Doorstop interview - Sydney

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, today is the day. The first referendum held this century. And an opportunity to make history. An opportunity to just do two things. Accept the gracious invitation from the First Australians to recognise them in our nation's founding document, our birth certificate. And secondly, to do it in the form in which we have been requested. A simple request by the First Australians just to be heard. To have a Voice. To be listened to about matters that affect them. A non-binding advisory committee. Nothing to fear here, but everything to gain.

I sincerely hope that Australians, when they walk into that ballot box today, vote Yes. Vote Yes to accept this gracious invitation, as the Uluru Statement from the Heart so eloquently says in its one-page, to overcome the torment of powerlessness that has led to an eight-year life expectancy gap, to a greater chance of an Indigenous young male going to jail that university, to an Indigenous young woman twice as likely to die in childbirth as a non-Indigenous woman, to diseases that have been eradicated even in developing countries which still exist in some of our remote communities.

The No campaign has spoken about division while stoking it. I'll tell you what division represents in this country. Division is the division between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. That sees just four out of the 19 Closing the Gap targets being on track to be achieved. We must do better. We can do better.

This is not a radical proposition. This is a hand outstretched of friendship from the First Australians to every Australian, just asking for it to be grasped in that spirit of reconciliation and friendship. There has been a lot of nonsense said over recent months during this campaign and the fact that the No campaign wants to talk about everything but what is on the ballot paper says that there is no legitimate critique of what people are actually voting for. And I reminded Australians who have not yet voted to read what the constitutional change proposed is. The first bit - in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of Australia, a historical fact. And then there shall be a body to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. What will it do? It may make representations to government and Parliament on matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Again, very clear. And thirdly - the primacy of the Parliament to make laws about the composition, powers and procedures of the Voice, just like every other provision of the Constitution allows for the principal and then the Parliament determines the detail. I stand here before you today as the 31st Prime Minister of Australia, saying this is an opportunity for Australia to unite, to be strengthened by reaching out to our most vulnerable citizens. In 1967, Australians voted overwhelmingly to count Indigenous Australians. In my lifetime, Indigenous Australians were not counted. Now, they are asking to be heard. It is not too much to ask. And I ask Australians to vote Yes today.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what happens tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER: A Yes vote means we wake up like we did after the Apology to the Stolen Generations, as a stronger country with a burden lifted from all of us, having shown respect for the First Australians and the great privilege that we have to share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth. You know what? I attended the NRL and AFL Grand Finals. There were some who get a platform in the media from time to time who called upon Australians to boo the Welcome to Country. I was there. Not a single Australians did. They rose with respect. And this is an opportunity for our nation to rise to this occasion, to show that respect that strengthens us. Just as every school kid in this country, whether it be a public school or a Catholic school or an Anglican School or a Muslim school, acknowledges country. Just as my local church acknowledges country before church services. Just as sporting organisations do. We are better for it. It does not detract from anyone.

