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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 26 May 2015: National Sorry Day and constitutional recognition

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SUBJECT/S: National Sorry Day; Constitutional Recognition.

SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Today is National Sorry Day. As the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs I thought I would speak on this issue.

This is a day where there will be marches and meetings around the country. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, sadly the Stolen Generations, where people were taken away from their families, their friends, their culture and their country, the loss of language, the loss of identity for many people; today we want to honour the Stolen Generations and remember the contribution and resilience they made to Australia’s life.

It is also a day when we should recommit ourselves to recognising Australia’s First Peoples, the Indigenous people of this country, in the Constitution. The Leader of the Opposition has written to the Prime Minister on more than half a dozen occasions, requesting a gathering, a summit of respected Indigenous leaders, so that we can discuss that hole, that void in the Constitution, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not recognised.

The Prime Minister said he would be the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs and have Indigenous people at the heart of his Government, in word and deed, his words were. In fact we know he’s cut more than half a billion dollars from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio across two budgets now and across the forward estimates.

We cannot have a loss of momentum with respect to Constitutional Recognition. The Joint Select Committee, led by the Member for Hasluck Ken Wyatt, and Senator Nova Peris, will be handing down its report by the end of June.

The Prime Minister should stop procrastinating, get this gathering together, get these respected Indigenous leaders together with himself and the Leader of the Opposition, and we should carry forward the recognition of Australia’s First People in our Constitution, substantial and real change is what they want, this should happen. This is a day when we should recommit ourselves and the Prime Minister should stop dithering on this issue.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s uncalled-for to be making a political point about this today?

NEUMANN: No I don’t think so. I think it’s the case that the Prime Minister has really procrastinated for such a long time. And this is a Prime Minister who said one thing to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people before the election but he’s done just the opposite thereafter.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Cory Bernardi’s comments of late about the possibility of a fight against Constitutional Recognition?

NEUMANN: I think Cory Bernardi is out of touch with the Australian public. I think there’s good will on both sides of politics. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been asking for Constitutional Recognition. There is provision in our Constitution, which I’m sure if you walked down Oxford Street Bulimba in Brisbane or Oxford Street in Sydney, would be horrified, there is implicit discrimination and opportunity for State Governments to pass laws to restrict the voting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I’m sure Cory Bernardi is way out of touch with the Australian public.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

NEUMANN: I think Cory Bernardi can speak for himself. I think the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have in the past shown strong bipartisan commitment to this. I am a member of that committee that is led by Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris. We have worked constructively together. There has been a bipartisan interim report and a bipartisan progress report. I’m hopeful that the final report, that comes down by the end of June, will be the same: a bipartisan commitment. It’s supported not just by the Labor and Liberal members of the committee, but by the Greens member, Senator Rachel Sievert.

JOURNALIST: Is Cory Bernardi racist?

NEUMANN: Cory Bernardi can speak for himself. I think we should take steps to make sure this issue is progressed and it can’t be progressed if the Prime Minister engages in dithering on the issue.