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How Peter Dutton blocked Indigenous names for bases

Karen Middleton on Peter Dutton’s decisions as Defence Minister and what they tell us about his approach to change.
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The new Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, has been keen to say he wants Australians to get to know him better.

He’s acknowledged making some mistakes in the past, including walking out of the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generation.

But now, an exclusive report by Karen Middleton has revealed that last year, Peter Dutton intervened to cancel an Australian Defence Force plan to give military bases dual English and Indigenous names.

Today, chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton on Peter Dutton’s decisions as Defence Minister and what they tell us about his approach to change.

 

Guest: Chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

 

The new Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, has been keen to say he wants Australians to get to know him better.

 

He’s acknowledged making some mistakes in the past – including walking out of the 2008 apology to the stolen generation.

 

But now, an exclusive report by Karen Middleton has revealed that last year, Peter Dutton intervened to cancel an Australian Defence Force plan to give military bases dual English and Indigenous names.

 

Today, chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton, on Peter Dutton’s decisions as Defence Minister - and what they tell us about his approach to change.

 

It’s Tuesday June 7. 

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:
So Karen, since Peter Dutton took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, we've been hearing that there is going to be perhaps a softer way. So can you tell me what the message is, what we’re hearing right now?

 

KAREN:
Well, he wanted people to see the whole person, he said. He said in his previous jobs he had to be tough in home affairs and defence and now he wants them to understand the softer side of his personality. People would best know him as being quiet and aggressive person politically. He's taken quite conservative positions and prosecuted his arguments very forcefully. He says now he wants them to understand that there's a deeper dimension to his personality and that they will be seeing more of that in future. 

 

RUBY:
Ok well let's talk about how that might actually play out, Karen, because one of the first things on the new government's agenda is reform to Indigenous Affairs, beginning with a commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. So, how is Peter Dutton likely to approach that issue? 

 

KAREN:
Well, it's interesting. It's a bit unclear at the moment.

 

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“You know, we live in the best country in the world… I want our country to enjoy aspiration and reward hard work. We have a rich and proud indigenous heritage and a migrant story, the envy of the world. We are aligned with countries of similar values.”
 

KAREN:
He talked in his first news conference as leader of the Liberal Party this week about the Uluru statement from the heart briefly and about the proposed constitutional change to entrench a Voice to Parliament. 

 

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
“You’ve said you were really walking out on the apology to the Stolen Generations. Does that now mean you be more open to supporting the Uluru Statement of the Heart?”

 

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“Very happy to speak with the Government as a note. Linda Burney In the last couple of days they said that they're still working through the detail of what they're likely to propose. So we'll wait for that detail.” 

 

KAREN:
Now the Albanese Government obviously has, as you say, a big priority. Peter Dutton will only commit to wanting will, that being willing to talk about it. But what he he did reflect on when he was questioned was some of his positions on Indigenous affairs in the past. Now he notoriously walked out on the Kevin Rudd, the Stolen Generations national apology to the Parliament in 2008. He said now that that was a mistake, but he explained why he did it and he didn't seem to have changed the view that that prompted doing it. 

 

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“Many of you have lived out in regional areas and many of you haven't. I worked in Townsville. I remember going to many domestic violence instances, particularly involving Indigenous communities.

 

KAREN:
So he said that he'd spent ten years as a policeman in Queensland and in that time he had a lot of experience dealing with family violence and particularly family violence in Indigenous communities.

 

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton: 
“and for me at the time I believe that the apology should be given when the problems were resolved and the problems are not resolved.” 

 

KAREN:
And he said that was the reason that he didn't support the apology, because he felt that there were issues that had to be resolved in a practical sense in Indigenous communities before there should be an apology. And interestingly he said that those still haven't been resolved. So it sort of sounded like he was saying it was a mistake to walk out, perhaps in a political sense, but he didn't sound as though he had changed his view.

 

about what needed to change in Indigenous affairs that had prompted that in the first place. So it was an interesting kind of take on his, you know, reflecting on what he'd done before. But he did say that he understands that symbolism has a role in reconciliation, so he made that concession. 

