Federal Politics

'What are you saying?' Malcolm Turnbull in heated clash over Indigenous MPs Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney

Q&A hosted fiery and emotive scenes as Malcolm Turnbull was challenged about his record on Indigenous recognition, culminating in a visibly offended Prime Minister urging his critics to support Indigenous MPs from both sides of parliament.

The Prime Minister was appearing as the sole guest on the program and received a grilling about issues from the MPs with dual citizenships, to the same-sex marriage plebiscite, the influence of the right-wing of the party, his views on climate change and, finally, the National Broadband Network.

Q&A: Turnbull's fiery debate over indigenous recognition

But perhaps the most emotional exchange was with two Indigenous Australians over the government's canning of an idea to enshrine an Indigenous voice in federal parliament in the constitution as part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart released earlier this year.

Mr Turnbull said that would effectively create a third chamber of parliament in addition to the House of Representative and the Senate, a view disputed by some Indigenous leaders, including the prominent coalition adviser Noel Pearson. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the ABC's Q&A program. 

The Prime Minister said that he disagreed with Mr Pearson on this issue and said the cabinet, as well as every single MP with whom he has raised the idea, believed that the public would not back the plan. 

He was then confronted by Teela Reid, who was part of the Uluru dialogue process. 

"Why won't you respect our proposal to take it to a referendum like you put marriage equality to the people because polls reveal up to 61 per cent of Australians are in support of this proposal?" she asked to applause.

Mr Turnbull said he needed to lay out some hard truths.

"I can tell you it would be effectively a third chamber," he said adding that every piece of legislation would have to go through the body because every law that goes through parliament, including tax and defence would affect first Australians.

"Now as to its prospects at a referendum, let me tell you honestly... it would have no prospect of success whatsoever and I can tell you that is the view of every member of parliament that I've discussed this with," he said.

"People that don't tell you the truth are misleading you, what I'm telling you is the truth, what I believe and I have to be honest with you about this, I don't think it's a good idea and if it were put up in a referendum it would go down in flames."

"If that's his position then we clearly need a leader with some courage," Ms Reid said.

"I'm disappointed that you place so little store on the Aboriginal people, members of parliament," Mr Turnbull responded.

Ms Reid retorted that those MPs "represented their political interests", at which the Prime Minister became visibly offended.

"Oh, really? So Ken Wyatt... so Ken Wyatt, what are you saying about Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney? They're first Australians, do you respect them?" Mr Turnbull, who was uncharacteristically lost for words, said. 

"I totally respect their positions in parliament but they've both got political positions to make in parliament, they don't represent the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," Ms Reid said.

Mr Turnbull continued to hammer his point saying: "You now have Aboriginal people in the parliament, elected to the parliament, serving there with their fellow Australians, I look forward to there being many more and to dismiss them as just being, what, what are you suggesting they're tokens of political parties?"

"Absolutely not what I'm saying at all," she said.

Mr Turnbull called for respect of Indigenous MPs. 

"I think it's very important tonight that we respect the Aboriginal members of the House and the Senate, they are there, proud Australians, proud first Australians and their powerful voices with 60,000 years of history in our parliament and I respect them and I think all Australians should too," the Prime Minister said to applause.

"As do I," Ms Reid said. 

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians was advanced by former prime minister Tony Abbott, but has stalled due to internal opposition and lack of bipartisan support for a form of recognition to take to the people. 

A bipartisan parliamentary committee is exploring a solution.

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