Radio interview – ABC Radio Brisbane
CRAIG ZONCA, HOST: Prime Minister, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Good to be with you.
ZONCA: Why do you think the Yes campaign is losing traction, particularly here in Queensland?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s a long way to go in this campaign, of course. I remember people telling me that there was no possibility Labor would win the last election and I’m speaking to you from the Lodge. So, people will concentrate on what the question is that is before the Australian people in the last quarter of this year, which is something that is about completing our Constitution by recognising First Nations people in our Constitution as Australia’s first peoples. The rest of the world, former colonies have all done that some time ago. We’re the only country that hasn’t. And then secondly, just enabling a body, an advisory body so we can listen to Indigenous Australians about matters that affect them so as to get better results – that’s what this referendum is about. There’s been a whole lot of noise about things that it’s not about, but it’s a simple proposition.
LORETTA RYAN, HOST: Why do we need a referendum? Shouldn’t we already be listening to what Indigenous Australians want?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we need the referendum in order to change the Constitution. And in order to change the Constitution, which is something that, a process that’s gone on over 20 years. There was consultation, including going back to the Howard Government promised constitutional recognition, Tony Abbott set up a process of the form of recognition that it would take, and indeed, wanted that to occur in 2017, the 50th anniversary of when we counted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of our census as a result of that successful referendum that was held. And Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people came together over that period, met at Uluru in 2017, and said they wanted constitutional recognition with substance through a Voice, by having a body that was able to advise government on matters that affected Indigenous Australians. Because we know that when you listen to advice of people who are directly affected, you will get better outcomes. And I think people will also focus on what a No vote would mean, which is more of the same. We have an eight-year life expectancy gap, we have gaps in infant mortality, educational outcomes, justice issues, health issues, we need to do much better. And the key, we know, is when we have listened to Indigenous Australians, that’s when you get better outcomes.
ZONCA: Doesn’t that suggests there has been a failure of multiple governments for years and years because there are poor health outcomes, there are poor educational standards, more Indigenous children are going to jail? The Voice doesn’t change that overnight, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn’t change it overnight, you can’t change intergenerational disadvantage overnight. And you’re right, there has been failures from governments of all persuasions, who have had the best intentions. I think Labor and Liberal governments have had the best intentions to try to deal with these issues, but the truth is that we haven’t been successful. Only four out of the 19 Closing the Gap targets are being met. There’s a greater chance of a young Indigenous male going to jail than going to university. We need to do better. And the way that Aboriginal people are seeking to gain control as well over their own lives to accept responsibility, and if we listen to them, we will get better outcomes.
ZONCA: There does seem to be bipartisan support for constitutional recognition, but obviously not so much for the Voice itself. Was it a mistake to tie the two questions together as you’re going to do in the referendum?
PRIME MINISTER: That was something that Aboriginal Australians decided they wanted in 2017 at Uluru, and you can’t say that you want to listen to Indigenous Australians through a Voice which both sides are saying they want to legislate for the Voice. If you want to legislate, it seems to me the big weakness in the Liberal leadership’s position on this is just that, they say they want constitutional recognition, well tick, they say as well, they want to legislate a Voice, which both sides will do – the only difference here is whether it be enshrined in the Constitution, that is that the body can’t be gotten rid of with a stroke of a pen. And it seems to me that if you say you want a Voice to listen to Aboriginal Australians, you can’t stop at the very first point, which is a form of recognition that they have asked for.
ZONCA: But isn’t that the issue, because Australians don’t know the design of the Voice and so you’re asking them to enshrine the Voice into the Constitution, but without necessarily understanding how it would be made up, its whole purpose, and what will happen from here? Effectively, you’re saying, ‘Well, trust us on that point’ why not reveal more detail or actually put the design of the Voice there before we get to the referendum?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is. The detail is out. And if people have a look at the Yes case, that will go through, be distributed, by the AEC. It makes it very clear that the voice is an advisory body, made up of Indigenous Australians, elected by Indigenous Australians to advise on matters affecting Indigenous Australians. And the wording of the referendum makes it very clear as well, the primacy of the Parliament, the Parliament will determine the makeup and functions and procedures of the Voice. That is a part of the cause going forward, and that’s an important principle, that Parliament will remain prime. That this isn’t about overturning our system of government, it’s not about something as well, that will have an impact directly on overwhelmingly, most of your listeners, by definition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up three per cent of the population, it won’t impact their lives directly. But what it just might do is to make a difference for the lives of that three per cent that we know are amongst the disadvantaged in our community.
