Absence of Morrison at Uluru event ‘more than an insult’ to Indigenous Australians

Labor senator Pat Dodson has blasted the prime minister for his absence at Sunday night’s celebrations of the closing of the climb at Uluru as “more than an insult” to First Nations people.

Sitting alongside Labor colleagues Linda Burney, Malarndirri McCarthy and Warren Snowdon, Dodson chastised Scott Morrison’s failure to progress the Uluru Statement from the Heart, saying it demonstrated he’s a man in need of “an epiphany”.

Speaking as part of the executive of the Labor caucus on Indigenous affairs, Dodson said Morrison “has no policy position” on constitutional recognition and “by having no policy position he is trying to hoodwink First Nations into thinking he is open to a discussion about entrenching a voice in the constitution”.

“He should also be here to explain to Anangu and all other nations who are here, why he is opposed to a recommendation that comes from here, about entrenching a voice to parliament in the constitution.”

Dodson said the PM has “no appetite for entrenching a voice in the constitution. That is a blow to First Nations people. He has to explain that”.

Burney agreed, saying the voice was a very modest request.

“The request from this place in 2017 is asking for an advisory voice to the parliament. Nothing about veto rights or a third chamber, it’s simply an advisory group that parliament will have responsibility for designing and agreeing to. That’s a modest request and I’m not sure why the PM doesn’t see this as a nation-building exercise. It would be an incredible legacy that he seems to not understand.”

Burney said the fact Liberal MP Andrew Laming “was among the last people to climb the rock, well doesn’t that tell you something”.

Dodson called on Morrison to see the Uluru Statement of the Heart and the push for constitutional recognition as a “spiritual matter”.

“The best thing that could happen is that the PM has some divine insight, some epiphany” to understand the spiritual significance of Uluru.

“If he doesn’t get that I’m afraid his belief system has some trouble acknowledging other belief systems.”

Traditional owners gather around the base of the Uluru climb after it was permanently closed on Friday evening.

Traditional owners of Uluru gather around the base of the climb after it was permanently closed on Friday. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Dodson said Morrison’s absence from Sunday night’s historic event was “more than an insult”.

“The prime minister of Australia should be here at Uluru to witness the ceremony and to celebrate with people the significance of the event and compliment the Anangu people on their generosity in sharing this place.

“You’ve got serious customary law leaders from across this part of the country and further afield. These are people who, when the Barunga statement was delivered to Hawke … we danced for the PM then with these people here. And these are the same ceremonial bosses who are responsible for this dance ground and this law.

“[Uluru] is not some little plaything. This is a serious part of customary practice and culture for Aboriginal people.

“By the leader of our nation not being here to respect our culture and to finally respect the wishes of those old people who did not want anyone climbing the rock and complimenting them on what they have done to accommodate them is more than an insult. It’s an indication of the shallowness of the prime minister.”

Morrison, who had instead travelled to Western Australia over the weekend for a charity event and to watch the Australian netball team, defended his absence on Monday.

“I can’t be in two places at once,” he told reporters in Sydney.

Morrison acknowledged the end of the Uluru climb was a significant and timely change.

“The tourism industry will of course adjust and move on, and I think will go from strength to strength.”