 

RUBY:
And he obviously seems willing to acknowledge that maybe things could have been done differently with the apology, but that's a long time ago. Now, Karen, is there anything, I suppose, that we can look at in terms of his more more recent history, his role as defence minister, his record on the issue of Indigenous recognition in the last sort of term of Parliament? 

 

KAREN:
Well, there are things that are now coming to light about his term as Defence Minister in particular, and he was only really in that job for about a year before the election that indicate that he didn't have much time for some aspects of the drive towards recognition and some of and some of the measures that Defence was undertaking. 

 

RUBY:
Right - so what kinds of things are we talking about? What happened when Peter Dutton was Defence Minister? 

 

KAREN:
Well the Defence Force and the Defence Department together we call them Defence, have a reconciliation action plan in fact that had a series of them going right back to 2007. And the most recent one was laid out in 2019 for three years, and it has 61 actions in it that Defence undertakes to complete by the end of December of this year. 

 

And a couple of them are particularly interesting. One of them was to put plaques at every defence establishment around Australia, acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land. And that process is underway.

 

Another key undertaking was to give major defence bases around the country dual names. So keep the English language names they have now, but add indigenous names that reflect the country that they sit on. This was supposed to be part of the plan. Again, it was meant to be finished by December this year. But when Peter Dutton became minister last year, I've now confirmed that he's put a stop to that. He cancelled that aspect of the plan. 

 

He didn't really give any reason for it in any formal sense. I haven't managed to find anyone who can articulate what the explanation was at the time, but he stopped it.

 

When I asked Defence about that. They focused on their commitment to reconciliation and their intention to review the actions that they had committed to. But when it came to the dual naming question, I didn't directly address that and I was told that it was definitely off the table under Peter Dutton and we'll see whether it's reinstated under the new government. 

 

There were stories published last year indicating that Peter Dutton had ordered Defence to stop pursuing a quote unquote woke agenda and that he had said this after Defence had allowed staff to host morning teas at which they wore rainbow coloured clothing to mark the International Day Against Homophobia biphobia into phobia and transphobia, which is known as Idahonit that occurs every year. 

 

So if you see the decision he made on dual naming of bases in terms of Indigenous affairs, in the context of that instruction that perhaps we're getting a picture that he doesn't like, anything that he sees as “woke”. Now, has he changed his view in the last 12 months?Is he genuinely now acknowledging that there is a place for these symbolic things, or is he saying that because he thinks that he needs to say that to appeal to sections of his party and sections of the community.

 

RUBY:
Right and so Dutton’s views on this - on symbolic representation - why will this be important, when it comes to the reforms the incoming government is hoping to make? 

 

KAREN:
Well, it's hoping to implement a constitutional change in terms of the voice to parliament and indigenous recognition. And really that's going to be very difficult to do if there isn't bipartisan support. So the government will be hoping that it can get the opposition to work constructively with it driving towards constitutional change. History tells us that if the major parties are not all on the one side, constitutional change fails, referenda fail. So the Government will be looking very closely at what Peter Dutton and the Opposition are saying and hoping they can find a way to work together to achieve this. 

 

RUBY:
We’ll be back after this.

 

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RUBY:
Karen, we’ve talked about how the Opposition, under Peter Dutton might approach Indigenous Affairs. But let's dig into what the Albanese government is planning on doing. Let's start with the new Cabinet. What has been announced? 

 

KAREN:
Well, it tells us a few different things on Indigenous affairs. It's quite clear that that is a high priority for the Albanese Government. 

 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Today, our caucus has met and elected a frontbench to serve in the forthcoming government that I am proud to lead.” 

 

KAREN:
Anthony Albanese has appointed Linda Burney, who's a close friend of his and a long time colleague into Cabinet, dealing with the matter of implementation of the Uluru statement from the heart, and particularly enshrining the voice to Parliament in the Constitution. 

 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“This is a priority for the Government and Patrick Dodson will have responsibility, along with the Minister, Linda Burney, for overseeing the Uluru statement from the heart. As we move forward, particularly with our plan for a constitutional change which will require a referendum and we hope to put in place structures that allow for people across the Parliament to participate in that process…”

 

KAREN:
She doesn't have extra jobs. That is her main job, and other elements that might have been incorporated with that portfolio have been given to others. So she can concentrate on that. 

