Television interview – A Current Affair
ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: Prime Minister, you know what I think has been missing from the Voice debate and that is heart and soul, it’s become a political dog fight. How do you get that back?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: This is about faith, hope, and love. And indeed, it is about bringing Australia together, it is positive and the great thing about today’s launch that I found was how positive it was.
LANGDON: You’re also in a room surrounded by people who truly believe this and if you look outside of that room, it’s not so much, you’ve got a lot of people who are No and a lot people, Prime Minister, who are undecided.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s true but what I find is that when you talk to people who are undecided and in the last week, in Karratha, I’ve been in regional community, I’ve been in Perth and Adelaide and Sydney and Melbourne, tomorrow I’ll be in Hobart, and what I find is that when you talk with people, people do want to understand, they want more information. And Australians are generous people. And today, I went through exactly what the question is, a lot of the debates about things that aren’t about the question. So when people focus on the very clear proposition of the opportunity to say Yes to recognition, to listening and to getting better results, I find them very receptive to that message.
LANGDON: I’ve seen you shed a tear when you talk about this, I’ve heard your voice break, why does it matter so much to you?
PRIME MINISTER: Because we’re talking about, what I believe is the best nation on earth, just becoming that little bit greater. This is such an opportunity and I know that this is the opportunity for this generation to make a change. This will not impact most Australians directly but it just might make life better for the three percent of Australians who happen to be the most disadvantaged group, the First Nations people. And I think it will be a moment where we can show respect to them, where we can feel better about ourselves as well, as a nation, and where the world can look at us and say, ‘Yeah, Australia’s a mature, grown up nation that’s prepared to come to terms with the fullness and richness of our history.’
LANGDON: So support is probably not seeing where you’d like right about now, why do you think people aren’t on board?
PRIME MINISTER: Referendums are difficult in this country, you’ve had eight out of forty-four succeed and people will focus though, now they have the date of October 14. They’ll focus over the next six and a half weeks. It’s now back over to the people. This is a proposition that’s come from the people. It’s come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves. And I really believe this is an enormous opportunity. And I see as well, the change has happened in my lifetime. When I was young, the idea that you would have Welcome the Country at the beginning of every Matilda’s game, and every person in the crowd showing respect through silence and then cheering at the end of it. This is the next step that I see in being a more inclusive country.
LANGDON: So we know why people are voting Yes, they think it’s the right thing to do. But when you look at the No and undecided voters, there are a few reasons and the main one is they don’t understand it Prime Minister and that is a big, big issue.
PRIME MINISTER: One of the things I’ve said today was that if you haven’t considered all of all of the details, ask more questions, that’s fine. The booklet will be going out, of course, to every household. But what I would say, and I’ve articulated today, was have a look at what the question is, it’s pretty straightforward. The first bit is recognition, then it says, ‘there will be a body that will give advice’ and then, ‘its composition and functions and procedures will be still subject to the Parliament’, so it doesn’t change the way that laws are made. It’s not a funding body. It’s just an advisory body. And like anything else, I note that A Current Affair, in order to get input from your listeners about this interview and about the issue, you’ve asked your listeners, that makes sense, just as it makes sense to have a Voice to be able to listen to people who are directly affected by these issues.
LANGDON: In listening to people, that is, unfortunately, the overwhelming response we get, is that they don’t get it. I mean, and you just said then it comes down to that question. Let’s break that down. Because it comes down to twenty-nine words, ‘a proposed law to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, do you approve this proposed alteration?’ So, the two issues in it right? You’ve got recognition and that’s the first issue. I think that’s pretty straightforward and people are on board and a lot of people think that’s long overdue. But it’s this other issue of the Voice that is divisive, rightly or wrongly. Practically, what’s it going to change?
PRIME MINISTER: What it will change is the opportunity for Indigenous Australians to be heard and when –
LANGDON: But I hear that, I say, so what, hang on, have we not been listening up until this point?
