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Indigenous Leader Pat Dodson To Become ALP Senator; Replaces Joe Bullock In Western Australia

The Indigenous leader Patrick Dodson is to become a Labor senator in Western Australia, replacing Joe Bullock.


The announcement was made this morning by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, just 12 hours after Bullock announced his resignation in the Senate.

Dodson, aged 67 or 68, a Yaruwu man, is often described as the “father of reconciliation”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Shorten said: “Proud to announce my support for Pat Dodson joining Labor’s team in the Senate. Pat is a person of unmatched intelligence, integrity and achievement. He’s nationally recognised and rightly admired as the father of reconciliation. This is a great day for the Labor Party, for the Parliament and for Australia.”

Dodson, a former Roman Catholic priest, is a former Director of the Central Land Council and the Kimberley Land Council. He was a Commissioner on the 1989 inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Between 1991 and 1997, he was Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

Senate vacancies are filled by the relevant State Parliament. Section 15 of the Constitution requires the Parliament to appoint a nominee from the same party as the departing senator.

Overnight, it was speculated that the former senator supplanted by Bullock, Louise Pratt, would nominate the vacancy. Shorten praised Pratt but said that on this occasion he was supporting Dodson.

  • Watch Dodson (3m)

Transcript of press conference with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Pat Dodson.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone, I am really pleased to announce that I shall be asking the Labor Party to fill the casual Senate vacancy created by the resignation of Joe Bullock, to allow Pat Dodson to serve our nation as a Labor Senator for WA. Pat Dodson’s CV speaks for itself. He is a person of unmatched intelligence, integrity and achievement.

Nationally recognised and rightly admired as the father of reconciliation. A truth teller, a powerful advocate for recognition, justice, equality and fairness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Pat’s decision to seek a role in our Parliament as a Senator for the Labor Party is a win for Australia. I know that Pat will be a champion for the causes that he’s dedicated his whole life to. And I hope that his advocacy and perspectives will continue to challenge all of us to face up to our shortcomings.

Pat will be serving as a Labor Senator but his role goes beyond that. I hope that Pat will be someone our Parliament and our community can look to for wisdom and guidance. Particularly as we seek to address the unfinished business between Australia’s first people and the rest of us. Making real and substantive change to our Constitution is important. But so is the need for a real and lasting settlement beyond our Constitution.

Historical justice matched with real justice. Equality in the Constitution and equality in housing, health, employment, justice and life expectancy. When Pat Dodson speaks of all these things, all of us should listen. It shouldn’t be strange or unusual for people of Pat’s renowned, experience and wisdom to be given the chance to serve in our Parliament. Yet at the moment it is. That is why I am determined this casual vacancy not just be an exercise in business as usual. Instead, I want Labor to seize the moment. We should put aside the rough and tumble of the party system and give someone of Pat Dodson’s remarkable qualities the opportunity to serve as a senator.

As senator for Western Australia, Pat will help all of us to refocus on some of the critical questions that our nation faces. I don’t think that it is too hard for us now to deal with some of the issues which have been too long in the waiting or put in the too hard basket or been the victim of the tyranny of low expectations.

I think that the presence of Pat Dodson in our Parliament will bring credit not only to Labor, but to the Senate and the Parliament as a whole. I am hoping that Pat’s presence in the Senate will let us come together to work on solutions on constitutional recognition. On the yawning gap of opportunities between our first Australians and the rest of us. And on the sustainable development of Northern Australia, which Pat brings unique experience and commitment to.

I expect Pat to have a very broad role and I have asked him to begin his career as one of my key advisers on Northern Australia, amongst other matters. This is a great day for the Labor Party, for Western Australia, for the Senate and the Parliament and indeed for our democracy. It is now my great pleasure to ask my friend, and candidate for Labor Senator for Western Australia to address you all. Pat Dodson.

PATRICK DODSON: Firstly I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of this part of the world. I also want to acknowledge Senator Peris and the other Indigenous members of this House and this place and those who have gone before us, Senator Bonner and others. I want to thank Bill for the very kind introduction. I am honoured that you have provided me with this opportunity to serve as a Labor Senator of Western Australia.

Your phone call came as a surprised, and it took me a little while to adjust to the idea that you had proposed. I was a member of the Labor Party for a short period in the ’80s but since then I’ve been not aligned to any particular party, so to decide to do so now at this stage of my life took some deep thought. I did seek counsel from some close friends, family and others for whom I hold the highest respect and regard. I couldn’t contact all. For some, this move may come as a surprise. However, after many conversations it became clear to me that this was a good opportunity and one that should not be passed up.

