August 02, 2016

SUBJECT/S: NT Juvenile Detention Royal Commission; Indigenous Recognition; Kevin Rudd’s UN bid. 

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor. There’s been suggestions that there’s possibly some bias from Mick Gooda’s appointment but no such suggestions form Labor, certainly not from Warren Mundine, very supportive of his mate Mick Gooda. And I think most people would recognise a very professional contribution from him as Social Justice Commissioner Brendan O’Connor?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Yeah, I think Mick Gooda made it clear yesterday that he was very upset, as we all were, when he saw the footage on Four Corners of the treatment of young people in detention. But I think he’s a great appointment and he’ll join Justice White and I think that’s an improvement on the first decision. That’s no reflection what so ever can I emphasise, Kieran, on Justice Martin who by the way in making such an honourable decision yesterday was ensuring that we could make amends for I think what were some of the problems with the original decision by the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.

GILBERT: And in terms of those issues that have been dealt with do you accept that because of this was done in haste that the Government wanted to respond quickly and therefore it’s defensible that the mistakes that were made in that hurry?

O’CONNOR: I think full marks for responding so quickly to say there would be a Royal Commission but I have to say I give the Government a fail for lack of consultation with indigenous communities and also not understanding that with such a sensitive matter dealing predominantly with indigenous children in detention, it was important that there be some indigenous presence on the Commission. That’s been rectified now and we welcome that. The terms of reference are still subject to examination by Labor, we wanted to make sure they are broad enough to cover the field and yet make sure that the timelines are swift enough so that there can be a requisite response. So I think this could’ve been handled better. Justice Martin’s decision yesterday allowed mistakes that were made by the Government to be rectified but we’d like to see the terms of reference and as I say let’s now focus on what we can do to help children in detention because quite frankly the abuse as we witnessed on the Four Corners program is reprehensible, inexcusable and we need to respond as a Government and as a nation. 

GILBERT: Let’s move on to the issue of recognition now, Ken Wyatt the first Aboriginal lower house Member of Parliament is worried that the talk about treaties and the recognition referendum debate into that area could derail the whole thing. Do you accept that he’s got a valid concern there?

O’CONNOR: I’ve got regard for Ken Wyatt on these matters and I listen to him carefully. I think the most important think Kieran is that we focus on the recognition in the Constitution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and make sure we get that done we have the Reconciliation Council making recommendations to do just that. That should be done as a matter of course as quickly as possible. 

It doesn’t deny or exclude us discussing other steps towards proper reconciliation with our First People and I think we don’t need to suggest that we narrow the debate down to just the words that go inside our Constitution when we talk about the healing that’s required for the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of their land and we need to therefore not unduly limit this debate, this conversation, that the Australian people must have. Just to take the one point that Ken made, let’s then just focus firstly on the words but let’s not deny our opportunities to have broader conversations, and if that includes discussing the possibilities of treaties, then so be it. We shouldn’t allow however the conservative Right to try to scare Australian people the same way that they did 20 years ago with the Mabo debate when they made extreme claims about what would happen if we were to legislate after the High Court decision. 

GILBERT: Let’s conclude – I want to get your thoughts on Kevin Rudd’s response to his bid being blocked by the Government. There’s been suggestions that the Department of Foreign Affairs had argued in favour of his bid. My understanding is that the incoming Secretary, Frances Adamson, did not support Kevin Rudd’s bid for the UN top job. And we’ve seen confirmed today and I’ve been told as well that the outgoing former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs did not support it either - Peter Varghese is the individual, he did not support Rudd’s bid. Given the various views around, do you think the Prime Minister has been vindicated in his decision? Particularly by the behaviour of Kevin Rudd in the days since, releasing letters and so on, his response to it?

O’CONNOR: Well clearly Mr Rudd is disappointed by the decision of the Government. It is an extraordinary decision not to allow a former Prime Minister to put themselves forward for a UN position and therefore it’s an understandable response by Kevin. I think it was an extraordinary step by the Government to deny the opportunities of a former Prime Minister for such a role. Given it was not appointing him, it was just green-lighting the opportunity for him to put his name forward. The danger, I think Kieran, with the decision of the Government, is that we’re going to new heights of partisanship. And it will be seen I think to be petty, not only within Australia, but the broader international community that the decision was taken by the Prime Minister to deny Kevin Rudd’s application going forward.

GILBERT: But if he doesn’t think he’s up for the job, why should he do it? Why should the Prime Minister do it if he doesn’t genuinely think he is up to it?

O’CONNOR: I’m not really sure if Malcolm Turnbull has fully explained the motives for him blocking the application by Mr Rudd. I know people have said, well there’s been criticism of both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Kevin Rudd, but a lot of that is ephemeral guff. The fact is that he was Prime Minister of the nation. He’s a former diplomat and I think therefore he understandably was upset by the decision to exclude him from that process. 

GILBERT: Mr O’Connor, good to see you. Appreciate your time as always.

O’CONNOR: Good to see you.