I was in Adelaide yesterday. The place in the world that gave women the vote before anywhere else. And you know what? At that time, if you go back historically, the No campaign, the opponents said, including women who were opposed to themselves getting the vote, said it would divide men and women, it would detract from man and the role that they had in our society. Martin Luther King said the arc of history bends towards justice. And it does bends. We have come a long way in my lifetime - a long way. When I went to school, you did not get taught anything pre-1770. And in 1788 you would think that Arthur Phillip came into the harbour here and everyone gave a clap and said, 'Welcome, good on you. It is all good'. The truth of our history is very different. And that is why this is such a generous request from Indigenous Australians. They do so with an incredible heart and with kindness. And I said yesterday that people have spoken to me a lot about the 21st of May where here in this electorate I stood up and I went through the range of commitments that I made during the election campaign. That Australians voted for by electing me as Prime Minister in the new Labor Government. And people say, 'Why did you mention it first?' Forgetting that is what we do in this country now at formal occasions is acknowledge traditional owners. And, yes, I did do that, and repeated the call that I had made on dozens of occasions during the election campaign and well beforehand. Repeating, it must be said, every Prime Minister since John Howard said they would do something about Indigenous recognition, but no-one has put it to the Australian people before now. But I did something else as well that night. I spoke about kindness. And that got noticed by people as well. And this week of all weeks with so much hatred on display in the world, this is an opportunity for Australians to show kindness, to say, 'I know as the 97 per cent of Australians know' that they won't be impacted directly by this. It won't have an impact on their lives are directly. But it might just make a difference to the three per cent of Australians who are Indigenous. Race is currently in our Constitution. There's been extraordinary ignorance, including from sections of the media who'd know better during this campaign. Race is in the Constitution now. There is race powers. What's not there is an acknowledgement of ingenuity, an acknowledgement of our First Australians and the special relationship they have with the land and this country. A relationship that should be celebrated. A relationship that should be acknowledged. The founding fathers put in the Constitution - and they were all men - put in the Constitution a provision for New Zealand to join the Commonwealth of Australia but didn't mention Indigenous Australians. There is no mention of Prime Minister in the Constitution, by the way. That's when we talk about details. I'm not sure how the Parliament is going to deal with that on Monday.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you are planning to travel back to Canberra today. Why did you make a decision not to attend the official Yes event?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll be in Wollongong, I live in Canberra. I live in Canberra, it is our nation's capital. And I will be travelling around booths today, including in Grayndler and including down in the Illawarra. I visited every state and territory in the last week. I know that I've done everything I can to campaign strongly. And I have been so proud to campaign with Indigenous Australians on this, over 80 per cent of whom support a Yes vote in this referendum. Including every single Land Council in the Northern Territory. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was with the Central Land Council at Uluru. They have 90 delegates who are elected by those remote communities. Every single one is calling upon their fellow Australians to vote Yes. I had a ceremony by the Anungu women who painted that beautiful art work that surrounds the one-page Uluru Statement from the Heart. And in that ceremony, they did a third dance that they had done for the occasion. And they got sticks and dragged those sticks behind them, behind them through the red dirt, to represent the burden of colonisation that was their experience. Then they lifted the sticks above their head representing rising to the occasion that they were calling Australians to do. They have shown incredible courage. And I pay tribute to my friend Linda Burney, to Patrick Dodson, to Malarndirri McCarthy, to the extraordinary campaigners in the Yes campaign - Aunty Pat Anderson, Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton. These people have given their lives to help their fellow Indigenous Australians but also all Australians. They deserve so much respect. They have copped a lot. They've copped a lot in this campaign. Not one of them, not one has questioned proceeding on this course and giving Australians the vote. Because they have faith in their fellow Australians. I sincerely hope that occurs.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if Australians deliver a No vote this evening, does that mean that the path to reconciliation (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: I am very hopeful of a Yes vote this evening. That's what I am concentrating on. When we speak about unity, this bloke behind me here, Bill Crews, from the Uniting Church, last Thursday, just nine days ago, there was an event at Glebe with representatives of the Uniting Church, the Primate of the Anglican Church, Catholic Church, Islamic leaders, Buddhist leaders, Hindu, Sikh, Coptic Orthodox - every major religion and some smaller ones, Greek Orthodox - all united in calling for a Yes vote in this referendum. That is the vision for Australia I have. A vision for Australia where our multiculturalism is our strength, where we continue to work together in that spirit of unity. And that is something I will continue to pursue every day. We are the greatest country on earth. We will be a little bit greater if we acknowledge the First Australians today.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, polls show that one of the most narrowly defined groups are (inaudible). What would would you say to those Labor voters who will vote No?

PRIME MINISTER: This is an opportunity to history and be on the right side of history. Some people occasionally will say to me, as the Labor Party leader, the Labor Party isn't what it used to be. I say yes, that is right. We used to support the White Australia policy. The arc of history goes forward to a more inclusive Australia. You know, when I was first elected as the proud representative of this seat of Grayndler, I moved a resolution for superannuation rights for same-sex couples in a private member's bill in the Parliament. That was seen as a radical proposition. The idea that in the time I've been in Parliament you would have marriage equality in this country was not something that was even on the agenda. Guess what? There was a fear campaign against that as well. People were going to marry Harbour Bridges and all sorts of nonsense was said. Not as silly as some of the fear campaigns in this one, I've got to say. You know, a debate over whether the Uluru Statement, how many pages it is, is one of the most absurd things I have seen and brings no credit to media outlets that ran it, none. Just as some of the statements during marriage equality didn't either. Guess what? It's been in place for a while, hasn't been responsible for any downside. That's what this is about. All upside, all gain, nothing to lose here.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you have any updated on the Australians in Israel?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, can I report the flight from Qantas has landed in London. That it was a full flight carrying around 220 passengers.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: Do you see any of that? What I see is hope and optimism. That's what this campaign has been about. A Yes campaign that's been positive. A Yes campaign that has spoken about the future. A Yes campaign that spoke about us embracing each other and enlarging or country. And a No campaign that is based upon fear, and us shrinking into ourselves. I want to lead a country that is outward looking, that is confident. That's why I said this is about respect for Indigenous Australians. It is about how we see ourselves as a nation. But it's also the way that the world sees us. The world will see us in a more positive way if we do what every other former colony in the world has done. Last one.

JOURNALIST: You made a promise to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart on election night. If this referendum fails, will you push ahead with other elements of that?

PRIME MINISTER: We're focused on this. Once again, from the media, we get a question sent through looking to talk about something that this referendum isn't about. Can we concentrate between now and 6pm on what people are voting for? Can we just do that? Can we just do that? That is an example, not personal here, but that is an example of what's been happening. A really clear proposition, just two things - recognition, and listening. That's what people are voting for. An attempt by the No campaign, facilitated by some, to talk about anything else, to talk about anything else. What this is about is constitutional recognition and a non-binding advisory committee that won't have any power except for the power of its ideas. A capacity to talk to government. Why? Because when we listen to people directly affected, we get better outcomes. We know that through Justice Reinvestment in Bourke, through community health programs in Cape York and South East Queensland. Through Indigenous Rangers programs in the Northern Territory, through programs that assist Indigenous Australians. There are great success stories in this country. Every single one of them has that sense of agency and ownership from First Australians. And with that comes responsibility for the outcomes. Speaking of agency, we are giving Australians agency today. The agency of one vote, one value in our great democracy. I sincerely hope Australians vote Yes. Thanks very much.