Having spent much of my adult life trying to influence our national conversations, debate, government and the Parliament from the outside, it is now time for me to step up to the plate and have a go at trying to influence those same conversations, debates and public policies from the inside as a member of the Senate and representing Western Australia.

It is important that I acknowledge and thank yourself, Bill, and the Labor Party for making this opportunity available. I thank you for your faith in me. And there are many matters that need to be considered in this space of time, but, Bill, you have been particularly kind in this offer and offering me a role that would give me the opportunity to work across the Party in the Parliament and there are issues which I believe need to be more broadly canvassed and discussed and debated.

You have referred to the need for a lasting settlement outside of the framework of the constitutional change that I hope will come over the next little while. But the Constitutional Recognition that we are currently seeking remains fundamental. And if we are ever to begin coming to terms with the national narrative, and its consequences for this nation, we need to pursue that. Any lasting settlement, however, if it is finally to emerge can only come as a result of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s being at the centre of the discussion and the debate, and not on the periphery as is currently the case. That is another reason why I am pleased to accept Bill’s invitation and offer. Just as I am pleased that there are more Aboriginal people being preselected for Parliament. And of course as I’ve said I want to acknowledge the already sitting members here and those that have gone before.

As a nation I believe we should be open to all sorts of possibilities, some see treaty or some compact as being the course to pursue. For others the idea of a formal regional agreement, setting out rights and responsibilities is another. They are of course clearly not mutually exclusive and I note that some are already pursuing these courses of actions or some elements of it. I hope that we can move forward for all Australians, recognise that the Constitutional Recognition and any future settlement is important for our maturity as a nation. I know that across the Parliament and in the wider Australian community, there are people of goodwill, who want to engage in these processes so that we can achieve a mutually acceptable outcome. An outcome that we can all be proud of.

There’s much to be said about the future of Northern Australia and the need for its development. Much of the discussion centres on infrastructure such as roads and ports and these are all necessary. However I’m concerned that this discussion has not paid sufficient attention to the human capital of the North. In particular, there need to be a far deeper conversation about the importance and value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to this development and the basic needs to address the importance of elevating poverty and disadvantage for so many in the North across the board. If we don’t address this then it will become a permanent drag on our future development. I’m confident that with this there’s a discussion which the nation is pretty much up to having around all the development and various passages, economic and cultural passage. And it will not happen unless we can agree around these and so many other similar issues across the Parliament to deliver wins for all. I’ve already spoken for too long but thank you for listening and I’m happy to respond to your questions.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] as the father of reconciliation can I ask you about the Constitution and whether you’ll use your presence in the Senate to super charge efforts to get the word in of the constitutional change sorted before the election?

SHORTEN: In terms of where did it start, I first met Pat Dodson when I was with the union back in 2003 and he took me to his country, took me to his places and showed me some of the appalling poverty, some of the disadvantage which our first Australians are experiencing. More recently when Senator Bullock advised me of his intention to resign I did certainly at that stage contact Pat. I just have to say our Labor Senate team is a good team from all around the country, this is an unusual opportunity to fill the unexpired portion of Senator Bullock’s term. I fundamentally believe that our Senate needs to be a house of review. That we need to make sure that we have the opportunity periodically to bring Australians of renown and give them an opportunity to be in politics. Politics is not just for some people who come through some courses and some walks of life and I think that Pat will make an adornment not just to the Labor contribution in Western Australia but to the Senator as a whole. Over to the Constitutional Recognition.

DODSON: Obviously Constitutional Recognition has been drifting along and I am resigning from the co-chair positon currently that I share with Mark Leibler. There is a lot of hard work that’s in train to prepare for Indigenous conferences and so we can ascertain the position of the Indigenous people of this country regarding recognition in the Constitution. So that work’s well under way and it’s progressing and there is a very good Council that is put in place by Bill and by the Prime Minister. In terms of super charging the Senate that might be an interesting concept. But the notion of getting the words right is a real challenge, I don’t think anyone has any illusions about that. There is the excellent work done by the expert panel of course and there was propositions in that, there was a review by the House with Senator Peris and with Mr White that will also put out recommendations and there are other propositions floating about. Obviously getting things clear in the Constitution has it’s legal components to it but I would be clearly focused on us achieving the recognition of Aboriginal peoples in line with the wishes and aspirations of the Aboriginal people and ultimately the Australian public.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dodson, often in this building we hear politicians talk about the need to help Indigenous Australians, often we see the reality fall a long way short of those ambitions. What do you think is missing in this building and what needs to change?

