Press Conference - Parliament House, Canberra

12 Sep 2022
Prime Minister, Minister for Finance, Minister for Women
Queen Elizabeth II, Parliamentary sittings, National Day of Mourning, Support for Pacific Commonwealth nations, Voice to Parliament Referendum, National Cabinet, Funeral of Shinzo Abe

PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: Australians continue to express their grief and gratitude for the life of service from Queen Elizabeth II. This morning, I wanted to update you on some of the arrangements that have been put in place for the return of Parliament that I foreshadowed yesterday. As people are aware, on the 22nd September, the day after I and the Governor-General return to Australia from Her Majesty's funeral, we will host the National Memorial in the Great Hall which will be held at 11am on that day. The next day, we will return as a Parliament to have a motion of condolence in the House of Representatives and the Senate to be conducted that day. Parliament will commence at 8am that morning. The motion of condolence will be moved by myself and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. We will speak for 15 minutes each. The next speakers will have ten minutes: the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party. Parliament will then sit to allow for five minute contributions from Members of Parliament until such time as it is ready to be put to the Parliament. That will be observed in the usual way by standing. The Parliament will then sit as early as possible, the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 26-28 September. During those three days – as people are aware, it has been previously foreshadowed – I will be travelling to Japan on the 26 September, with the former Prime Ministers Howard, Abbott and Turnbull for the memorial service of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Richard Marles will be the acting Prime Minister during at least two of those days, we are waiting to finalise those arrangements. Just one further issue that has been finalised, tomorrow morning at 8am at the Lodge, I will be hosting the Heads of Mission from the Commonwealth to commemorate the life and service of Her Majesty. That will be attended by a number of my Cabinet colleagues in order to engage with our fellow Commonwealth countries in order to pay tribute – we believe that is appropriate. Can I thank the Leader of the Opposition, who I consulted with this morning about the return of Parliament, for his cooperation and for the agreement both with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. This is a time where Government continues to function; the Cabinet met this morning. But it's not a time for partisanship, this is a time for unity of Australia as a nation, a time where we are grieving and acknowledging the contribution of Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state for 70 years. We commemorate, as well, King Charles III and his appointment as Australia's head of state.

SENATOR KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: The nation's capital has played a really important role since the passing of the Queen just a few days ago and as Senator for the ACT, I am really pleased the nation’s capital has been able to fulfil its functions, also because I know Her Majesty was very fond of Canberra. I know that because in 2011, when I was Chief Minister and she visited Australia, she used the nation’s capital as her base, as her home away from home. I had the opportunity to learn from her just how fond she was both of Australia and of the nation's capital. Tomorrow mornings bringing together of the Commonwealth Heads of Mission is a really important way of marking her service, a remarkable tenure as a world leader, a remarkable queen, and give the nation’s capital an opportunity to pay their respects at this time when so many are grieving. In terms of the Senate, for the condolence motion, there will be many Senators want to pay their respects to the Queen. We saw many Senators remain here over the weekend in order to do that. We will mirror the arrangements that the Prime Minister has outlined in the House. Importantly, the week of the 26-28 will also give the Senate an opportunity to progress some important Government legislation that we are unable to progress this week because of the changed arrangements. I also appreciate Senators for their agreement in order to keep that important legislation progressing before the end of this year.

JOURNALIST: What is your message to those businesses, doctors, retailers and others complaining that they will need to close their doors on the public holiday because they will not be able to afford to pay penalty rates to their staff?

PRIME MINISTER: The idea that operations don't occur during a public holiday is of course not correct. Medical procedures, of course, are always a priority. In terms of a one-off, I'd say this: this is the first time that we have had a change of a head of state and in which we have been in a position where Australia needs to, and wants to, give thanks to the contribution of Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state for 70 years. A one-off public holiday and a National Day of Mourning is an appropriate response. It was agreed to by myself and the Premiers and Chief Ministers.

JOURNALIST: I appreciate the comments you've made on the republic, but beyond the period of mourning, now that there is a new monarch, is this the most opportune time? Are the circumstances right for a deeper discussion in Australia about becoming a republic?

PRIME MINISTER: I've answered the question and you answered it yourself in your intro.

JOURNALIST: Do you find it peculiar – asking you as a Republican, as the Prime Minister – that the Queen should die, the British Parliament continues and yet ours goes into effective immediate recess?

PRIME MINISTER: I, as Prime Minister, have followed the procedures that have been in place for a lot longer than I have been in place as Prime Minister. I think there is something to be said for a Prime Minister who follows tradition, who follows protocols and who follows order. That is something that I have done to define my Prime Ministership – respect for those traditions, that is what I have done. We will have a first sitting the day after the National Day of Mourning. My advice is that is the earliest possible opportunity when it could occur. If the Parliament was sitting this week, to do the counterfactual, the idea that we could be debating Question Time as usual, that we could be having the engagement as if it was business as usual is, I believe, not correct. We will be able to have business as usual during those sitting days of 26-28 September and we will have an appropriate sitting of the Parliament where people will be able to make a contribution on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on that Friday.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in terms of those 10 Pacific countries with direct connections to the monarchy, you've offered support to get their leaders to the funeral. How will that work? Will you be flying there to be up or will they be expected to come here?

PRIME MINISTER: Those logistics are being worked out. In some cases, it will require Australia to go to their countries in order to pick people up if that's available. We are discussing at Heads of Government level and also the Governor-General level of support. Those issues are being worked through by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, together with the Royal Australian Air Force. We want to make sure that no nation in our region, in the Pacific, as part of the Pacific family, is unable to attend the memorial service for Queen Elizabeth because of logistical concerns.

