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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

Television interview – Sky News Afternoon Agenda

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks so much for joining us.


CLENNELL: I’ll talk to you about the Fadden result in a moment, but let’s talk about this Newspoll on the Voice first of all. Just 41 per cent support, 48 per cent opposition: is this thing dead in the water before the campaign even starts?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all, Andrew. People will focus – indeed, today is the deadline for putting in the Yes and the No cases. The Yes campaign is a coherent argument that’s been worked on by people from the Labor Party, from the Liberal Party, from the crossbenchers who’ve all come together to endorse the Yes wording that will go out to the population. We’ll wait and see what the No campaign have done given the very disparate views that are there in the No campaign: from Pauline Hanson to Lidia Thorpe to Peter Dutton to others. But the Yes case is very strong. It’s clear. And when people focus on the words that are actually in the referendum change and what the question will be about, which is about recognition and about listening in order to get better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, I’m confident that a majority of Australians in a majority of states will vote Yes when it comes to the referendum last quarter of this year.

CLENNELL: Well there you go, there’s your prediction. They’re still going to vote Yes, even though the poll says 41 per cent support only, 48 per cent opposition. You’ve been around politics a long time. It’s pretty difficult to turn around those sorts of numbers, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Andrew, most Australians, of course, will focus when the referendum is actually being held. It’s a while to go yet. What we know is that there’s been a considerable No campaign already that is out there just trying to sow doubt. The Yes campaign needs to be stronger in putting the case, because we know that referendums in Australia have been difficult to pass, only eight out of 48. But this is a clear and simple proposition for recognition and then listening in order to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. And I think Australians will ask themselves: is an eight year life expectancy gap still acceptable? Is it acceptable that a young Indigenous male has more chance of going to jail than to university? Is the whole range of figures re: education or health outcomes, are they acceptable when and only four out of the 19 closing the gap targets are being met. Well, if we keep doing things the same way, you can expect the same outcomes. The other thing that Australians will ask themselves is, are we getting value for money? Are we making sure that every dollar in Indigenous Affairs is being used for the best purpose? Because we know that when Indigenous Australians have ownership, when they have that sense of belonging and engagement, you do get better outcomes, with things like community health, with things like the Indigenous Rangers program, with Justice Reinvestment that’s occurred in regional parts of NSW. So we need to do things better. We need to listen to people, because whenever you listen to people, you get better outcomes if you listen to those who are directly affected.

CLENNELL: Those numbers started a fast downward trend the moment Peter Dutton announced the Coalition’s position on The Voice, didn’t they? That’s a huge stumbling block.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the truth is that it is hard to win a referendum without bipartisan support. But that is a position that Peter Dutton has taken. He took it before even the committee process had been established in the Parliament that he said he wanted. The National Party didn’t even bother to know what the question was before they said no. So, that’s just something that will have an impact. But there are people of goodwill like Julian Leeser and Bridget Archer and so many others who are out there campaigning. Every state Premier, of course, in the country, regardless of whether Labor or Conservative, have supported the Voice. And we’ll continue to put the case every day in the lead up to the campaign at the referendum being held. But we know that this is something that has come from the bottom, that Indigenous people have asked for themselves and Indigenous Australians are campaigning strongly. I’ve had a look at the Yes case in the pamphlet that will go out. I think it’s a very strong case.

CLENNELL: What does it say?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it puts the case for why we need to do things better and differently. It puts the case for how you get better outcomes. The Voice is just the means to the end. The end is closing the gap, making a difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians. And it is a very strong and powerful case that is put forward that will be available from tomorrow. These Yes and No cases are being submitted today, and I believe it will make a substantial difference.

CLENNELL: So, it seems to me that Peter Dutton’s trying to do Tony Abbott on you, isn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Peter Dutton is just full of relentless negativity. It doesn’t matter what it is. You had the extraordinary arguments being put last week criticising the person who was appointed by the former government to head Treasury and the person who was appointed to be the Deputy Head, Steven Kennedy and Jenny Wilkinson, saying that they they were ‘tainted’. I mean, I just found that beyond belief, frankly. But it doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s that or support for the Housing Australia Future Fund that should not be a controversial piece of legislation before the Parliament. You had the absurdity when we introduced the legislation with bipartisan support to ensure that the Russians couldn’t build an embassy down the road here, you had spokespeople out there saying that some how we should go and arrest or evict a diplomat who was basically some bloke standing on a blade of grass, not being a threat to anyone’s national security. But you had again, they just had to say no. They had to find some product differentiation. It is from the Tony Abbott playbook.

