Newly elected Liberal leader Peter Dutton said he wants to shift the focus from “symbolism” to practical actions to improve the living condition in vulnerable Indigenous communities.
The Queensland conservative has previously come under fire on indigenous issues after he refused to support the former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to Indigenous children who were removed from their families by the state from the mid-1800s to the 1970s. In 2010, he described the apology as tokenism that “distracts” people from delivering “tangible outcomes” to affected communities.
Speaking in his first press conference as Liberal leader on Monday, Dutton acknowledged that he had “made a mistake in relation to the apology” and that was largely due to his “background and experience.”
“I worked in Townsville. I remember going to many domestic violence instances, particularly involving Indigenous communities, and for me, at the time, I believed that the apology should be given when the problems were resolved, and the problems are not resolved.”
“There are little boys and girls in parts of our country in 2022, in this year, that slept in a shipping container last night to get through the hours of darkness in Indigenous communities, and it’s completely unacceptable.”
Dutton argued that while he understands the role of “symbolism,” he wants ‘practical solutions” to improve the living condition of Aboriginal communities, noting that previous bipartisan attempts to close the gap “have all failed.”
“Nobody, hand on heart, can sit here today to say that we are in a better position in many of those instances than we were five or 10 years ago,” he said.
“Going to a meeting here in Canberra and giving 10 acknowledgments to country, that’s fine, and I don’t say that in a disparaging way.”
“[But] I want to know how it is we’re going to support those kids and how it is we’re going to get higher health outcomes and mortality rates, and more kids going through university, just to finish primary school, secondary school to start with.”
The new centre-left Labor government led by Anthony Albanese has been advocating for greater political recognition of Indigenous Australians, with the prime minister promising to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart “in full” in his election victory speech on Saturday.
The Statement, proposed in a petition from the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in 2017, asks the government to establish a permanent body in Parliament representing the Indigenous community. Such a move would require amendments to the Constitution to establish the Indigenous Voice, which would require a referendum.
The Statement also urges the government to establish a “truth” commission to present “historic and ongoing injustices” against Aboriginal people in Australia.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney described the Statement as her “top priority” but said it needs to be “equally seen with the Close The Gap targets.”
However, Warren Mundine, the former national president of the Australian Labor Party, argued that the proposal advocated would involve “putting one race above other races.”
“Putting the Voice in our Constitution is dangerous because we want all citizens to be treated equally. When you’ve got it into the body of the Constitution, then it can become discriminatory and racist,” he told The Epoch Times.
“If you put something in the Constitution, it’s very hard to get it out. And if it doesn’t work, then we’re sort of stuck with it.”