ABC774 Drive Interview with Rafael Epstein

Release Date: 
4 August 2015

Topics: Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge thanks for joining us.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is the Prime Minister making this a lot harder?

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t think so. In essence what he was saying is that we not only need to have constitutional referendum which has the support of Aboriginal Australia, but by definition it has to be a question which is owned by all of Australia.Getting any referendum through is exceptionally difficult Raf, as you know. Only eight out of forty-four have ever been successful with the last one in 1977. We have to bring all of Australia along the journey.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But they know all of that Alan Tudge. They are offended by the Prime Minister’s letter.

ALAN TUDGE: I know Noel Pearson very well, I used to work for him in fact and I’ve known him for many years. What he was proposing was to have a separate Indigenous process to go first before you then had a broader process. In essence, we are proposing they go on in parallel. Yes, Indigenous leaders need to be able to get together. They need to be able to agree amongst themselves what they desire but then we also need to be able to bring the broader Australian community along the journey as well.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But if you agreed to that parallel process then the Prime Minister would be funding some sort of Indigenous convention and he’s not.

ALAN TUDGE: What we will be doing is we’re going to be establishing a referendum council and it will be overseeing the process which we’ll be taking forward. That’s going to involve conferences around the country.That referendum council will consist of some prominent Indigenous members and also some prominent non-Indigenous members to oversee the process. We want to engage as many people as possible.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But that’s the problem isn’t it Alan Tudge? Look I know there are very many people in your party room who think the Prime Minister is the only conservative leader who can deliver this and I don’t doubt your personal intentions. I think the Prime Minister has said that this is a high priority for him however there’s a real disconnect here. Indigenous Australia wants the government to fund and approve an Indigenous process. They don’t want something conferred on them. They want to be able to say to the country ‘this is how we would like you to recognise us’. There’s a fundamental disagreement there, isn’t there?

ALAN TUDGE: I wouldn’t want to overstate that disagreement. We’re working through exactly what the process is going to be from here to the point when we can put a referendum question to the Australian public. That process will be overseen by this referendum council and it will be publicly funded. We would hope through that process that it will provide an opportunity for Indigenous Australians to get together themselves and discuss amongst themselves what they would like to see out of it as well.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It sounds like you’re [inaudible] the cracks to be honest, Alan Tudge, cracks between Indigenous Australia and the Prime Minister.

ALAN TUDGE: I don’t, Raf. At the end of the day, we need to have something that all of us can agree on. We need as broad a consensus as possible. Certainly we want Indigenous peoples’ support and it’s almost pointless if you don’t have Indigenous peoples’ support.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But you don’t have that Alan Tudge. Mick Gooda is saying he wants to curl up under a blanket and cry. You know these people Alan Tudge. Are you accusing him of hyperbole?

ALAN TUDGE: No, I know these people exceptionally well. We’re a long way away from having a referendum question. We’re a long way away. We’re just discussing the process at this stage. Let’s discuss sensibly what the process should be which has the best chance of getting the right outcome; the best chance of getting an outcome which has support which is meaningful for Aboriginal people but also has the best chance of being successful in a referendum which is so damned difficult to get up as history shows.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I ask you, I mentioned what Noel Pearson said that it’s not for mainstream Australia to confer recognition upon Indigenous people, it is for Indigenous people to decide whether that type of recognition is something they actually want. Do you agree with that, the beginning of the formation of the question, it needs to start with black Australia?

ALAN TUDGE: I think that’s partially true. It is pointless putting up a question which doesn’t have the support of Indigenous Australia. They need to feel as if this will be a meaningful act for them.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And they don’t at the moment.

ALAN TUDGE: Well we haven’t come to that. At the moment there’s probably four or five different models which have been put forward. There’s a very important model which Noel Pearson himself has put forward. There is a different model which Pat Dodson, another prominent Indigenous leader, has put forward. We have an expert panel committee who has a slightly different model again. We need to work through these various options and try to get a consensus amongst Indigenous leadership as to what they would like, because at the moment they are not completely in sync. We also need to be able to get everybody else to agree with that as well so it’s meaningful for everybody and it can be a process we can all be proud of and an outcome we can all be proud of.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: 1300222774 is the phone number. Curious to know what you make of what Alan Tudge has to say. He’s the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He knows these issues in dept. 1300222774. Alan Tudge another sign of failure, effectively, you say we’re not yet at the point of failure, however if Indigenous Australia is taking about going to corporations to get them to pay for black Australia to get together. That’s a problem, isn’t it, that’s a big indication they’ve lost faith in the process the government is sponsoring?

ALAN TUDGE: Again Raf I would say that we haven’t determined yet the process. We haven’t established the referendum council and that group of people will determine the finality of where the proposed conferences will occur and exactly how they will occur. Give us a bit of time to work that out. That referendum council will include some prominent Indigenous people on it who will be guiding the process.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You’re not going to budge though are you? You’re not going to let them have their own official Indigenous process. That’s a red line, it appears, for the Prime Minister.

ALAN TUDGE: The request was for an initial $5 million of funding to run a separate process in advance of a broader community process. I think the Prime Minister’s concerns were that if that occur it might end up with a consensus around a position which the broader Australian public wouldn’t be able to support. So we need to have these processes going in parallel.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Again Noel Pearson sees that as an insult, the idea the Prime Minister is worried that people like him and other Indigenous leaders will come up with something that’s unacceptable to the rest of Australia. I think they find that insulting that that’s one of the Prime Minister’s fears.

ALAN TUDGE: I think no matter who is coming up with it, it is an exceptionally difficult task to get a question which is going to have enough broad consensus across the board to be successful in a referendum. The last successful referendum was in 1977 and that concerned the retirement age of judges, not a particularly controversial topic. The last time we had a substantial change to our constitution, a substantial referendum which was meaningful in a way, was the 1967 referendum. So almost 50 years ago. These are very difficult things to achieve so we do want to have a process which maximises the opportunity of it being successful. The worst possible outcome Raf would be to have a question which got voted down. I think that would be the worst possible outcome.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Do you think we’ll have a bipartisan question agreed on by the time of the next election, let’s say it’s 12 months away. What are your chances of getting that? High?

ALAN TUDGE: I think there’s a reasonable chance of getting to that. That should be our aspiration. We have had good bipartisan support to date. The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader just a couple of weeks ago jointly hosted a meeting with 40 Aboriginal leaders. It is absolutely necessary to have bipartisan support but it is not sufficient. You need more.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Absolutely. Alan Tudge thanks for your time.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge is a Melbourne Liberal MP in the seat of Aston around Knox way. He’s also Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott focusing significantly on Indigenous issues.