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'We all change': Burney urges Dutton to support First Nations Voice

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Newly-appointed Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney has told an Adelaide audience Liberal leader Peter Dutton should “show his much-talked-about different side” by supporting a referendum for a constitutionally-enshrined First Nations Voice.

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Burney made the remarks at last night’s Lowitja O’Donoghue oration at the University of Adelaide, where she reaffirmed the Albanese Government’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The statement calls for the establishment of a “First Nations Voice” in the Australian Constitution, which would require a referendum – the first Australians would face since the Republican vote in 1999.

It also calls for the establishment of Makarrata – a Yolngu word with a similar meaning to treaty.

Burney said Dutton had an opportunity to show unity and leadership by supporting a referendum, adding the process would require all political parties to “accept some level of compromise”.

“There is no one for whom supporting a referendum for a Voice to Parliament represents a bigger political opportunity than for Peter Dutton,” she said.

“An opportunity … to show his much-talked-about different side.

“It’s also about being on the right side of history. And Peter Dutton has in recent days reflected on what it is like to be on the wrong side of history, after walking out on the apology to the Stolen Generations.

“But, we all grow and we all change, and there is no shame in that at all.

“In fact, that is what the journey of reconciliation is all about.”

Dutton walked out on former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s formal apology delivered in parliament in 2008.

On Monday after his appointment as Liberal leader, Dutton said he “made a mistake” when he boycotted the apology, saying he wanted to see tangible outcomes for First Nations people.

“For me, at the time, I believed that the apology should be given when the problems were resolved and the problems are not resolved,” he said.

“I understand the symbolism and I made that mistake … so I want there to be practical solutions.

“And I want to work with the government to deliver those.”

Successive Liberal prime ministers have dismissed calls for a referendum since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was handed down in 2017.

Most recently, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a First Nations Voice would constitute a “third chamber” of parliament – a characterisation rejected by Indigenous groups.

“It’s not our policy to have a referendum on the Voice, so why would I be doing that?,” Morrison said during the election campaign.

Burney said she would be “very pleased” to walk the path of reconciliation with Dutton, and that the Nationals and Greens should also place the “national interest ahead of narrow political ambition”.

She also credited her Liberal predecessor Ken Wyatt, who lost his Western Australian seat of Hasluck at last month’s election, describing him as a friend who had laid the groundwork for a Voice to Parliament.

“In progressing a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, I will be carefully considering the work of the co-design group set up by Ken,” she said.

“But, that work only goes so far, because the co-design process was prevented from considering constitutional change.

“On this front I say to Ken: ‘I need your support brother’.”

The Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration honours the influential South Australian Aboriginal leader who dedicated her life to improving the lives of First Nations Australians.

Burney, who was sworn in as Australia’s first female Indigenous affairs minister at a ceremony today, paid tribute to O’Donoghue, and credited her leadership, activism and courage as a source of strength to draw upon.

“I know that I will be sworn in tomorrow as the first, First Nations woman in the federal cabinet because of the shoulders there for me to stand on – shoulders like Lowitja’s,” she said.

Opening her speech in Wiradjuri, the language of her people, Burney noted that there are as many Wiradjuri people in the Labor caucus as Liberals from Adelaide and Perth combined.

She revealed her own family history, saying she did not meet her father until she was 28.

Born 10 years before the successful 1967 referendum to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Indigenous people and include them in the census, Burney was raised by white members of her extended family because her mother was unmarried.

Burney said landmark reforms for Indigenous Australians were introduced by Labor prime ministers, and she and Anthony Albanese wanted to add to that legacy by implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in its entirety.

“I was 10 years old when my country, when my fellow citizens, decided to count me in the population of the country I was born in … Now imagine how this next referendum will make us feel,” she said, “about ourselves, our neighbours, and our country, when it passes.”

– with AAP

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