3AW Drive - Interview with Tom Elliott

Release Date: 
11 June 2015
Media release
E&OE

TOM ELLIOTT:
Mr Tudge, good evening.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day Tom, great to be with you.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Thank you for joining us.

I read a lot about on what should or shouldn't be done under our constitution but I'm yet to get a politician be able to say to me, look this is where we are heading, we do want to recognise indigenous people in the constitution, this is the way we are proposing to do it. Can you shed some light on the situation?

ALAN TUDGE:
I'll do my best Tom.

We're trying to do two things. Firstly, we would ideally like to remove a couple of sections of the constitution, which actually allow for laws to be made on the basis of race at the moment.

One of those sections, section 25, which isn't used anymore thankfully, contemplates laws being made to prejudice people's voting on the basis of race. And section 51 (xxvi) also refers to laws being made on the basis of race. Really you shouldn't be making laws on that basis anymore.  That's the first point.

The second we would like to do is insert in some capacity a recognition that aboriginal people still exist in Australia, have done so for some time.

The form of words to be chosen is hotly contested and that's what we're working through with aboriginal leaders, and having a broader discussion with the Australian people.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Ok. You mention it's not a good idea to make laws on the basis of race. But we do, do that, we have whole chunks of welfare that are only available to aboriginal people, ABSTUDY, for example is a type of educational supplement doled out on the basis of race.  We have the intervention in the Northern Territory which was done initially only on the basis of race. Are you saying you're going to give that power up?

ALAN TUDGE:
That's certainly one of the powers that's being looked at and in my view we should be changing that, and rather having laws based on race we should have laws based on need.

Increasingly we're working towards that direction in any case.  If you have laws based on need rather than race, in essence you do send, I think, a good message that just because you're indigenous it doesn't mean you're disadvantaged. On average you're likely to be, but it's not necessarily that one equates with the other.

We should be basing our laws on the basis of what the disadvantage is...

TOM ELLIOTT:
I agree.

ALAN TUDGE:
...not on the basis of your indigeneity.

TOM ELLIOTT:
I agree, I mean if someone's health is bad it should not matter what race they were, you help them. If someone is at the bottom end of the income scale whether they've got red hair, freckles, and white skin, or whether they are of aboriginal descent, really shouldn't make any difference.

ALAN TUDGE:
It shouldn't make any difference, and the only exception in relation to that, Tom, is in relation to native title law. By definition, that is related to your indigenous lineage, and so we do need to have some sort of provision to be able to deal with native title law. But otherwise, most of the laws should be done on the basis of need rather than race.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Ok, so we want to change the constitution in a way that you can still make make laws that specifically deal with native title, but otherwise remove race from the constitution, and it is there. But on top of that you want to have a preamble or something that says they were the first Australians here for 40, 50, 60 thousand years before Europeans arrived, is that what we're doing?

ALAN TUDGE:
The second part in some respects is a recognition of aboriginal people in some capacity. Recognition of aboriginal people has been a continuum, and in the past we've recognised aboriginal people largely in the negative.  As you know, they were almost annihilated in Tasmania because they were aboriginal; there was unequal wages  up until the late sixties.

It's only been the last couple of decades we've recognised aboriginal people in more of the positive or the neutral, in having some indigenous names on our street signs, having some indigenous names in places, indigenous history being taught in schools. In some respects, this is a continuation of that with inserting some sort of form of words to recognise this country has an indigenous heritage.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Ok now that's fine, although I reckon other people might stick up their hands and say 'what about we recognise the wave of Vietnamese boat people that came here in the 70s and 80s' or something like that. Even so, and I'll put this bluntly, is the goal to do it in such a way that it does not have legal ramifications for Australia, that we're just stating something and that's all there is to it?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think just recognising the fact that aboriginal people have been here for a long time and still exists as a people, and still maintain many of their cultural traditions is not an insignificant thing in and of itself. The idea...

TOM ELLIOTT:
It is Mr Tudge if you stick it in the constitution, because the constitution is a body of constitutional law, it's not a history book, it says here are rights and powers and here's the way that the commonwealth deals with the states and those sorts of things.  You don't just put things in there that have no meaning and have no significance.

ALAN TUDGE:
And that's right, you need to be very careful when you are inserting words into the constitution. I'm more conservative constitutionally by nature as I think most Australians are, we do want to be careful there.

But one form of words for example that could be included could be in a preamble that says something like: ‘Australia has an indigenous heritage, a British foundation and multicultural character’.  And in some respects that would provide that recognition of our indigenous heritage, but would also be a neat summary of what's different about our nation. I quite like that. Others are suggesting a more handsome set of poetic words that sit outside of the constitution.

These are some of the things that are being debated and will continue to be debated over the months ahead until there is some sort of agreement about what formulation we might put forward for a discussion with the Australian people.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Well better you than me to try and get that organised.  Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to Tony Abbott, thank you for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks so much Tom.