Entertainment TV ‘We clearly need a leader with some courage’: PM confronted over indigenous recognition
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‘We clearly need a leader with some courage’: PM confronted over indigenous recognition

Malcolm Turnbull was taken to task over indigenous recognition. Photo: ABC
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Malcolm Turnbull has been confronted by an indigenous woman over his decision to reject a “First Nations’ voice to Parliament”, declaring the proposal would “go down in flames” at a referendum.

Appearing on the ABC’s Q&A, the Prime Minister was told he lacked courage for rejecting the constitutionally enshrined advisory body, one of the key recommendations that emerged from a constitutional convention at Uluru earlier in the year.

“We rejected symbolism and we reached a national consensus for a representative First Nations’ voice to advise Parliament on the issues that affect our lives,” indigenous lawyer Teela Reid, a delegate at the Uluru convention, told the Prime Minister.

“Why won’t you respect our proposal to take it to a referendum and put it to the people like you put … marriage equality to the people?”

During the at-times heated exchange, Mr Turnbull repeated the claim the “voice” would represent a third chamber of Parliament, a suggestion that indigenous leaders such as Noel Pearson have fiercely rejected.

“What I’m telling you is the truth, is what I believe … I have to be honest with you about this, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Mr Turnbull said. 

“And if it were put up in a referendum it would go down in flames.”

He argued that because all laws impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, the body would “have the right” to examine “every single law that goes through the Parliament”.

Labelling the government’s decision a “betrayal”, indigenous leaders such as Mr Pearson have said the body would have been formulated by the Parliament, meaning it would be designed in a way to ensure it was not a third chamber.

Ms Reid, who was part of the constitutional convention, noted a poll had shown 60 per cent support for the “voice to Parliament”. She said the PM could “honestly not sit there and say it will fail”.

“If that’s his position then we clearly need a leader with some courage who will take our country (forward) entirely, not just Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but everyone,” she said. 

Mr Turnbull hit back, suggesting Ms Reid was dismissing the role of current indigenous MPs such as Liberal Ken Wyatt and Labor’s Linda Burney.

But Ms Reid said the First Nations’ Voice was needed because MPs in Parliament were bound by political considerations. 

“And who here can honestly sit and say that we have a fair go in the political life of our people? We were from the outset, dismissed from the Constitution entirely,” she said. 

Turnbull rules out intelligence leak

Mr Turnbull, a former Q&A regular who famously wore a brown leather jacket during one appearance, did not hesitate to challenge a series of questioners who took him to task over issues such as refugees and the NBN.

In one exchange, after Mr Turnbull defended the government’s NBN rollout, the unimpressed questioner said: “I’m not arguing, the points you’ve made are technically correct.”

They’re technically correct but in what respect are they wrong if they’re technically correct?” Mr Turnbull replied. 

Earlier, when a woman who expressed disappointed with the Prime Minister’s leadership noted that she voted for him, Mr Turnbull quipped: “Good. I encourage you to make a habit of it.”

When host Virginia Trioli asked him about former prime minister Tony Abbott’s regular interventions, Mr Turnbull replied that he was “unbothered”.

Elsewhere, when asked by Ms Trioli whether he was worried that a damaging story about Labor senator Sam Dastyari was the result of an intelligence leak, Mr Turnbull categorically denied for the first time that it had come from ASIO.

A story that suggested Senator Dastyari had provided counter-surveillance advice to Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo “did not come from ASIO”, he said.

Shortly before a Newspoll late on Monday night showed the Bennelong byelection poised on a 50-50 knife edge, Ms Trioli asked the Prime Minister whether he wanted to rethink his comments about Chinese interference in Australian politics given the electorate’s large Chinese population.

“Let me say the suggestion that I or my government or Australia generally is anti-Chinese is outrageous,” he said, noting his granddaughter had Chinese ancestry. 

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