Press conference - Garma Festival, Gulkula

04 Aug 2023
Gulkula, Northern Territory
Prime Minister
Uluru Statement from the Heart; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; Garma Festival

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thank you for the warm welcome to your country and for the meeting that we've just had with the Dilak Council. An opportunity to listen. An opportunity to listen about the vision that the community here has on your Yolngu country of education, advancement for their young people of health and better health outcomes of improvements to housing as well on the homelands. This was an opportunity for us to listen. And indeed, in the Dilak Council is an example of exactly how a Voice with local structures can work. Giving a voice to Canberra about how we achieve better results. Because we know that when we listen to people who are directly affected by issues, you get better outcomes. And that, as well as recognition in Australia's Constitution, is what the referendum that will be held in the last quarter of this year is about. And we also heard the unanimous support of Indigenous people here for a 'Yes' vote of this local community. And can I say that I am honoured and humbled to be welcomed onto this country and to share this great continent of ours, Australia, with the oldest continuous culture are on earth. And I look forward to participating, as I have for more than a decade here now, in the Garma Festival. This is a great celebration of culture, a celebration of ideas, an exchange and an opportunity for decision makers to listen. But also a place where you see the coming together of two worlds. When you walk outside here over coming days, you will see young Indigenous Australians from the Gumatj clan and others kicking a footy around with kids from Melbourne, kids from Sydney, kids from Dubbo, kids from Perth, kids from right around Australia. You'll see an exchange in the women's groups of people from right around the country. You will see how enriched we are when these two worlds come together with a sense of common purpose, with a sense of advancement. And here as well, we have, I think, a very important announcement as the 24th Garma Festival begins. I'm pleased to announce that the Aboriginals Benefit Account will invest $6.4 million to support the Yothu Yindi Foundation's long held vision for a tertiary institution here in Northeast Arnhem Land. This has been something that has been called for a long period of time. And we know that the vision for on-Country learning for Yolngu people from early childhood education to university is something that's so important. We know that it works. The Dhupuma Barker School at Gunyangara is truly a local success. The school attendance rates show what works. It arose from listening. It arose from governments following decision making from the bottom up, which is why it is so important. The Garma Institute will build on this success, ensuring Yolngu people can stay and continue their tertiary studies on country among their council. That is so important that people are able to continue you to be involved in their community. The on-Country learning that occurs is bilingual. The knowledge that comes from over 60,000 years of culture being imparted here to their people is something that the Dilak Council are, quite rightly, so proud of. So, I'm very pleased that we have been able to come here once again to this festival. I thank very much the traditional owners for their invitation here. And I look forward to coming days. The Chief Minister is going to make some comments as well.

NATASHA FYLES, CHIEF MINISTER OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: The Northern Territory is again excited to host this wonderful event where we bring together Yolngu Balanda on the lands of the Yolngu people and I acknowledge the custodians and thank you for your custodianship of land, but for bringing us together. And this year is particularly important as Australians contemplate the vote for the Voice later this year. And what I say to people watching this in their living rooms across Australia, don't be afraid. If we can simply listen, we will have better outcomes for our First Nations people. And so, look to these examples where we work together, where we listen to that local voice and we see that success. And we see it across the Northern Territory, but none more so than here. And so the Northern Territory Government will also be supporting this Institute. And we acknowledge the efforts of the Garma Institute in bringing together Yolngu and Balanda so that we can give our First Nations people the best education and build upon the work that has been done today. Thank you. And we look forward to the next few days.

