Transcript: ABC RN Breakfast - 18/10/23

18 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice Referendum; First Nations

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Since enduring a heavy defeat on the weekend, questions are growing as to what will happen next to close the gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians, and whether the Government will still try to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. The other elements, obviously the voice has failed. 

KARVELAS: Indigenous leaders are mourning the result, participating in a week of silence. But it will be over the coming weeks and months that they work with the government on what action should and will come next. Jana Stewart is a senator for Victoria, a Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba woman, and she's my guest this morning. Jana, welcome to the program.  

SENATOR JANA STEWART: Good morning, PK, and good morning to your listeners.  

KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says he'll have a process of consultation with First Nations people over what happens next. So, how urgent is that process? When should it happen?  

STEWART: I agree, there's a lot of conversations that need to happen with the First Nations communities across the country, and it's really important that that really takes the time that's needed.We know that our communities around the nation right now are mourning the loss of the referendum. It's important that we give them space to sit with that and reflect on where we are as a community and also think about where to next. They need to be ready to engage in the conversations with the government and with their own communities now. 

KARVELAS: It's been described, the result this is, as the, the death of reconciliation. Many Indigenous people feel that way. Do you?  

STEWART: I think one of the silver linings of the referendum is that millions of Australians showed up and voted yes for First Nations people, and that were activated in a way they have never been before. I think one of the good things about the about the referendum campaign is it put the challenges that First Nations people experience on the radar nationally. There are lots of people who were becoming aware of the challenges experienced by our community for the first time. So I think what we have now is millions of Australians who are now more motivated than ever to see governments and parliaments do better. And I don't think it's the last we'll hear from them. 

KARVELAS: You said in your maiden speech that treaty is why I became a Labor person. Treaty was the next part of the Uluru Statement. Should the government move towards one?  

STEWART: Oh, I'm an incredibly proud Victorian. We are leading the nation when it comes to the treaty making process. and truth telling as well. We've just finished up the Yurok Truth and Justice Commission in Victoria. But I think it's important now that we pause and reflect, we engage with communities about where they want to go to next. Of course, I'm a supporter of truth telling and treaty. I couldn't be otherwise as a Victorian.  

KARVELAS: Okay, but that's the Victorian process. This demand in the Uluru Statement was also demand makes it sound, you know, extreme. This call was for this to happen at a national level. Do you want that to happen? 

STEWART: Well, I think the conversation around what happens next with the community is what's important, and I think that's what we need to wait and engage in if the conversation with the community feeds back that they want to continue on that, on those steps, then I think that's something that we will consider, just as well as anything else. I think that's something that we will service delivery areas, the things that are within the realm of the federal government where we'll work with the community.  

KARVELAS: You see why it seems like the government's maybe pulling back? Because the Prime Minister's been asked, he hasn't committed emphatically to the whole statement. Do you see why some people are seeing it as a wavering support?  

STEWART: Well, I think one of the things that was really clear from the Prime Minister and certainly, our Labor movement is that we are committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres and we will continue our commitment. I think we were there every step of the way with the Aboriginal the referendum. Overwhelmingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And you can see that so demonstrably in the polling results in the remote communities across the nation. So we will, when First Nations communities have the space and time to come to the table again and speak with us, we will be waiting patiently to work with them. 

KARVELAS: So, the result itself. There are some Indigenous people I've spoken to who tell me it is a clear result which shows that Australia has a problem with racism. Do you see it that way?  

STEWART: I think that to not talk about racism would be to deny lots of First Nations people's experience through the referendum campaign. I think that that it was absolutely a feature of the campaign for lots of Aboriginal people. And from my own personal experience, I've never been so liberal with the block and delete function on my social media. I think it really did embolden a whole lot of people to say things that they wouldn't otherwise have said, but that's not to say that every person who wrote no on the ballot paper is racist. I think lots of people went into the ballot box with fear instead of fact. And I think that's an incredibly sad outcome for the referendum. And one, and I really hope that Trumpian style politics doesn't become a regular feature of our political campaigns here in Australia.  

KARVELAS: You talk about how racism rose, but is that now, has that now stopped or is that an ongoing problem now? 

STEWART: Oh, I think that's a really good question. I think my personal view is that it's always been there, and the referendum and the way that the No campaign and Peter Dutton and his team of wreckers really carried themselves through the referendum, really emboldened people, and brought it out. I think the really useful thing about it is that now that we know the extent of the challenge that we face in this country, it gives us an opportunity to do something about it. So I think that that's another silver lining for us. We've got a lot of work to do, lots of education to do in the nation.  

KARVELAS: What surprised you about what has emerged?  

STEWART: I don't know that much surprised me about what emerged. I think the thing that surprised me is how people who hold particular views about First Nations people were emboldened to, you know, say their quiet bit out loud across social media platforms, when they're walking into polling booths. So I think that's probably what surprised me about the campaign. But like I said, I think there is an opportunity now that we understand lots of the challenges experienced by First Nations people to do something about it. 

KARVELAS: Jana, thank you so much for joining us this morning.  

STEWART: Thanks, PK.  

KARVELAS: Victorian Senator Jana Stewart there.