DODSON: Look I’m not sure if it’s missing, I just do think that we do spend a lot of good will not necessarily well-informed. I think there are concepts of working with Indigenous peoples at a reasonable local level, allowing them to be part of the solutions rather than having those solutions dictated to them. Helping them to articulate what the objectives should be, what the strategy should be and how they want to participate in delivering the outcomes for their local communities, they know best. If we can get the machinery provisions of our parliamentary way of our government processes align with clear local Indigenous leadership then I think we can move around or move along resolving some of those disadvantages. There are systemic disadvantages of course like the recognition of the Indigenous people in the Constitution or the settlement questions, they’re going to require a lot more thought.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dodson can I just ask about issues in WA that you are passionate about. You’re obviously going to be representing those people, specifically the Indigenous people of WA, what are some of those issues that you really want to tackle?

DODSON: Well, I was the chair of the Kimberly Development Commission which is a statutory entity in Western Australia set up under the Government and in that capacity we had a concern for infrastructure investment, for the development of tourism opportunities for growing local businesses and enabling quality for Indigenous people. So, as well as the battlers, the other people out there who are trying to make their small businesses work and I was also involved with the All States to negotiations. So the development of the agricultural lands for productivity for the nation, as well as for the State, for investment, and obviously the flow on opportunities for Indigenous people. So, the requirements, because it’s a big state, it’s sparsely populated, infrastructure costs are horrendous, population densities often don’t get the attention they require. I live in one of the biggest electorates I suppose in the country of Durack, you know we don’t always get the kind of services that citizens require that’s all people not just for Indigenous peoples. It’s only recent days we got dialysis machines for instance, people with renal dialysis problems. So there’s a range of issues. We’ve got a West Australian Government that’s talking about closing communities without any plan as to how those people are to be reconnected or relocated into those major towns in the North and there are many issues that I think we could find better solutions to as well as to help create jobs and opportunities for everyone else. But also to ensure that there’s a quality of life that people can enjoy.

JOURNALIST: Louise Pratt said she’ll nominate for this seat as well. Have you spoken to her and how confident are you Mr Dodson will be the man to take Senator Bullock’s seat?

SHORTEN: Louise Pratt has been an excellent Senator and she’s got a contribution to make in public life again for the Labor Party. On this occasion though I’ll supporting Pat Dodson. I think he is by all agreement, a very distinguished Australian. We’ll have our party processes, I’ve written to George Wright, the National Secretary of the Labor Party, and asked him to convene a meeting of the National Executive as soon as practicable. We’re heading towards an election and a potential double dissolution, I want to fill my Senate spots in the most efficient way possible. But beyond that, I think we all want to see an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to serve in this Parliament. We’re already very well served by Senator Peris, the Liberals have certainly got Ken Wyatt. There hasn’t been enough Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Parliament of Australia. And I have to say Pat is a distinguished West Australian, he will represent the North of Australia. His interests are wide and varied so I believe when you look at it the Labor Party would be well advised to choose Pat.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dodson, you’ve aligned yourself politically now, that’s an act that attracts natural enemies just by doing it. Do you feel or did you give consideration to the fact that you know the bipartisan nature of (inaudible) may be affected or do you think you’ll be able to work equally with people like Ken Wyatt and the other side of politics on issues that (inaudible)?

DODSON: Now I’m not sure Wyatt should be de-facto naturally antagonistic.

JOURNALIST: That’s politics.

DODSON: It’s politics but it doesn’t have to be politics. Politics is about achieving real good outcomes in my view and about working collaboratively with those who may have a different point of view as you, and trying to find a common ground basis to go ahead. So, I don’t see it as some form of tribalism (inaudible) business tribalism, white fella tribalism. I do understand the fine distinction you make but I think that people with goodwill across the Party and in the Parliament and between the Houses – those who’ve got a genuine desire to see this nation go forward, resolve some of the residual problems that we constantly have thrown up that as a nation is an embarrassment to us and – we can find some solutions to this. I’m happy to be working with anyone, and I know Mr Wyatt very well.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dodson, can I just ask, among the many things in your life, unless I am mistaken, you were a Roman Catholic priest at one stage. Joe Bullock is leaving the Parliament because he does not believe that in conscience that he can vote for same-sex marriage. Do you think that it is a good thing for the Labor Party that that kind of diversity might not feel it has a home in the Party any longer?