RYAN: You talked about the advisory body. Just how much power though does that advisory body have?
PRIME MINISTER: It has the power to give advice, that’s all. It’s made very clear that it doesn’t have the right of veto, it’s not a funding body, it won’t run programs. It simply has the power of its ideas is what it has. The power of its ideas to put forward advice, it’s not binding upon government whatsoever. And so the No campaign, the argument against this, from the beginning spoke about it being a third chamber of Parliament, no one talks about that anymore because the arguments against the Voice have dropped off. And now we have a range of campaigns designed to create confusion, really, in the community. There is nothing to fear from this process and everything to gain.
ZONCA: Now, you say that people will engage more when a date is set. Why not put a date out there right now, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Because in in elections, and this is like an election process, we have normally a 33 day campaign in elections sometime, a week or two longer. I’ve set out a timetable very clearly of when the referendum would be. A year ago, I said that we would have draft legislation after we worked through issues with the Referendum Working Group and with the Constitutional Advisory Group in in March, and then it would go through a committee process to Parliament in June – it’s done all of that. So, we know that it will be in the last quarter of this year, it is likely to be towards the front end of that period, because the wet season that occurs up in Australia’s far north. And we want to make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can participate in this process.
ZONCA: Okay, so last quarter of the year, no set date at this point, watch this space. How much is this a referendum on your leadership, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was got nothing to do with me or Peter Dutton, or politicians.
ZONCA: It doesn’t?
PRIME MINISTER: No, this is something that has occurred over a process going back more than a decade. It has support from across the political spectrum, every state Premier and Chief Minister is supportive. We had on the weekend up at Garma, I was there with Julian Leeser, he was appointed, of course, by Peter Dutton to be the Coalition’s not just Attorney General, Shadow Attorney-General, but also Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister. And he was there strongly supporting a Yes case, as were all of the crossbenchers have all supported a Yes case as well. This is something that should be above party politics, this is now about the Australian people and about their views. And I’d encourage people to have a look at what the question is that is being asked. This is an opportunity to show greater respect to Indigenous Australians, but also to lift up our country as well.
ZONCA: Well, it’s certainly about party politics, and it’s turned out that way in recent months. You came back from the Garma festival, you say it’s not a question of personal leadership, but you have prosecuted this argument for the Yes vote. The opinion polls say that it’s not cutting through, Prime Minister, so doesn’t that reflect on you personally?
PRIME MINISTER: No, this is not about politicians, this is about whether we close the gap, whether we make a difference for Indigenous Australians. And this is an issue that has been spoken about for a very long period of time. We’ve been speaking about a Voice since William Cooper back in the thirties was talking about this form of structure. We’ve been talking about constitutional recognition since John Howard and Kevin Rudd both went to the 2007 election with that position. We’ve had governments or political parties across the spectrum say that they wanted to advance constitutional recognition for decades now. Now, I am the Prime Minister who is saying we need to give Australians the opportunity here to move forward and to have a vote. And I think that is the right thing to do, it’s something that’s been requested by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it’s a gracious request, and I sincerely hope that Australians take it up. And if they do, we will see, just like with the Mabo decision, the Wik decision the Apology to Stolen Generations, when it’s done, people will wonder why it hasn’t happened before.
ZONCA: Before you go Prime Minister, the Matildas tonight up against Denmark. Are you going to the game?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t think I am. There’s been a late request for me to go but Parliament’s sitting this week, so it will prove to be difficult. I watched last week in front of the telly, and that was absolutely a fantastic experience. I don’t think we can hope for four-nil tonight, I think we’d settle for one-nil, will do. But the Matildas are doing the whole of Australia proud. And I’m sure the whole of Australia will be cheering wherever they are, whether they’re at the game or watching on telly tonight.
RYAN: And by the way, the Diamonds in the Netball have done Australia proud too winning the World Cup.
PRIME MINISTER: They have indeed. They certainly, a considerable defeat inflicted on the English. And congratulations to the Diamonds who’ve been such an extraordinary team leading the world winning yet another World Cup.
ZONCA: Prime Minister thanks for joining us on ABC Radio Brisbane.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.