JOURNALIST: The Dilak Council, is that something that you see as a model for a national and regional kind of structure for a Voice? Is this the way you'd like to build representation after the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly here it is. This is a successful model. But one of the things about, if you look at the Langton and Calma report into what a structure would be like, it doesn't envisage one size fits all because different communities have different histories, have different organisations as well. And the important thing would be, which is one of the reasons why you can't in advance say exactly what the structures are precisely, because you want that in itself to come from the bottom up. So here, this is a great example, a strong governance model, it has driven reform from the ground up and it's ensured that communities have their say. Today at the Dilak Council we heard from different clan leaders, we heard from one of the youth leaders who is here somewhere, gave an amazing contribution about, she spoke about saltwater and freshwater coming together. Just like Balanda and Yolngu people coming together. Balanda being a word for of non-Indigenous Australians that goes back a long period of time as well and about how that can create, when that occurs, it creates murky water. But if you get it to settle, you can see what's there. She spoke about, of course, the totem of stingray is one of the very important totems here in this country. So, it isn't one size fits all. But for here as well, one of the things that the principles that have been put out say very clearly is that it doesn't seek to impose or remove existing institutions that have had history and are working, it seeks to work with them as well. And that's one of the principles that is there, that is out there in the detail. It's there in the 'Yes' case that's been put forward that will be mailed out to all Australians and that's online. And I encourage people, if they are looking at what way they're going to vote, yes or no, look at the words which are there in the 'Yes' case. They're constructive, they're positive, they're forward-looking. And I am confident that Australians look at what the actual question is that's being asked, look at the 'Yes' case that is there, which includes an outline of what it might look like. Then they will return a 'Yes' vote. And that was certainly the hope of people who were at the meeting, both the Dilak Council and those of us who were there to listen.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, last year here at Garma you made a solid promise that your Government would pursue the Statement from the Heart in full. Do you make that promise here again today?


JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that you won't announce the date of the referendum tomorrow? And if that's the case, why didn't you decide to use the platform that you'll be provided tomorrow given the significance of this event?

PRIME MINISTER: I can confirm yes, that is the case. We won't be announcing the date tomorrow. Historically, in Australia we don’t have a ten week, twelve week campaigns, three month campaigns. The date I confirmed a year ago after the speech, I confirmed, certainly what a timetable looked like last year. I said there would be draft legislation in March. And there was. I said there'd be Parliamentary Committee process. And there was. I said it would report in June. And there was. And it was carried by the Parliament to have a referendum. A referendum has to take place between two months and 33 days and six months of the bill being passed. So, that takes it to between September and December. Obviously, we're not going to have it on Grand Final day. And we’ll announce, though, a date for the referendum at an appropriate time after consultation as well. And one of the things that I'll be doing this weekend is speaking with people here, as I have around the country, respectfully, about their view.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Yolngu leadership has spoken many times before about being disappointed by prime ministers. How much do you feel the pressure on you, given this commitment to a referendum and the potential for fresh disappointment if it does fail?

