Malcolm Turnbull is known for his reserved manner and carefully crafted, analytical speeches, but the Prime Minister revealed a softer side as he spoke on Indigenous affairs on Monday night with journalist and Wiradjuri man, Stan Grant.
The Prime Minister wiped tears from his eyes as he dwelt on the story of an Indigenous elder recalling her mother singing to her in the dying Ngunnawal language as a child.
"She was a very old lady and she remembers her mother singing this [lullaby] to her. The thing that is so sad is to imagine that mother singing that story to her at a time when you were losing culture and the last thing that baby was was safe," he said.
As late as the 1970s, Australian and state laws banned or discouraged Indigenous languages and cultural ceremonies and traditions.
Turnbull spoke the Ngunnawal language in parliament as part of his 'Closing the Gap' speech earlier in February.
Turnbull was speaking on NITV's new show The Point with Stan Grant in his first interview at The Lodge.
— Myles Morgan (@ImMylesMorgan) February 29, 2016
As a Wiradjuri man and a vocal advocate for Indigenous affairs, Stan Grant acknowledged the PM's "genuine empathy", but said "now words and empathy must be measured by action".
While the PM attested his commitment to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, he held back from committing to spending a week per year in an Indigenous community as his predecessor Tony Abbott had done.
"I will engage with Indigenous communities and Indigenous people, naturally," he said.
"The remote communities represent some of the biggest challenges in Indigenous affairs and I am completely committed to working with my colleagues but above all Indigenous Australians to resolve that, but I think it is important that we recognise Indigenous experience is much broader than that."
He also said a referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians in 2017 was "feasible" but that it would require "overwhelming support" from the Australian people.
"The problem with changing the Australian Constitution is that the Australian electorate is very conservative with the Constitution and I think that’s partly because of compulsory voting.
"People who aren’t familiar with the question or haven’t read much about it are much more likely to vote no.”
Stan Grant also challenged the Prime Minister on some of the key failings of the 'Closing the Gap' program, such as incarceration rates. Currently, 25% of jail inmates are Indigenous, even though they only make up 3% of the Australian population.
PM says indigenous incarceration rates “a failure across the board”, largely due to economic disadvantage. #ThePointNITV— NITV (@NITV) February 29, 2016
"That is totally unacceptable," Turnbull said. "There is a crisis to be addressed. And the critical thing is to break the cycle of incarceration.
"The best antidote is a job."
The Prime Minister said he is looking to identify more programs to break the cycle.Suggest a correction