Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Doorstop Interview, Canberra

Sunday, 26 January 2014 (All day)

Canberra

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Australia Day 2014; constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians.

E&OE

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, he was an inspiration to millions of Australians, he stands for excellence in sport and decency in our national life and yes I think he has been an excellent choice. Of course it is a very hard choice because all of the state Australians of the Year have made a magnificent contribution to our country. Frankly, to meet all of the finalists in the various categories was both humbling and exhilarating yesterday. It really was one of the extraordinary privileges of the prime ministership to be able to meet such absolutely remarkable Australians.

QUESTION:

When will there be constitutional recognition for our first Australians?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we want constitutional recognition as soon as possible. This is a very important national crusade. It is very important to me, it is very important to the Indigenous people of our country and it should be very important to all of us who want to see our country whole and for me Indigenous recognition won’t be changing our constitution so much as completing it. If we had known in 1901 what we know now, if our hearts had been as big then as now, we would have acknowledged Indigenous people in the constitution back then. I am not being critical of our forebears they were products of their time but I think that we can complete their great work in the next few years by finally doing what the New Zealanders were able to do back in the 1860s with the Treaty of Waitangi, which we unfortunately were not able to do back in the 1890s. We can do now what might have been done then but wasn’t and that is to recognise Aboriginal people in the constitution. I do stress though that if it is to be the great unifying moment that it should be, it is important to do it right, to get it right and that is what I am on about - to make sure that we do it right, get it right. We want it to happen as quickly as possible but a rushed job might be a botched job.

QUESTION:

In your first term?

PRIME MINISTER:

A soon as we can. The commitment that I have given is that within 12 months of the election - and that is to say by September this year – we will have a draft formal words, then we have to debate it, we have to be comfortable with it as a nation – black and white Australians, old and new Australians, Australians from everywhere have to be comfortable with it and they have got to appreciate that this will be and should be a unifying moment and when that time comes that’s when it should be put to the people.

QUESTION:

What’s your message to Australians on Australia Day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we should celebrate who we are. We are a marvellous country, we are a great people and I think on this day we should celebrate what is one of the greatest gifts imaginable - the gift of being Australian.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister should all migrants to Australia speak English as a first language?

PRIME MINISTER:

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells obviously comes from a migrant background herself and she was explaining what has been important for her and for her family which is to master the national language in order to fully participate in a national life. Yes, it is important for people to fully participate in Australia that they master our national language. As you can all see there are lots of people who become Australian from all sorts of cultures, all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ethnicities, all sorts of educational attainments and we welcome people from everywhere. We don’t have any expectations on anyone except that they join the team and that they become Australian in their own way and at their own pace. I am thrilled to say that over the last couple of hundred years or so millions of people have done exactly that.

[ends]