SHORTEN: Chris, if you’re asking about the whole Labor Party policy, whilst Pat will be outstanding, he is going to give his view in a moment. Let me just make it clear – people in the Labor Party are entitled to have their own opinions. Joe Bullock has served with distinction for the needs of retail workers over 37 years. But what I also know is that we have a conscience vote in the Labor Party. So I don’t want you to mischaracterise our current position, but Pat can go to substance of your issue.

DODSON: The debate between church and state has gone on for millennia. And the questions of the custodians of the morals of individuals is a real problematic issue. Of course, the respect for human dignity is also a very important factor. And I think in the case of conscience votes, well that’s a matter for people to make their own minds up and to live by their consciences and I respect those that do so, who may have a different view. But when it comes to our civil society or the society we live in, any discrimination or disadvantage caused to people who make their own choices then as a Parliament we should try to eliminate those in order to facilitate the quality of life that individuals want to pursue.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten though, going back to that question that the practical effect of the ALP National Conference decision last year was to remove the conscience vote from Labor MPs and Senators the election after next. Don’t you have to accommodate people who still believe that this is a matter of conscience?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, if Labor wins the next election, within 100 days we will legislate for marriage equality so that the issue that you raise doesn’t actually get triggered because it will be concluded before the end of the next Parliament –

JOURNALIST: You may not win the next election –

SHORTEN: Sorry, I am just answering your question. I’ll come to that. If we don’t, Malcolm Turnbull has promised some sort of $160 million taxpayer funded plebiscite. Either way, this issue is going to resolve in the life of the next election. So the theoretical problem you raise doesn’t arise. Labor still has a conscience vote for some matters but when it comes to marriage equality, the vast bulk of Australians just want to move on with the matter. And that’s what we want to do and we will keep pushing that and again, I’d ask Malcolm Turnbull to reconsider his position and go back to what he believed before he became Opposition Leader and just allow a vote in this Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Just on another policy issue, last night on Sky News you said that Labor’s modelling shows that your negative gearing policy wouldn’t drive down housing prices. What modelling were you referring to when you said that?

SHORTEN: The work of ANU, the McKell Institute, there have been eminent economist talking about this matter and I would invite you to have a review of what Sauleslake has been writing on the matter. I think we’ve even had the unlikely support of Jeff Kennett today. Just as Jeff Kennett says he doesn’t make a practice of endorsing Labor, I don’t make a practice of endorsing Jeff but on this there is a meeting of minds – Jeff Kennett said its the right policy. The real issue is I think, where is Mr Turnbull’s tax plan? Now, we know that when he was a backbencher, he wrote detailed tax plan. We know that other backbenchers including the Member for Warringah, they have plans. The problem is that Mr Turnbull is now not a backbencher, he is the Prime Minister and he has no plan.

JOURNALIST: Have you done any modelling yourself?

SHORTEN: I have explained the references to which we relied upon.

JOURNALIST: As academics model something kind of academically, maybe, possibly similar to your policy a year ago – did you actually show any academics your policy and get them to model it?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we all know Malcolm Turnbull is running a scare campaign. I think even the most conservative of observers recognises echos of Tony Abbott and the scare campaign about negative gearing. What Labor understands because we are in touch with the middle class and the working class of this country is that Australians are tired of seeing their kids not be able to get their first house yet we have a tax system which rewards speculators purchasing their 7th house. This is not fair and we want to level the playing field.

