Subjects; Australia Day; twin referenda proposal; Indigenous representation in Parliament; reconciliation; AFL; NRL.
CHARLES PAKANA: Mr Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for joining us here this afternoon on Connection Matters.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me.
PAKANA: It is our absolute pleasure. Mr Albanese, you’re on record or in the media quite recently about your proposal to have a twin or joint referendums on a future 26th of January to cover off the issues, the key issues of constitutional recognition of First Australians and a republic. The first question that I want to ask you is; this is not really a party political message. This is your own sentiments going forward, is that correct?
ALBANESE: That is right. I made the comments at the Australia Day citizenship ceremony that is held in my electorate in Enmore every year. There’s a big commemoration and citizenship ceremony at Enmore Park and I always try to do what I think our national day should do, which is to not just have some celebration, but actually reflect on Australia’s past and indeed the fact that European settlement of this continent came at a great cost to the First Australians who of course represent the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet. That’s something that we as Australians should all be proud of. But we need to recognise that history didn’t begin in 1788 on this continent. It goes back at least 65,000 years. But we also should consider what we are as a modern country, where people have come from all around the world seeking a better life for themselves and their future generations to come, but also should have some consideration about the future – what we want Australia to be. I think a necessary precondition for a better future is reconciliation being advanced with the First Australians. Our Constitution is, of course, inadequate while it doesn’t recognise the First Australians the fact that we have that long history on this continent.
PAKANA: Well of course there are many many sentiments that the Constitution is in great need of an overhaul, and many still refer to it as racist, but what form do you see this particular level of constitutional recognition taking?
ALBANESE: The starting point needs to be the Uluru Statement from the Heart. That’s a very significant document that was the result of consultation within communities of First Australians and a coming together to talk about how reconciliation could be advanced. So obviously, some of that detail needs to be worked through and it needs to involve First Australians themselves in that process and in those outcomes. But the fact that we don’t recognise First Australians, the Uluru Statement speaks about a Makaratta, a healing process after conflict. That needs to be advanced as well. One step occurred 10 years ago next fortnight with the National Apology from Kevin Rudd. That was an example of something that was seen as an issue that was too difficult for the Howard Government to deal with. But once it was done, it brought the whole nation together. It obviously was of great comfort…
PAKANA: …it was a massive step forward.
ALBANESE: …for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but it was also a massive step forward for all of us.
PAKANA: There’s no doubt it was a step forward for reconciliation and actually, you mentioned Howard, and we’ll come back to the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard in a few minutes when we talk about referendums. But actually, let’s stick there. Now, we do in Australia have a notoriously low success rate in changing the Constitution via referendum. We’ve had 44 referenda since Federation and only eight of those have been successful. Most notable of course is the 1967 referendum. With your proposal that we go forward with twin referenda, talking about constitutional recognition and also a republic, don’t you see there’s a potential danger for muddying of the waters by the naysayers as we saw in the in the 1990s with the referendum for a republic then? That was a notorious muddying of waters and with two issues there seem to be possible dangers.
ALBANESE: The starting point is, does Australia need to modernise our Constitution? Do we need to move to a republic? The answer to that is, in my view, yes we do need to have an Australian head of state.
PAKANA: We support you here on that one.
ALBANESE: We also need to to recognize the First Australians in the Constitution. So if your starting point is that, then you need to have a strategy for how to achieve it, how to get to that outcome. It seems to me, when I was thinking about these issues and watching the conflict that was exhibited and some of the divisions over the nature of Australia Day in the lead up to the 26th of January, that we need to have a process that; one, recognises the past, but secondly also; recognises of course that history didn’t stop in 1788, that modern Australia does have many people who come from all over the world or are descendants of people who’ve come from other parts of the world and made Australia what it is today as well, a successful multicultural nation. And it seemed to me that on Australia Day, when there this debate over whether the date should be changed, what I’m saying is enhance the date. Make it so that there’s a recognition of the continuous civilisation that was here from the First Nations around this continent in 1788. That would be a way of advancing that, and that would maximise the potential. Think about someone coming along to vote on the 26th of January, firstly on recognition. Do they recognise that there were people here, a rich civilization and culture was here before? I think the argument to that would be yes. Secondly, on Australia Day, the simple question of; should there be an Australian head of state? On Australia Day, it would also maximise the potential for success. Now, I don’t say that this is the only idea. I do say it is an idea and that we need to have consideration of these proposals. I noticed that Noel Pearson had a very constructive proposal.