CLENNELL: That can work, that negativity can work in politics. It can be very effective at tearing you down, potentially.

PRIME MINISTER: How well did it work for the functioning of the government that came in. How well did it work? Tony Abbott didn’t last for two years as Prime Minister. They had just the relentless negativity. And I think that Australians want something better. Australians want a positive vision for the future. That’s something that my government continues to put forward, whether it’s on the economy, whether it be on Defence, whether it be in education or health or social justice or indeed something better when it comes to constitutional recognition, My government is putting forward a positive agenda. We’ll continue to do that. And we’ll do that not just in the lead up to the next election, but for as long as we are in office. It’s something I’m determined to do, because Australians deserve better than the carping negativity which we see from the Leader of the Opposition.

CLENNELL: Prime Minister, when is the referendum? We’ve got Garma in about two to three weeks. Will you announce the date then? I assume it’s in October.

PRIME MINISTER: The date will be between October and December. I don’t plan to announce the date at Garma because that’s just in a couple of weeks and there needs to be at least 33 days notice of the referendum campaign. But there certainly doesn’t need to be that very long campaign. And once the date is announced, then it will be the campaign on in earnest. And I don’t think that Australians appreciate very long campaigns, that’s been the case in the past. So, I don’t envisage at this time, announcing a date at Garma. I’ll participate it constructively in Garma and engage with Indigenous Australians. It’s a major event, held there in Arnhem Land on Yolgnu country. And I’ve had the honour of participating for many years, both as Prime Minister last year, but before that, as Leader of the Opposition, and before that, as a Minister going back. It is a celebration of the oldest continuous culture on earth. And that is a wonderful thing. But Garma this year, of course, will have an element of sadness as well, with the passing of Yunupingu, one of the greatest of Australians, let alone the greatest of Indigenous Australian leaders. And that will be very much a focus of the Garma Festival this year.

CLENNELL: Indeed. And election campaigns are generally, say, a federal election campaign, five to six weeks. Is that what we’re perhaps looking at with the Voice camp at the moment, that sort of length of time?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I’ll consult, but that’s the sort of time frame, really, that I think is appropriate. You might have a bit longer than the usual 33 days. That’s what the provision in the legislation is there for. It is like a normal election campaign. The statements, the Yes and No statements, will be up on the AEC website, they close at midnight. Whether they go up just after midnight or early tomorrow morning, we’ll wait and see. That’s a decision for the AEC, it’s independent.

CLENNELL: From what you’ve said today, it’s never getting to the stage here where, with these declining poll numbers, you pull the referendum and put constitutional recognition up and try to do the Voice by legislation. This is full steam ahead on the Voice. We are having a vote on this change to the constitution. That’s it.

PRIME MINISTER: We are having a vote. That is what Indigenous Australians have asked for. And we’re having a crack here, Andrew. And Australians, until they actually focus on the campaign, I have faith in the Australian people and they know that we need to do better on Indigenous Affairs. They know that our Constitution has been around now for 122 years and we still don’t have recognition of the first peoples of Australia in that Constitution. It’s important we recognise in our nation’s founding document the fact our history didn’t begin in 1788. It’s celebrated, we acknowledge traditional owners every time there’s a sporting event, at my local church, at local political events and national political events as well. And we are enriched because of it. And there will be consideration given as well to the past history. We know that in the lead up to Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations here in Parliament House, there were a whole lot of concerns raised. None of them realised. It was an uplifting, uniting moment for the nation. And that’s what I want this to be as well.

CLENNELL: Let me ask about Fadden. Are there any lessons you take out of the result?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, Fadden was somewhere where we had a candidate, Leticia, she flew the flag for the cause of Labor. But it’s a safe LNP seat beforehand. It’s still a safe LNP seat afterwards. We ran so as to give Labor Party supporters the opportunity of casting a vote for Labor. We didn’t have any expectations of an outcome other than the one that was realised. In fact, I think we did a bit better than we anticipated, given that we were outspent by more than ten times. If you look at things like the postal votes, I think the LNP candidate got 60 per cent. We didn’t have a postal vote campaign. We did the the very basics of handing out on polling day. I visited at the very beginning of the campaign and the LNP, I don’t think, can take a great deal apart from holding a seat that they have always held.