PRIME MINISTER: It is the case that last year when I spoke and confirmed that we will fulfil our election commitment to have a referendum in this term, Yunupingu said to me, 'Are you serious?' And I confirmed to him that I was. And in the last conversation that we had, one that I will never forget, was on the day that I, together with the meeting of the Referendum Working Group, announced in Canberra the wording that would go forward to Parliament in the referendum, the draft that would be in the legislation. He said to me, 'You spoke truth'. I did. There's been a lot of talk over a long period of time about change. There's been some suggestion that this is not the right time. I say 122 years after Federation, half a century after the referendum in which Indigenous Australian were counted, more than a decade after extensive processes were established, including most of that time under the Coalition Government. Including the committee that was established for the form of constitutional recognition by Tony Abbott. The Joint Parliamentary Committee established under the Coalition, chaired by Julian Leeser and Patrick Dodson. The Committee that reported to Cabinet under Ken Wyatt of Tom Calma and Marcia Langton. I was here four years ago when Ken Wyatt, as the Minister, was talking about a referendum being held. If not now, when? We are the only former colony of Europe that does not recognise that there were inhabitants here before 1788, in our case. In New Zealand's case, that was recognised in the 19th century. In Canada's case, in the 20th century. This is something that is for First Nations people, but it is more than that. It is something for all of us, for all of us, to be lifted up. And this week, people raised an issue of a pamphlet for land rights signed in 1986. I've been on this journey for a long time, but something people mightn't have noticed from that pamphlet that, quite frankly, I don't recall at the time, but the authorisation on that pamphlet was authorised by Patrick Dodson and Marcia Langton. They were leaders then. How long do they have to wait? They were leaders four decades ago calling for land rights. Years before Mabo, before Wik, before Native Title. Years before that advance, let alone the years before the Apology, which people said also was never the right time. Never the right time. We waited for year after year after year for that Apology. And when it occurred, it brought the country together. It lifted the country up. And no one was hurt by that Apology. No one will be hurt by a 'Yes' vote in this referendum. But we have an opportunity to be lifted up.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Yes23 are saying some research showing that up to 40 per cent of Australians still haven't decided on the Voice. Does that number surprise you? And how do you think they'll be convinced in the coming weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn't surprise me at all. I saw research early on that had a very high figure for how many people didn't know that we had a Constitution. There hasn't been a referendum held this century. Which is why I don't think people want a date announced many months in advance and then a long day to day campaign. There will be a focus. There will be a focus in the weeks leading up to people voting, particularly in the four weeks leading up. Because this is an issue in which, this isn't about Canberra, this is about every Australian getting one vote. One vote, one value, in this referendum. And this is about conversations that people will have. The conversations I still have as I travel around the country are consistent with that finding, I haven't seen that particular poll, but are consistent with that. People say to me, 'What is the Voice about?' It's about recognition and listening so as to get better results. That's all it's about. It's not about any of the other things that have been put forward. I saw today, again, that I can confirm that in the meeting with the Dilak Council, I saw today an article suggesting it would be about, AUKUS would be a subject. I can assure you, no one raised nuclear-powered submarines in today's meeting. What they discussed was better education, better health, better housing. That's what they discussed. And that's not surprising that is the case. So, I think that Australians will, that's why, we will hold a referendum. That's why some of, I haven't paid that much attention, I've got to say, to the day-to-day polls, because I know that on an issue like this, people will really focus when they have to vote. One of the things we'll have to do, I'll take the opportunity now to say, people have to vote yes or no in a referendum. That will be something we have to educate people on as well, and that I hope the media play a role in, because I want everyone's vote to count whether they're voting yes or no. I want everyone to have a say in this. That is what we will do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, more and more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are telling me they don't want to be a part of the debate because it's just too fracturing and too damaging. Are you worried that this is actually doing damage to our country?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe that this is an important debate that we have to have. And that without having this debate, you can't have change. And so, it is a necessary component. I do worry about some of the nature of the debate. I worry that when I'm asked about something that has nothing to do with what people will vote on, that is somehow seen as a legitimate quest for information, when it is not. When it is not. I think those people who don't support my position, and I respect that there are some people on the Constitution might say that it should never change or from various perspectives might come to a different position. I respect that. But talk about what people will be voting on is what I would implore. Talk about the referendum, don't talk about things that aren't part of the referendum because I think that is very important. I think unless we do that, I mean some of the information that is on the internet is just extraordinarily divisive and has aimed to be so. I don't want to give publicity to some of the arguments that are there, but you would know what some of those arguments are. But I am particularly disappointed that people in positions of leadership who know what they are doing, who know exactly the consequences of what they are doing, who should know better, are prepared to prioritise what they see as a political advantage. This isn't about politics. It's not about Labor or Liberal. This is about whether this country recognises Indigenous Australians. And whether you believe that if you listen to people and have a structure, you'll get better outcomes. I believe that's the case. If people don't believe that's the case, then certainly they should put that argument. But I think it's very clear.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we only need to look at the Barunga Statement to know that the push for treaty was all a core part of Yunupingu’s legacy. In your meeting earlier today or at any point during your time here, will you be discussing what you see as the Australian Government's role in a future treaty making process? And what is that role?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I will be listening to the views of people here, as I did this afternoon, and continuing to engage. We know that there are processes for treaty underway in Queensland with the support, bipartisan support of the Labor Party and the LNP, in Victoria and indeed in the Northern Territory here. So, those processes, and I'm always willing to talk about whatever people want to talk about. That's the point about listening. You come along and you hear and you learn. And that is what I am here to do. I learned a lot already today. In past visits I've learnt, I've listened. And it is a great privilege. And all Australians, I think, are privileged for sharing this great continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth.

And can I just make one comment about another issue, if that's okay? Shortly, or maybe twenty minutes ago, it was announced that the impediments that have been in place for the export of Australian barley to China have been removed as of tomorrow. This is a good outcome. I welcome the decision that has been made. One in four Australian jobs is about trade. I have said very clearly on China, that we will cooperate where we can, we will disagree where we must, but will engage in our national interest. This is a very positive decision. I know that Penny Wong and Don Farrell will be making further statements about this very soon.

Thank you very much. And I'll see you over next couple of days.