PAKANA: The 25th and 26th of January, yes.
ALBANESE: Yes, it is about coming from the same perspective of how we avoid a division whereby people who say that they want to continue to commemorate the arrival of Europeans, how is that reconciled with the fact of dispossession, with the fact of trauma and what came with that as well. I think that is what Noel Pearson in his proposal essentially suggests that the 25th of January would be the celebration of the sovereignty that occurred in the First Nations and the 26th would commemorate the unilateral declaration of British sovereignty that occurred with the arrival of the First Fleet.
PAKANA: I can see problems with that, but you can see problems wherever you look, can’t you?
ALBANESE: That’s right. I’m not saying this is the only idea. What I’ve done is to try to say, look, we have an issue that needs resolution. I certainly understand the hurt that is felt from First Australians who say that we need to change the date. Whenever you talk about what date should be celebrated as a national day, there are objections raised whatever date you pick. And of course even the 26th of January wasn’t the foundation of Australia. That came on the first of January more than 100 years later when the Federation was formed.
PAKANA: Now, one question I have for you that has been begging to be asked, is that you’ve mentioned that this is not a party political statement. This is just an expression of opinion.
PAKANA: You are renowned though, in over 21 years in Parliament of being somewhat of a terrier once you take on a cause. You never seem to let go. And as I mentioned earlier to you, this was all too evident when in 1996 when you came into Parliament you championed the cause of same sex marriage and I believe it was superannuation at that stage. That kept on going through four Private Members Bills until the Rudd Government came in and things started to change there. Is this another one of the causes that is going to get the Anthony Albanese terrier treatment?
ALBANESE: I certainly have been, from well before I was in Parliament, committed to advancing reconciliation. I grew up in the inner suburbs of Sydney. I knew many people in the Redfern community in particular who I went to school with, played footy with, and got to know about Aboriginal disadvantage at a very young age. I think that’s something that all Australian parliamentarians need to be conscious of. So this is an issue in which I can see, unless we talk about solutions rather than just arguments, I can see the argument growing each year in the lead up to January 26, and it being potentially a quite divisive debate that’s held where First Australians for very good reason are concerned about the 26th of January. At the same time, one of the things that I’ve seen occur during the time in which I have been in Parliament, is each and every year there is no day in which there’s more discussion about the need for closing the gap in practical terms about our history of tragedies committed against the First Australians. It occurs around the 26th of January. Even last Friday at Enmore Park there was a fantastic Acknowledgement of Country. Then there was a great performance by a bunch of young Indigenous dancers with their leader of the group who’s mentoring these quite young students, they would have been early teens at most, explaining to the audience, many of whom would have been hearing it for the first time, about the didgeridoo, its history coming from Arnhem Land and talking about the different sounds that can be made and how it’s made. The audience, who were of course five years ago probably living in Africa, Asia, Europe, all around the world were sitting there and really enjoying and engaged with that Indigenous culture.
PAKANA: Of course, this is all to do with education, and education is such an important thing about all levels of history, about what the early colonial governments did and what the history was before that.
ALBANESE: The Frontier Wars.
PAKANA: Of course.
ALBANESE: The fact that so many of Australia’s places are named after people…
PAKANA: ...Ben Boyd.
ALBANESE: These are issues in which there’s a far greater consciousness than from when I was a student. That simply didn’t occur and that’s a very positive thing. The fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are so patient, frankly. I would understand a fair bit of anger about the lack of practical progress on so many issues but, many people are prepared to get out there and engage with their fellow Australians. To advance these issues in a way that unite the country, but unite the country with a founding principle that the starting point of this great land, which we have the privilege to live in, began with the oldest continuous civilization and culture that continues to this day.