PRIME MINISTER: Well what we know is that if we have an advisory body that’s able to speak on behalf of those local communities, to filter up that information to government, government will still be the decision maker. But we know that when programs have involved Indigenous Australians, whether we look at what’s happening in getting young, Indigenous kids to school in Arnhem Land, if we look at the health programs that are operating on Cape York, if we look at Indigenous Rangers Programs around the country, Justice Reinvestment Programs, in Bourke in New South Wales. The programs that have been most successful in overcoming disadvantage have been ones that have had that ownership, have come from the bottom up, listening to Indigenous Australians.
LANGDON: But I think there’s a sense then, that, hang on, is this just another level of bureaucracy, and red tape in Canberra? Is this another committee? Is this another agency? We know these issues. How is this fundamentally different?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s the opposite. Because for 122 years, we’ve had a voice from Canberra to communities, with bureaucracy, and with the best of intentions, there’s been billions of dollars spent on trying to overcome Indigenous disadvantage, but still –
LANGDON: Are you honestly saying we haven’t been listening to Indigenous people up until this point?
PRIME MINISTER: Quite clearly, we haven’t enough and we have had decisions made by the bureaucracy in Canberra, this is the other way around, this is a Voice to Canberra, instead of a voice from Canberra. And that’s where we will get better outcomes. And in addition to the wording of the question, in every booklet in every household, I’d encourage people to look at the three points that are there. It’s there in the pamphlet, in the first page, it’s there that will come out to people. And it’s very, here, clearly here, about the changes. And it says, ‘in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First People to Australia’ so that’s the recognition, then it says, ‘there shall be a body to be called the Voice’, then it says what the Voice will do, ‘it may give advice to government on matters that affect Indigenous Australians’, and the third is, ‘the Parliament will determine the functions and procedures and composition of the Voice’, so the wording will be there for everyone to read to see themselves. That’s what it’s about, nothing more, nothing less.
LANGDON: But I’m not sure that all of that is simple and straightforward for people.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it is pretty straightforward as an idea that has come from Indigenous Australians themselves.
LANGDON: But saying it’s simple and clear and straightforward doesn’t necessarily make it so, people don’t get it and that’s a fact.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, people haven’t had the opportunity to get the booklet, what the question is, in every letterbox. And that’s one of the reasons why we supported the mailing out of this so that people could see for themselves. Now, every Australian will have to make up their own mind. And it’s one vote, one value and we respect that. But I would encourage people, as well, to have conversations. I think that we have an opportunity here to really come together as a nation.
LANGDON: But I mean, we’re not coming together, though. I mean, I think we’re so divisive over this issue and it is sad to see. I mean, there is so much confusion out there and that is something that the No campaign has jumped on. I mean, it looks at this point, like this will not get up.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I believe it will get up. I think Australians are generous people and that is why today’s campaign launch was very much focused on the positive, on what it can do and it wasn’t focused on what it isn’t, which some of the No campaign has been doing, talking about things that aren’t actually relevant to what is before the Australian people on October the 14th. And that’s why I think it will be embraced by Australians. There is no downside here. This is just recognition and an advisory body with no downside, no one losing anything, everything to gain from this change.
LANGDON: You say there is no downside, but I’m not sure that people believe that because they’re not going to vote for something when they don’t understand the detail or they don’t have the detail. So, you have a vision of what this is going into October 14, but down a track, say you lose the election, Peter Dutton becomes the Prime Minister, he and his government will then have the power to change the composition, function and powers of the Voice. So we can’t say with any certainty what this actually looks like in say ten or fifteen years.
PRIME MINISTER: We’re not overturning the fact that Parliament, Parliament will determine the functions procedures composition. That’s part of the strength of this proposal –
LANGDON: Is it a strength or is it a weakness?
PRIME MINISTER: It is a strength.
LANGDON: Because it sounds like then the Voice doesn’t actually have any power, so what is it?
PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s a strength. It means that there shall be a body, it can’t just be wiped out. They can’t have no advisory body to the government. And what we know is that people in the media, business, unions, a whole lot of people of course have input to Parliament and they lobby governments. What this will be is a permanent body. Yes, it might be changed by a future government, will be subject to legislation. That’s important, because that’s what makes this such a generous request, to walk with Indigenous Australians. They’re not asking for another chamber of Parliament, they’re not asking for separate representations. It doesn’t change the governance of Australia, it will continue, everyone will continue to elect their local Member in the House of Representatives and have a vote for who represents a state or territory in the Senate. All this is an advisory body that won’t have the right of veto, it won’t be a funding body, it won’t run programs, but it will be able to give advice to government.
LANGDON: You say you don’t have the accept the Voice’s advice, you can ignore it, I mean, if so, I think people at home are saying what’s the point? If this is so important, shouldn’t it be mandatory that you then act upon those recommendations?
PRIME MINISTER: No, because we’re not changing the structure of our government. Here, in Australia, we will still have a Parliament that’s determined by every Australian.
LANGDON: So this is a point that I think people sitting at home go, ‘so we just don’t see how this is different’, you have agencies in Canberra who already have the direct ear of the Indigenous Affairs Minister, they have that direct line to Parliament. So how is this any different if it’s not effectively been given any real power?
PRIME MINISTER: How it’s different, is that the power that it will have, is the power of its ideas, the power of its representations, the power of its agency in going forward as well. And it will do something else, at the moment when decisions are made in Canberra, for Indigenous Australians rather than with them, the agency of Indigenous Australians is not present. When you have the involvement of Indigenous Australians, you will also change the responsibility as well. It won’t be, ‘oh well, government decided this and, you know, we’ll see whether it works or not.’ It will be ‘governments decided this, we had input to the decision, we also have some responsibility for how successful it is.’
LANGDON: So how are you so sure that this is the thing that will work? Because you’re talking about changing the Constitution, that is something that’s forever, essentially, unless we go and have another referendum like this. So how are you so sure that this is right and that this will work when everything else has failed?
PRIME MINISTER: Because if we continue to do the same thing, and voting No is a vote to do the same thing, to accept that the current systems and structures are working okay, that’s as good as we can do. What this is, this arose out of a process involving thousands of meetings, a big process established under the former Coalition government.
LANGDON: But you’re, at the end of the day, you’re asking people to change the Constitution. You’re asking people to trust you or to trust Canberra to make the right decision here and I mean, no offense, but I’m not sure how much good will there is towards our politicians.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m asking Australians to trust themselves and their own judgment. And that’s why people who are –
LANGDON: Their judgement is, ‘we don’t get this, we don’t know what it is, it’s wishy washy, it’s, there’s this Voice, but I don’t know, it doesn’t have any real power, it doesn’t have any real legs, it can change over time, it might look different in a decade to what it is now’, and that scares people.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s why when people have looked at this, they’ve come to a positive position, every faith group has come –
LANGDON: But I’m not sure that people who are undecided and who No haven’t looked at it. I mean, my parents don’t understand it, they’ve looked at it, their group of friends have looked at it and don’t understand it. That is a massive problem.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s just an advisory group. It’s not more complicated than that. It’s an advisory group of matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Aimed at closing the gap in health, education, and housing. We know at the moment, there’s still an eight year life expectancy gap. If you’re a young Indigenous male, you’re more likely to go to jail than university. If you’re a young Indigenous woman, you are more likely to die in childbirth than if you are a non-Indigenous woman.
Childbirth, child weights, birth weights, there’s still a gap there, there’s a gap in so many areas.
LANGDON: But I think we all understand what those issues are, we’re just not sure how this then fixes it? I’ve got a whole bunch of questions that have come through from our viewers, and one of the main ones is, ‘how can you be certain it is representative of all Indigenous Australians?’
