getting ready for this interview. I was interested that you met with residents from Saint Canice and The Grange retirement villages in Sandy Bay and Taroona yesterday. As you say on your Facebook page, both villages are owned by Southern Cross Care. Can you just update us about what you learned about the service fees that are going to be charged for residents in those homes for the upcoming year?

JONNO DUNIAM: As I understand it, there are some increases to the fees that have been proposed by Southern Cross Care. The concerns of residents broadly, as it was put to me, are centred on increasing fees and also reduced maintenance on the villages in which they reside. It was put to me that, in Tasmania, we don’t have the protections under state legislation that they do in other states that govern price increases, that govern minimum standards, that govern how corporate entities might interact with residents within an aged care village. They were very positive about the interactions they’ve had with the Tasmanian Government and the Attorney General, Elise Archer, about proposed reforms that they’re seeking. I indicated to them that I would support, in whatever way I can, the changes they need to get a standard of protection at law that I believe they deserve.

LEON COMPTON: You’re on Mornings around Tasmania. Just having a look through some of our texts and the stadium is coming up. Obviously the state Liberal Party want a stadium for Macquarie Point in Tasmania. That will come to a tune of potentially, if you total all the funds, a billion dollars. What is the position that you’re putting in Canberra to your political representatives when it comes to this issue?

JONNO DUNIAM: I look at all of the needs that Tasmania has when it comes to support from the Commonwealth. I know that there are, especially, pressures felt in the health system. I