Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Constitutional recognition, ABC News breakfast, Karina Carvalho

Program: ABC News breakfast

E & OE – Proof only

KARINA CARVALHO: The Federal Government looks as though it’s shelved plans to hold a referendum to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. Jenny Macklin is the Indigenous Affairs Minister and she joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning Minister, thank you very much for your time. It looks as though this referendum, you’re actually going to delay it, is that correct?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we understand that there isn’t sufficient awareness in the Australian community about the need to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. So we have decided instead as an interim measure to introduce an Act of Recognition into the Parliament and I certainly think this will be an important way to build support for the constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Peoples, something that we certainly believe, and I think there’s a view across the Parliament, we think that that would be a very positive step.

KARINA CARVALHO: We’ll come to the Act of Recognition in a moment, let’s just stick to this delay of the referendum. When do you intend to hold that referendum? At the time it was announced it was thought that in the 2013 election that a referendum could be held concurrently?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s certainly what we wanted to do, but we understand that there just isn’t the awareness of the issue in the Australian, across the Australian community. We, of course, want to continue to build that support. That’s why we’ve provided extra funding to Reconciliation Australia to help build that awareness and support. But in the meantime that’s why we want to proceed with an Act of Recognition through the Parliament.

KARINA CARVALHO: So when will the referendum be held?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the message we get from Indigenous Australians is that the time for having the referendum will be when it will definitely succeed. I think all of us who care about this issue deeply want to make sure it succeeds. The worst thing that could happen would be that this issue would fail at a referendum. I think that would set the issue back far too much. What we want is a successful referendum, so it’s really the responsibility of all of us to build that support.

KARINA CARVALHO: But surely the Government does have some kind of timeline in mind?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why in the Act of Recognition that we’ll put into the Parliament, we’ll put a sunset clause to make it clear that this is an interim step of two, it’ll be a sunset clause of two or three years, so that we can keep building the momentum to hopefully have a referendum as soon as we possibly can. I’d like to see it in that timeframe but I think we need to constantly think, we have to do it when we’re going to get the support.

KARINA CARVALHO: You mention the report by Reconciliation Australia that has found that only 39% of the non-Indigenous community are even aware of this proposed referendum. Is that a failure on the Government’s part to adequately inform the Australian community about its intentions?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think it does recognise that changing the Constitution is a very difficult task and this report from Reconciliation Australia certainly shows…

KARINA CARVALHO: …should your Government not have acknowledged that at the beginning and then therefore put in more resources in order to get the information out to the community?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that is why we have provided the funding to Reconciliation Australia, why they are getting out holding forums and discussions with groups of people right around Australia. That needs to continue. And I think we’ve all got a responsibility, the Government included, to do everything we can to build that support. But that’s exactly why I want to put forward an Act of Recognition through the Parliament. I think that way the Parliament can show our bipartisan or cross-Party support for the act of recognising the very important and special place that Indigenous Australians have in our country.

KARINA CARVALHO: And has that Act of Recognition been, have you come to that decision in consultation with Indigenous leaders?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve certainly been talking with Indigenous leaders, and also with the other parties in the Parliament. I think the message I get from the Indigenous leadership and other people who are really concerned about this issue is that we need cross-Party support. So I certainly hope we will get that when we introduce the Act of Recognition into the Parliament.

KARINA CARVALHO: Minister I just want to ask you about a couple of other issues. Dennis Richardson, the outgoing Foreign Affairs Department Head has said that Australia and Australia’s ties to China need to be, need to be respected and as well he’s talked about the strength of the Australian/US alliance rallying against some of the comments made by Kerry Stokes and James Packer in the last couple of weeks. What’s your thoughts on that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well this is way outside my portfolio areas, but I would say that Dennis Richardson is plainly a very senior public servant and we continue to look forward to the role that he’s going to play in a leadership position in the Government, but it’s really way outside my portfolio.

KARINA CARVALHO: Are you comfortable with a Department Head speaking out in such a forthright terms?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I say this is way outside my portfolio area. Let’s stick to constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.

KARINA CARVALHO: Jenny Macklin, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.