Newly elected Liberal Leader Peter Dutton said he wanted to shift the focus from “symbolism” to practical actions to improve the lives of vulnerable Indigenous communities.
The Queensland Tory has previously come under fire on Indigenous issues after refusing to back former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to Indigenous children who were taken from their families by the state from the mid-1800s to the 1970s In 2010, he described the apology as a symbolic gesture that “diverts” people from delivering “tangible results” to affected communities.
Speaking at his first press conference as Liberal leader on Monday, Dutton acknowledged he had “made a mistake when it came to the apology” and that much of it was due to his “background and his experience”.
“I worked in Townsville. I remember being in many domestic abuse cases, especially involving Indigenous communities, and for me at the time I believed that apologies should be made when the issues were resolved and the issues are not not resolved.
“There are little boys and girls in parts of our country in 2022, that year, who slept in a shipping container last night to get through the hours of darkness in Indigenous communities, and that is totally unacceptable.
Dutton argued that while he understands the role of ‘symbolism’, he wants ‘practical solutions’ to improve the lives of Indigenous communities, noting that previous bipartisan attempts to close the gap ‘have all failed’. .
“No one with their hand on their heart can sit here today and say that we are in a better position in many of these cases than we were five or 10 years ago,” he said. .
“To go to a meeting here in Canberra and give the country 10 thanks is good, and I don’t say that in a derogatory way.”
“[But] I want to know how we’re going to support these kids and how we’re going to get health outcomes and higher death rates and more kids going to college just to finish primary school, secondary school to begin .”
The new centre-left Labor government led by Anthony Albanese has pushed for greater political recognition of Indigenous Australians, with the Prime Minister promising to implement the Heart’s Uluru Declaration ‘in full’ in his election victory speech of Saturday.
The declaration, proposed in a petition to the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in 2017, calls on the government to establish a permanent body in Parliament representing the Indigenous community. Such a decision 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 bring to light ‘historic and ongoing injustices’ against Australia’s Aboriginal peoples.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney described the declaration as her “top priority”, but said it must be “also considered with the aims of Close The Gap”.
However, Warren Mundine, the former national chairman of the Australian Labor Party, argued that the advocated proposal would involve “putting one race above other races”.
“Putting voice into our Constitution is dangerous because we want all citizens to be treated equally. When you put it into the body of the Constitution, it can become discriminatory and racist,” he told The Epoch Times.
“If you put something in the Constitution, it is very difficult to get it out. And if it doesn’t work, then we’re kind of stuck with it.