We believe also in Budget repair that is fair. It is very interesting that we’ve heard the Government say that the pension system has too many excesses, so they will cut pensions. They think the school system has too many excesses so they will cut $30 billion but when they say negative gearing has excesses, it’s radio silence. You can tell a lot about a political party by the priorities which it places. We are very committed to not having the principle of retrospectivity. You’ve seen us ask, I think, on 8 occasions, who is counting, Mr Turnbull just not answer the question about their own policies. We can say to everyone in Australia who currently negatively gears under existing tax laws, you’ll be able to do so going forward in the future. We also say that for new housing, you’ll be able to negatively gear. But we also recognise that $32 billion to the bottom line over 10 years well that’s a debate worth having. It’s Budget repair that’s fair. It’s assisting leveling the playing field for first home buyers and it also means that we’ve got the opportunity to fund important things such as Pat has been talking about – regional infrastructure, the schools, the hospitals and healthcare – so that everyone in Australia gets an equal level of care and attention no matter what their post code.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dodson, on Constitutional Recognition, you’ve spoken about the need for substantive over symbolic. What’s your position on that now? And outside of constitutional recognition, what policy reform do you think is necessary to bridge the divide in Australia?

DODSON: We know the Constitution sets down the heads of powers that parliaments can use to make valid laws. So it’s pretty much a blunt instrument in that sense. So getting a set of words in the Constitution that Parliament may use on occasions to pass laws for Indigenous peoples is what this is really about. And if the proposition that was put up by the expert panel, the proposal of a new 51a with a preambular statement just governing that particular head of power then that’s not a bad outcome. But that would then give some guidance to the Parliament when it comes to make laws about the Indigenous peoples and it would also obviously give the courts some basis upon review if the laws weren’t sound or were deemed to be not sound. So getting words right in the Constitution is one matter – it is very clear. Fundamentally, the head of power is a matter for Parliament to use and we have a constitution that if Parliament uses powers wrongly, someone is going to challenge them in the High Court. So, the symbolic aspect is if you have something that’s preambular that’s outside the Constitution has no jurisdical effect or some kind of lawrity statement, which is fine and you can have those things, but it will have no legal consequence. But it might be nice for us to feel like that but fundamentally, Indigenous people want something substantive – that is, when Parliament comes to use a power in their interest that it is given some guidance as to where the Indigenous peoples have been placed and what they continue to aspire for. The second part of your question was?

JOURNALIST: Outside of Constitutional Recognition, what policy reform do you see necessary to bridge the divide in Australia to bring people more closer together?

DODSON: I am just a new chum on the block at the moment. I haven’t got all answers for the Parliament. I’ll be a bit audacious to be suggesting to them what they ought to be doing but I do have my ideas about some of those things. And I’ll be party to discussions about them but I think generally, you’ve got to support the people who are providing services in our communities. You can not expect people to offer aid on an oily rag when they are trying to deal with social situations. We’ve got to deal with the awful incarceration rates. I was a Royal Commissioner so that matter has to be dealt with. I don’t know why we have increased the number of incarcerations for Indigenous peoples after 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission. We also have about 15,000 Aboriginal kids placed in some kind of home care. So that has to be addressed – not just the kids, but the family circumstances and the individual circumstances of the mothers and the fathers. That’s not being addressed at the moment. So that has to be addressed. You’ve got to work on a composite model that will deal with making families whole or strengthening them so they can carry out their responsibilities and deliver the qualitative things that the children require but we are not addressing that. We are simply taking a kid away because they are in harm and putting them in some kind of other care arrangement. We are doing very little about trying to deal with the problems that causes that for those individuals.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten you spoke about church and state, I’m going the other way with state and church. Have you seen the testimonies of Cardinal Pell and do you have a reaction to what’s been said?

SHORTEN: Yes I have seen excerpts now of the evidence. As I said yesterday this is a personal matter, the priest at the parish in one of the churches I used to attend subsequently was revealed to be an abuser, a criminal, a paedophile. And he caused tremendous harm to some of the other families in that parish that I subsequently found out about. It’s on that basis, it was Labor which set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. And then we see this evidence, I find it disturbing, I find it very challenging, I can only begin to imagine what survivors, their families must have seen of the disturbing answers. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Coalition Government should immediately copy our response. We’ve had some initial findings and I’ve worked with Jenny Macklin and plenty of other people in the Labor team on this. We would put down $53 million straight away to help set up the National Infrastructure for Redress. I think the Liberal Government just needs to act, for the sake of survivors if nothing else to provide them some degree of sense of community support, but I don’t think any Australian who’s seen some of those answers does not emerge with a sense of great, great disquiet.

I need to introduce Pat to some of his potentially new colleagues so thanks everyone and you’ll get more chances to talk to Pat I hope in coming years, but thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Have you looked at the Senate rules on whether you can wear your hat in the chamber?

DODSON: I would have thought they’d be gracious enough to let me do it.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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