PAKANA: So I can assume from these comments, that the answer to my previous question is that Mr Anthony Albanese will continue with this course until we get at least some progress forward. Is that a fair summation?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. We are all diminished as a nation whilst we don’t recognise the reality of what our history is.
PAKANA: I think that’s an excellent sentiment.
ALBANESE: One of the concerns about the current debate and the lack of progress is that you had the whole process leading up to the Statement from the Heart and then it was just dismissed by the Government and I think it hasn’t been advanced properly in a non partisan way. The proposals that have been put forward aren’t for a third chamber of parliament.
PAKANA: This is the Government’s whitewash, where they’re asking for the third chamber of Parliament, correct. Which is not what the Uluru Statement from the Heart requested. It was a voice to Parliament.
ALBANESE: Exactly, and there’s not a request for a special chamber or indeed even a portion of the Senate or the House of Representatives to be set aside for Indigenous people, that is not what is being asked for. One of the advances that we’ve seen in recent times is the election of very significant Australians like Pat Dodson, Linda Burney, Malarndirri McCarthy, and Ken Wyatt. That’s a significant step forward that we’ve seen. Linda Burney is one of my my dearest friends, and I’m very proud that she happened to be my local Member. There was a redistribution so I live a few blocks outside my seat, just around the corner from Linda Burney, but that meant that Linda was able to transition from being a senior State Minister and Deputy Opposition Leader for the Labor Party into now being a frontbencher in the National Parliament.
PAKANA: Mr Albanese, we’ve just about run out of time. What I’d like to do is first thank you so much for the interview and your sharing of thoughts. What I would like to do now is bring it to a more local level and that is Melbourne. You’re quite blunt in your support for two key things in your life and they are the ALP, the Labor Party and of course the South Sydney Football Club.
PAKANA: Okay, this is Melbourne radio. So what you have to do is come forward and proclaim yourself a supporter of what team in the AFL?
ALBANESE: Ah, well. The politics of this one are fraught.
PAKANA: Don’t be a politician on this one, for goodness sake.
ALBANESE: You see, if you’re a South Sydney supporter, some of your listeners would not be aware of the mighty red and green colors so I could not choose a VFL team as it was then, of course.
PAKANA: Because there was no red and green, is that right?
ALBANESE: That’s correct. I couldn’t pick Essenden, they’re in North Sydney colours. Richmond Tigers, the same as Balmain Tigers. Carlton with Newtown. So I had to pick a team that didn’t clash with any of the Sydney rugby league teams.
PAKANA: Just leaves black and white, really, doesn’t it?
ALBANESE: I became a Hawks supporter.
PAKANA: Oh dear. Oh dear.
ALBANESE: I told you it was fraught!
PAKANA: It was the wrong answer, by the way.
ALBANESE: It was a very young age. Now, I’m aware that Hawthorn now have as their President, Jeff Kennett. That is the source of some embarrassment. I am a member of the Sydney Swans. When South Melbourne of course, had the same colours as St George, moved up to Sydney I joined the Swans and I go to Swans games but you can’t change your team. So the Hawks remain my team, but I got to meet Cyril Rioli Senior in the Tiwi Islands a few years ago and see the oval where a barefoot Cyril played at a very young age . Cyril Rioli Senior told me he wasn’t real good at passing the ball, but he didn’t really need to, he just charged his way through the field barefoot.
PAKANA: A great Australian through and through, no doubt about it. Well, Mr Albanese we have unfortunately reached the end. I would like to thank you very much for joining us here on Connection Matters and we look forward to speaking to you again in the future.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much. And can I say that one of the things about Souths of course, that they are the team for your listeners that if you don’t have a rugby league team, they are the team with the link to the Indigenous community, more than any other and South Cares does some fantastic work.
PAKANA: We will have to start taking calls on that one, Mr Albanese.
ALBANESE: GI is going to have a big year this year.
PAKANA: [Laughs]. Thank you so much indeed.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.