PRIME MINISTER: Well, Indigenous Australians will themselves determine the composition –
LANGDON: So, every indigenous person will get a vote as to whose on the Voice?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, it will be elected. So for example in South Australia where they’re having a Voice to Parliament, it might be that that body then represents, makes people –
LANGDON: Okay so you’re not saying every Indigenous person in this country gets to vote on who’s on the board?
PRIME MINISTER: No, it will be selected, selected by Indigenous Australians though –
LANGDON: But not all of them?
PRIME MINISTER: No, but they will determine, they will determine, the different communities, to make sure that it’s representative. And that’s why that third provision, the primacy of the Parliament, will be so important.
LANGDON: I mean this could be a career defining moment for you, is it also potentially career ending?
LANGDON: Do you think the No campaign has jumped on the confusion? Because fear is the easiest and most effective political campaign, have they got you there? They caught you sleeping at the wheel?
PRIME MINISTER: No, well in referendums, as in other political campaigns, it is easy to press disinformation out there. And of course, social media has made that more possible as well.
LANGDON: But did you underestimate them and the effectiveness of the No campaign? I mean, you’ve been in politics for a while and I mean, you know how these things go, fear campaigns, Mediscare, Work Choices, borders, they work.
PRIME MINISTER: I was disappointed that we were unable to secure bipartisan support. I would have liked to have secured that, politics shouldn’t be in the way of this, this should not be a party political.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll respect the outcome, but it will be disappointing. My concern is –
LANGDON: Does it mean we’re racist?
PRIME MINISTER: No it doesn’t. No it doesn’t. People will make their own decisions based upon what the views are. But my concern here is that the Republic referendum took place, it’s the last one we had, it was last century, there is no one under the age of 40 who has ever voted in a referendum before. And I think this is a once in a generation opportunity to seize the moment, on October 14. And I think if Australia does vote Yes, we’ll wake up the next day a more unified country, a stronger country, a country that is advancing reconciliation, a country that’s sending a message to the world, that we’re confident about the fullness and richness of our history. And that’s why this is an important position. Putting a referendum to a vote is always a risk. That’s why perhaps that hasn’t been done for decades. But it’s the right thing to do. And one of the things that I’ve said is, if not now, when? When are we going to get around to doing what every other country has done? Every other former colony recognises its first peoples in their founding documents, except for Australia.
LANGDON: And we understand your passion that you have for this, I mean you took this to an election, but is this potentially, I mean this could be a career defining moment for you? Is it also potentially career ending?
PRIME MINISTER: No, look this is about Indigenous Australians and in 2019, both political parties said they’d hold a referendum before that election and it didn’t happen. John Howard went to an election in 2007, almost twenty years ago, supporting Constitutional recognition and it hasn’t happened. And that’s why –
LANGDON: But you have a problem don’t you when you’re six weeks out and people still don’t know what the Voice is?
PRIME MINISTER: People will focus, like they do in an election campaign, they focus in, normally the three weeks leading up to it. And every Australian will get a vote. We will be giving, through tens of thousands of volunteers out there, on railway stations, making calls, expressing their views, making the information available, it’s being mailed out to everyone. And people will focus in the lead up to October 14. We only had to give thirty-three days notice, it’s a conscious decision to give a longer time for people to examine what is before the people on October 14.
LANGDON: If it isn’t No, will you revisit it or is it dead?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll respect decisions that are made by the Australian people. So, if Australians vote No, I think that will be a lost opportunity but I’ll respect that.
LANGDON: If they don’t seize this opportunity, will you legislate? Which is something that you that you could have done from the very beginning and avoided the division.
PRIME MINISTER: No, I’ll respect the decision, which is made. I will continue to do what we can as a government to engage and to try to make a difference to Indigenous lives. But I think when a referendum was held, you have to respect the outcome, and I’ll do that.
LANGDON: Okay, let’s talk about the referendum on the monarchy now. Just kidding! Thank you, Prime Minister. Good luck.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Ally.