JOURNALIST: You previously said you couldn't envisage a change to a republic without constitutional recognition to First Nations people. Could I clarify: is that a commitment to put constitutional recognition to a vote first? Or you are saying unless and until it is achieved, you wouldn't even try a republic referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: Pretty clear. I can’t have been clearer before the election, on election night, since the election, that my priority for this term is the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution, with a constitutionally recognised Voice to Parliament. I actually begin every speech with that as part of my Acknowledgement of Country. I can't be clear about it. I'm not quite sure why I’m being asked about it.

JOURNALIST: If they vote it down will the Republic have to wait? That's the point.

PRIME MINISTER: Now you're getting into hypotheticals over hypotheticals when I have made it very clear that I will not be commenting on those issues at this point in time. I've made it clear that my position our constitutional arrangements have not changed. The Australian Labor Party position is clear. But this is a time where Australians expect their Prime Minister to act in accordance with the constitutional arrangements which are there in place now.

JOURNALIST: Just clarify the earlier question, surely you don't want politics as usual, but why couldn't Parliament today and tomorrow have been put aside for a condolence motions now, that's what the British Parliament has done. They will be addressed by the King today, English time, and who sets out these protocols and procedures? Nobody seems to know who actually sorted them out in the first place.

PRIME MINISTER: I set that out a long time ago, Laura. And what I have done, is not overturn those arrangements. I think that we have seen enough of breaches of protocol and arrangements and conventions. I intend to act in accordance with the advice, I have done that. These decisions were made in accordance with the recommendations that were made very early Friday morning. With respect, the idea that you would have Question Time or other activities at this point in time – there are arrangements which some of you have seen, that each day is designated. For example, there is a designated day I leave the country, there’s a designated day when I return from the country. There’s a  designated day on when the National Day of Mourning is. They are not arrangements that I have made up. They are arrangements that have been in place for a long period of time.

JOURNALIST: Is National Cabinet going ahead on Wednesday? Will it discuss an extension of pandemic leave payments? Are you open to extending those leave payments beyond September 30?

PRIME MINISTER: National Cabinet will go ahead on Wednesday, that will be just via video link. There will be a full National Cabinet meeting on the Friday in September, which is the 30th of September here in person. That will discuss some substantial arrangements. This week’s meeting, I should envision, will be relatively short to confirm some arrangements which are being put in place, including for the events that have come upon us since the last time that we met.

JOURNALIST: Can I clarify - the Voice Referendum Working Group met here Friday. Have you been briefed on the outcomes and can you provide details on what the outcomes were?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I have been briefed. I spoke to that meeting briefly. It was convened by Linda Burney and Pat Dodson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country had already travelled to Canberra. Because of the passing of Queen Elizabeth it became an informal meeting but it went ahead. They discussed their common commitment to ensuring that Australians vote for a change to our Constitution which recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

JOURNALIST: The delayed parliamentary sitting has delayed introduction of the Federal Integrity Bill. Are you still confident it can be considered and passed by the parliament by the end of the year?

PRIME MINISTER: The commitment we had is it would be introduced this year. But I'm confident that that timetable hasn't changed.

JOURNALIST: Why reschedule parliament to a week in which you are going to be overseas? Why not pick another week in the lead-up to the budget?

PRIME MINISTER: Because we wanted to – you had questions about why you are not meeting next week and now people want it pushed off further. It is meeting as soon as practical, given the arrangements that were in place for a long period of time. My understanding is not years, but longer than that. So, we are meeting as soon as practical. That has been something that has been agreed. Obviously, Australia needs to be represented at the commemoration of Shinzo Abe, it is very important. That is why you will not have just the current Prime Minister but three former Australian Prime Ministers as Australia's delegation. The Japan relationship is one of our most important and that is why I will be represented there. It is not the first time that a Prime Minister hasn't been there in Question Time and I suspect over the years it won't be the last either.

JOURNALIST: I went as a member of the public yesterday to the proclamation of the new King and I was struck by how thin the crowd was. Do you think beyond Her Majesty dying and the reaction to that, there is a dwindling affinity for the royal family amongst the members of the public, especially here in the ACT?

PRIME MINISTER: I think, from where I was standing, there was a substantial number of people.

JOURNALIST: There wasn't, it was one line deep.

PRIME MINISTER: In terms of the notice that was given, I also spoke with Premier Dominic Perrottet and Premier Malinauskas, who have both expressed to me the very large numbers of people who turned up in Sydney and Adelaide.

MINISTER GALLAGHER: I can speak as Senator of the ACT. I have been inundated with Canberrans who have been approaching me and many of them deeply upset by the passing of the Queen. I think we are seeing here, what we're seeing around the country, around the Commonwealth and the UK, is people were touched by her. Canberrans feel very proud of the fact she thought here was her home away from home. I think Canberrans are in line with the rest of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Have all of those countries accepted Australia's offer of support?

PRIME MINISTER: The arrangements are being put in place. I'm giving as much information as I can, as soon as I have it, to you out of the respect that I have for the role that you play. You will be hearing from me again tomorrow with further details. We are only a short period in, of course, the weekend. With contacting some of these nations - we're talking about, in some cases, very small island nations that in particular have a need for support. I had contact with Prime Minister Ardern yesterday about New Zealand and the role that New Zealand are playing as well in providing some connections between people. It is important that we continue to provide whatever support that we do for the Pacific family. Australia has an important role to play in the Pacific and we're doing so in line with the historic role that we've played.