 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“This is a change which is long overdue that we need to make, and I can't think of anyone better than Linda Burney as the Minister and Pat Dodson with that special responsibility to move forward.” 

 

KAREN:
He's appointed Senator Pat Dodson as a special envoy for the implementation of the actions in the Uluru Statement. So that's a sort of off to the side special role so he can travel around the country advocating for that and consulting people and he's also appointed the Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, as an assistant to Linda Burney and also helping in Indigenous health. 

 

RUBY:
And just while we’re talking about these cabinet appointments, Karen. I’m interested to know what else you think they tell us about the Government’s priorities?

 

KAREN:
Well, you can tell a bit about individuals and you can tell a bit about portfolio area is he's reinstated a climate change department and added environment and water to it and energy and that's something that existed under the previous Labour government. But climate change was really taken out of the department, the title under the Coalition. So he's elevating that, the status of that. Chris Bowen, as the Climate Change Minister will oversee that, and also Tanya Plibersek, who's been moved from education into the environment and water portfolio. 

 

Now this is where the personality thing comes in. It's an important job. It's saying really it's not a promotion for her. It's a bit of a sideways move. Some are describing it as a demotion. People I spoke to point out that it is an important job. She's highly skilled and highly qualified to do it. She's got ministerial experience. And it's going to be a difficult job, particularly in negotiating the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the water extraction limits that need to be set. 

 

But there are people who point out that there might be another agenda there in her appointment. It's not the highest profile portfolio, although it does have the Great Barrier Reef in it, but it's a portfolio that's going to require a lot of knuckling down and a lot of hard work. And it might be a bit harder for her to free range, I guess. And if you look at it in the context of the fact that she was known to have leadership ambitions, in fact, she joined with Bill Shorten, who was Anthony Albanese's big rival, going back as far as 2013. She became his deputy, She knows she's known to still have leadership ambitions of her own and she's very popular. And it may be that in his position, you know, he'd prefer to give her a job that'll keep a very busy. And so that there's less of a chance for her popular presentation to be compared to him. Now, that's my supposition, but I can see how people might see it in that light. 

 

So there are a range of of different things, a new Department of Employment and Workplace Relations that Tony Burke will oversee with emphasis on the industrial side of the economy and wanting to bring business and unions together. Anthony Albaneses talking a lot about trying to get people to collaborate and work together. So this underscores his point that he wants this to be a two term agenda and he's looking beyond 2025, not just in the next three years. 

 

RUBY:
Right and so when it comes to that agenda, and [I suppose specifically, we’ve been talking a lot about how important Indigenous affairs is…] Indigenous Affairs reform. How difficult do you think this is likely to be for Labor? Is this a policy area that is likely to throw up a lot of challenges? 

 

KAREN:
Yeah, I think it's going to be difficult because people's focus at the moment might be closer to home. Certainly there are plenty of people who believe this is unfinished business and needs to be addressed. There are some people in the in the community who are more focussed on the cost of living, the state of the economy, and who may insist the Government should spend more energy on that than other things. Anthony Albanese has said a number of times he thinks you can do more than one thing at one time but it will be a challenge to bring the whole community together. 

 

And I think the Labor government learnt lessons from the last time it was in office about trying to do things without bringing the community with them and equally abandoning things the community wanted without making enough of an effort to see them through. So I think he will be very mindful of the need to to try and keep people on that journey, but but equally keep moving forward. And that's why I think he's given the attention to Indigenous affairs in the form of the ministerial positions that he's announced. 

 

RUBY:
Hmm. Karen, thank you so much for your time. 

 

KAREN:
Thanks, Ruby. 

 

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RUBY:
Also in the news today..

 

Google has been ordered to pay former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro more than $700,000 over a series of “racist” and “abusive” videos published on YouTube channel Friendlyjordies.

 

The Federal Court ruled that Google failed to adhere to its own policies by doing “nothing to prevent hate speech, cyberbullying and harassment” of Barilaro.

 

And NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced plans to recruit 10,000 additional medical staff and give existing health care workers a $3000 appreciation payment. 

 

Perrottet said “this will be the biggest boost in our health workforce in our state’s history and the largest in the country”. 

 

I’m Ruby Jones this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

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