Classy response to ‘disgusting’ question


A senior Labor figure was left "saddened" by a Q&A question about the role of race in modern Australia, but her powerful response drew warm applause from the audience.

An audience member threw the question to the panel, saying he believes that "no person living in Australia today should be entitled to any special benefit or recognition based on race or how long their ancestors were here".

Shadow Minister for Human Services, Linda Burney, began by saying she was "rather surprised" by the question.

"I'm a little saddened by it, actually," she said. "I think that where you're coming from is not actually understanding the truth of this nation."

Shadow Minister for Human Services, Linda Burney said she was ‘saddened’ by the question. Picture: ABC
Shadow Minister for Human Services, Linda Burney said she was ‘saddened’ by the question. Picture: ABC

She went on to say how First Nations people have a "special relationship" with the land, and a "very spiritual relationship" with country that has gone back tens of thousands of generations.

"That means something," she said. "If you think that bigotry and racism has not been part of the Australian story then you're wrong. Because it has."

She said she sees the "terrible outcomes" of that bigotry and racism "daily".

"I see it in young people - young Aboriginal people in particular," she said. "And it is also, I think, a really important point to make is that the truth liberates.

"And for us as a nation to come together as Australians - all of us - to understand our shared history, our shared story, can only make us a better place."



The audience could then be heard applauding loudly to the response to the audience question which has been blasted as "disgusting" and "disrespectful" by Twitter users.

Comedian and panel member Sami Shah weighed into the debate, saying the "value of race" can only be dismissed when seen from a position of "privilege".

"Look, it's easy to dismiss the value of race when it's not something that has been a defining aspect of your life, when it's not something that has been used to vilify, deprive, and in many cases destroy entire communities," he said.

"In institutions like that, when you don't have that experience, when you've never had that kind of vilification coming at you based entirely on your race, it's easy to sit and say, 'Look, you know what? It's a fair go, everyone's born equal and dies equal. I don't see race.'

"It's actually harder to see race in these situations because that acknowledges a certain level of privilege."

The debate comes after indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt committed to holding a referendum on constitutional recognition within the next three years.

Jim Molan said indigenous Australians would not benefit from any changes to the constitution. Picture: ABC
Jim Molan said indigenous Australians would not benefit from any changes to the constitution. Picture: ABC


But he and the prime minister will not support a constitutionally enshrined indigenous voice to parliament, as proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

However, Conservative Liberals and Nationals have raised concerns the indigenous advisory body could become a "third chamber" of federal parliament.

One of those is Former Liberal Senator for NSW, Jim Molan, who locked horns with Ms Burney on Q&A over the issue.

"I think, if it becomes a symbolic activity, you'd have to ask yourself why you would do it," said Mr Molan. "I'm not scared of the issue. But, as a principle, I would be very unwilling to place this in the constitution.

"And as a Liberal conservative, I think that the challenges that the indigenous population in this country face, I can't see how they are related to the constitution.

"I find it very, very interesting that, having taken racial references out of the constitution, we're now going to put them back in."



However, Ms Burney then interjected, saying: "But they are in there now."

"Well, why do you want to put more in?" asked Mr Molan. "The question is, you're not going to solve homelessness. You're not going to solve all those problems you went through, by having something in the Constitution."

The pair also locked horns over a push to raise the rate of Newstart, after the government offered pensioners extra money.

"In many of the country towns I visit, people say to me: 'Why are we paying people not to work'," said Mr Molan.

Ms Burney responded by saying politicians need to understand what life is like for Australia's unemployed.

"I think it's really important that policymakers understand what the profile of someone on Newstart is," she said. "It isn't necessarily a young person. It's often someone that's 55 or 60 that's been retrenched and probably has a very difficult road ahead in terms of getting a job. "So it's not just young people, and that notion that somehow it is just not true."

The debate comes as unemployed Australians are preparing to share their stories of poverty with federal politicians in a renewed push to raise the rate of Newstart.



More than 80 people have registered to meet with their local representatives, wanting to make it clear they cannot survive on $40 a day.

Welfare advocates are sharpening their long-running campaign this week, with community forums, lunches, rallies, stalls and local councils set to pass motions.