Josh Burns is Labor’s Federal Member for Macnamara, in Melbourne’s inner south-eastern and bayside suburbs. The charismatic, fresh-faced, youthful politician is no slouch; he is Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
He is also passionate about a First Nations Voice to Parliament. He has spoken much to Greek and Jewish communities about it. “I’ve had many conversations with the Greek community and the Jewish community, especially with the senior members of those communities, and I think both agree that we want to try and help people.”
The Greeks and Jews are committed to “closing the gap, and everyone starts with position; they start from a position of goodwill.” Burns says that he fully understands that many in our communities have questions about how a Voice to Parliament may work, which he says “is a good thing”.
Last week, when he attended a breakfast with a Port Melbourne Greek Senior Citizens group, he had what he terms “an honest discussion about the Voice.”
“One of the participants was not afraid to tell me what she thought; I got both barrels, which made me feel like I was at home,” he laughs.
“She said: ‘I’ve come to this country and worked for everything. Why are we creating different standards?'”
A good question, he thought, which in his mind revealed the mentality behind the Greek community, “that nothing was given and everything was earned.”
He talked about how the Jewish and the Greek communities “look at the next generation, look at their grandkids, and they want the best for them.”
“It is the same for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; their elders came together and said, ‘How do we turn this around?'”
At the end of the conversation, Burns felt he had convinced the Greek elder of the righteousness of the voting Yes on October 14.
“The Greek story in Australia was one of incredible success, almost entirely due to the hard work and the sacrifices that Greek people made inside the community,” he says.
Burns angles on what he sees as instinctive to Greeks and Jews “empathy.”
“I saw instinctive empathy in that room with the senior Greek community, similar to what I see in the Jewish community.”
The Greeks in the seniors’ group “cared about Australia, they love Australia while they are deeply connected to the Greek identity and culture, but they are Australian and proudly so, and care about the future of our country and the Indigenous people.”
“I am part of the migrant influx of in this country, and we need to be honest, there was displacement, there was discrimination, which Greeks and Jews know much about, there was the removal of children from their families,” Burns adds.
He points to intergenerational trauma “which Greeks and Jews understand” but has been “unique to the Aboriginal people.
The Voice to Parliament, he says, is not a concept “dreamed up by Anthony Albanese.”
“This was a request by the people who look at their community and look at the young people in their community and are desperate to make a better future for them – in the same way that if I wanted to do something for the Greek community, you’d ask the Greek community ‘, What do you think?”
He says there are Greek members of parliament, but “it does not mean that every Greek is a representative of Greeks.” He adds that the Referendum on October 14 is “not a political campaign.”
“Whoever you vote for in general elections, that’s not what this is about.”
If Prime Minister Albanese could have done more to bring the Coalition on board, Burns says Opposition Leader Peter Dutton would not have come on board. He points to people “like Julian Leeser”, the former shadow Indigenous affairs minister, “who wanted to come out and support the Yes campaign. He believes in it.”
“I stood with Julian, and members across the parliament support this, so I think that the Liberal party frankly was never going to support it under Dutton, who was never interested in making this bipartisan.”
He says that if the No vote wins, it would be “devastating” and reflect poorly on Australia on the international stage, “much like what happened after the Brexit referendum.”
“In England, where now they’re dealing with consequences of Brexit, there is a lot of buyer’s remorse and if the No campaign prevails, it will bring our country into disrepute, and it will also set back the task of reconciliation for years”.
Burns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, “dreams of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“If I have one enduring dream to see peace between Palestinians and Israelis, that is a dream which one day I hope to see become a reality.”
Burns is less confident now, given that it is difficult to know who to talk to from the Palestinian side and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government.
Neos Kosmos asked the MP about the new Australian Universities Accord Interim Report and how there is no mention of languages, except for one statement of Indigenous languages used for training.
“The humanities that need to be valued again in Australian universities and that I absolutely support.
“I originally started in a commerce degree – being a good Jewish boy,” Burns laughs. He then moved into the humanities to study politics and Yiddish. “It was the best decision I ever made, and language is a way of maintaining heritage, and Greek is essential, as are all languages; it also makes you more aware of other cultures.”
Burns says he has expressed his views about the Accord “behind the scenes” on the need for language study. “I am now studying Bahasa Indonesian – literature, languages, history, and politics are essential to critical thinking.”
An Indigenous Voice to Parliament will help, he adds, by ensuring that Aboriginal languages are studied and providing confidence to younger Aboriginal people.