Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has urged new Liberal leader Peter Dutton to be on the “right side of history” when it comes to supporting a referendum for a First Nations Voice to parliament.
Burney, who was sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Australians on Wednesday morning, said there is “no shame” in Dutton growing and learning from past mistakes.
She has now become the first Aboriginal woman to hold the position of federal Minister for Indigenous Australians.
Burney directed the comments towards Dutton as she delivered the 15th annual Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration in Adelaide on Tuesday evening.
“Peter Dutton has in recent days reflected on what it is like to be on the wrong side of history after walking out of the apology to the stolen generations,” she said in the speech.
“But you know what? We all grow, and we all change, and there is no shame in that at all.
“In fact, that is what the journey of reconciliation is all about, and it is a path I would be very pleased to walk with Peter Dutton – and the Liberal Party.”
The comments come after Dutton said earlier this week that he had made “a mistake” when he walked out of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations.
In her position as Minister for Indigenous Australians, Burney will be tasked with the Albanese government’s implementation of the Uluru Statement from Heart.
Burney said supporting a referendum for an Indigenous Voice to parliament represents a massive opportunity for Peter Dutton as the new Liberal Party leader.
“After a decade of divisive political discourse, of lifters and leaners, of those who have a go – and by inference, those who don’t – this is an opportunity for unity and for leadership,” Burney said.
“It’s also about being on the right side of history. And Peter Dutton has in recent days reflected on what it is like to be on the wrong side of history, after walking out on the apology to the Stolen Generations.”
She also called on former Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt – who lost his seat at the federal election – to urge the new leaders in the Liberal party to support a Voice to parliament.
“In recent days I am very pleased that Ken has said he would support a constitutionally enshrined Voice … And on this front, I say to Ken: I need your support, brother,” she said.
Burney said a successful referendum would make Australia a “fairer place”.
“Imagine how this next referendum will make us feel about ourselves, our neighbours, and our country when it passes,” Burney said.
“Imagine how defining it will be. For your life, for your country, for the lives of First Nations people, for our children, and their children after.”