CLENNELL: Indeed. But doesn’t it illustrate again how much of a climb Queensland is for you, to make up any ground there at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll give you the big tip, Andrew. Fadden won’t be on the target list at the next election, as it hasn’t been at any election up to now.

CLENNELL: But you’ve had a swing against you in Queensland, despite Robodebt, despite Stuart Robert, you’ve had a swing against you. Isn’t this the end of the honeymoon?

PRIME MINISTER: Andrew, you’ve been around a lot. I’ve been reading that for the last year. And if you have a look at – for the last year – and when I have a look at the paper and then look at the figures, which people do, I sort of wonder where the headline comes from. But that’s up to the commentators to do that. I’ll stick with doing my job, as the government will. Which is making sure that we address cost of living pressures whilst not putting pressure on inflation, that we make sure that we give Australia good government, which is what they deserve, that we govern in an orderly way. But the idea that the LNP can take some solace from a result which is basically the same figures that they got in 2019 or maybe even a little bit worse. We know that in by elections, what’s remarkable is that the Labor Party won Aston, which was the first time in 100 years that the government had won a seat off the opposition. We had a serious campaign in Aston. So did the Coalition. It was head to head and Mary Doyle was successful with a significant swing to the Labor Party. Here you had effectively one campaign and that campaign was from the LNP and it was successful.

CLENNELL: Let me ask about Michele Bullock’s appointment. Was there ever any serious consideration to another candidate?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course we would look at all the candidates who might be available. It wasn’t like a job application for a job at Myer or Woolworths. This was something where we gave it considerable thought. We came to a position. I’ve had a range of discussions with Jim Chalmers. I met Michele Bullock a couple of weeks ago and had a very good discussion with her. That was appropriate, I think, given that the discussions that I’d had with Jim Chalmers as Treasurer. The Treasurer informed the Governor of the decision, where it was likely to head, a couple of weeks ago in advance as well. That’s just common courtesy and decency. It’s a way that my government functions. We treat people with respect. But I certainly agreed with the recommendation of Jim Chalmers, as did the entire Cabinet, unanimously, that Michele Bullock was the outstanding candidate.

CLENNELL: Well, given you’ve met Michele Bullock, do the two of you have an idea of how many more rate increases we’ll have to cop this year?

PRIME MINISTER: You and I both know, Andrew, what the answer to that question is, which is that the Reserve Bank are independent. They make their decisions independently, the Reserve Bank board. I didn’t try to preempt the past Governor and I won’t preempt the future Governor either. That’s a really important part of our economic system. Which is why it was so extraordinary that you had the Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Finance Minister, all saying different things mind you, about what should happen with this position. That was most unfortunate. It is just the latest example of where every single issue, no matter how large it is, Peter Dutton shows how small his vision is for the nation.

CLENNELL: Are stage three tax cut set in stone next year. Or are you going to have a look at inflation first as to whether to attempt to keep them in their current form.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’ve been legislated, Andrew.

CLENNELL: So they’re set in stone as far as you’re concerned. You can change the legislation, I guess?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’ve been legislated. We haven’t changed our position on it. You’ve probably asked me about that half a dozen times. I’ve given you the same answer half a dozen times. If you asked me another half a dozen times, you’ll probably get the same answer as well. And you shouldn’t be surprised.

CLENNELL: Okay. Fair enough. Just finally, do you think you’ll be visiting China this year?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it is likely to be the case. We’re discussing arrangements between officials. I’ve been invited to go to China. I have said very clearly that will cooperate with China where we can. We’ll disagree where we must and will engage in our national interest. I think that engagement and diplomacy and dialogue is always a good thing. That’s why I was pleased to meet with President Xi. That’s why my ministers have met with Chinese counterparts over the last year since were in office, whether it be Foreign Affairs or Defence I sat next to the Defence Minister of China at the Shangri-La Dialogue on the same table as the US Defence Minister, the British Defence Secretary, the Acting Prime Minister of Singapore, the Defence Minister from Indonesia and the Defence Minister from Cambodia. It was quite a dinner party there, Andrew, up there at Singapore. But we engaged in constructive dialogue during that dinner. I’ll continue to engage constructively and diplomatically in order to serve Australia’s national interest.

CLENNELL: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Andrew.

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