Press conference - Parliament House, Canberra

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister
Minister for Indigenous Australians
Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: The Uluru Statement from the Heart invites all Australians to walk together to a better future. Today, we take a very important step forward on that journey. After many months of careful consideration on the draft form of words that I presented at Garma last July, the Referendum Working Group and the Government have agreed on the provisions that all Australians will vote on in this year’s Referendum. I want to thank, sincerely, all the members of the Working Group and all who have engaged with them. For many, this moment has been a very long time in the making. Yet they have shown such patience and optimism through this process. And that spirit of co-operation and thoughtful, respectful dialogue has been so important at arriving at this point in such a united fashion.

The question Australians will be asked at this year’s referendum is very a simple one. It will read:

“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

That’s the question before the Australian people. Nothing more but nothing less.

And the provisions Australians will be voting to approve, are as follows:

Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice; 
  2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

This form of words is legally sound. And it is the form of words that all of us have confidence will gain the strongest possible support from the people of Australia at the referendum - and deliver the best possible outcomes in the years ahead. The constitutional provisions we are releasing today enshrine two fundamental principles: Recognition and Consultation.

First, Recognition. As Australians, we have an extraordinary privilege. We share this great island continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture. Our nation’s birth certificate should recognise this and be proud of it. People who have loved and cared for this country for 65,000 years and more. In countless ways, we embrace that as a source of great pride - and we should recognise it, we should recognise it. Secondly, Consultation. Not a radical notion - a sensible and practical proposition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should have a say in the decisions and policies that affect their lives.

Not just because it’s common courtesy and decency to ask people before you take a decision that will impact them. But because when you reach out and listen to communities, you get better results.  Consultation through the Voice is about strengthening Parliament’s understanding – not supplanting its authority. It won’t take decision-making power away from Government or Parliament – but it will help Governments and Parliaments make better decisions and achieve better outcomes. And we urgently need better outcomes. Because it’s not good enough where we’re at in 2023.

On every measure, there is a gap between the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the national average. A 10 year gap in life expectancy. A suicide rate, twice as high. Tragic levels of child mortality and disease. A massive over-representation in the prison population, in deaths in custody, in children sent to out of home care.

And this is not because of a shortage of goodwill or good intentions on any side of politics, and it’s not because of a lack of funds. It’s because governments have spent decades trying to impose solutions from Canberra, rather than consulting with communities. I know that every Australian wants to see our nation do better than this. Because our nation is better than this. Every Australian wants to know that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander baby born today will enjoy an equal right to grow up healthy and safe, to get a great education, find a good job, to live a long and happy life. That’s what this is about. That’s what this is about. Every Australian wants us to close the gap. Today points the way to how we are going to do it. By consulting the people on the ground, by working with the people who live alongside these challenges. By enshrining a Voice in our constitution – and by listening to that Voice.

Today, alongside the final form of words for adding to the Constitution, we are providing some important principles that will underpin the shape and function of the Voice. These principles have been developed by the Referendum Working Group and this morning they were adopted by my Cabinet. Firstly, the Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government. It will be able to make proactive representations – as well as respond to requests. And the Parliament and Executive Government should seek written advice from the Voice early in the development of proposed laws and policies. The Voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, based on the wishes of local communities – not appointed by the government. Members will serve for a fixed period of time to ensure accountability. It will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with a gender-balance and include youth. Members will come from every state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands and specific remote representatives. It will be accountable and it will be transparent, subject to the standard governance and reporting requirements. The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures, respecting their work. And, as has been made clear very many times, the Voice will not have a veto power, and it will not deliver programs or manage funding.

It’s been nearly six years since Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gathered at Uluru, ‘from all points of the Southern Sky’. Galarrwuy Yunupingu said they “lit a fire” that day – a flame of truth and healing, a bright burning light for us to follow.  The Uluru Statement from the Heart – and this Referendum – also presents every Australian with a historic, democratic opportunity. A chance to show the very best of our national character – our fundamental optimism, our deep sense of fairness, our instinctive respect and kindness for each other. If not now, when? That is an opportunity that doesn’t belong to the politicians, it belongs to every Australian. One person, one vote. People from all faiths, backgrounds and traditions. All of us will have an equal say. All of us can own an equal share of what I believe will be an inspiring and unifying Australian moment.

I want to take this opportunity to give my sincere thanks to the Referendum Working Group. What an extraordinary job they have done. From time to time, I have been asked from people in this room what my view is on various things, and I’ve said, ‘this isn't about me’. I wanted to hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Themselves, the process of getting to this point isn't top-down, it's bottom-up, from the people here. And soon, the Parliament will debate the final pieces of legislation necessary to facilitate the vote. I thank the Parliament yesterday for unanimously passing through the Senate the legislation for provisions of the vote. We will introduce legislation with this wording next Thursday. We will establish a Joint Parliamentary Committee which will have time to consider any submissions which are made, and then we will put that to a vote in June. To be very clear – because I was asked this question this morning – are there any circumstances in which this will not be put to a vote? The answer to that is no. Because to not put this to a vote, to not put this to a vote, is to concede defeat. You only win when you run on the field and engage. And let me tell you, my Government is engaged. We're all in.

Ultimately, though, there will be differences of opinion and I respect people's right to have a different opinion and to say "no". That is their democratic right. But I would ask for there to be a debate based upon the facts, not based upon scare campaigns which have no basis, not based upon nonsense, and not based upon issues that aren't respectful. The people who stand with me on this stage, I regard as a great privilege to be standing with giants of Australia. I don't know, if I had their experience in life, that I could be as generous and as modest in my request. I would like to think that I would be, but you can't stand in other people's shoes. This is a modest request. I say to Australia, don't miss it. Don't miss it. This is a real opportunity to take up the generous invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This is about the heart, but it's also about the head. If you think things have been working up to now, look at the closing the gap issue. If you want to look at the best programs for Indigenous Australians that have been successful, they have all been characterised by having that sense of ownership. They're the things that have worked. They're the things that will work in the future. This is not about symbolism. This is about recognition, something that's far more important, but it's also about making a practical difference which we have, we have, a responsibility to do. You're going to hear from a number of people now. Megan Davis, Thomas Mayor, Patrick Dodson, Tony McAvoy, Linda Burney and then we'll take questions.

PROFESSOR MEGAN DAVIS: Thank you, Prime Minister. This is a historic day, this is a historic agreement. There is still a long way to go, but today we must pause and reflect on this historic achievement. When we ran the dialogues all over Australia, our people spoke about not being listened to and not being heard. They spoke about powerlessness and voicelessness. This Prime Minister, this Government, has listened respectfully, genuinely, authentically. This process bodes well for the future of the Voice. Almost six years ago, we issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people. And we asked Australians to read it, and we asked them to hear our call, that retail Australian politics, political tribalism, means that things never change in our communities. And the constitution is something that we have never tried. We have never tried in this country to empower our people, to empower our voice. This is about the right to be consulted on laws and policies that are made about our communities. To be heard on laws and policies about our lives. Six to seven years ago, we ran twelve Constitutional Dialogues and a National Constitutional Convention and we said that a protected Voice and an enshrined Voice to the Parliament is what we think is meaningful constitutional recognition. It is symbolic recognition and substantive recognition. I think it was 12 years ago when the first expert panel was set up and many of my colleagues were involved in that. But prior to that, three decades of advocacy for constitutional recognition, and I acknowledge the work of Patrick Dodson, Linda Burney, Marcia Langton and many here who have contributed to this journey. Since that expert panel, we have had seven mechanisms and ten reports, all on the public record, all published, all transparent. This is the second decade of constitutional recognition, and thanks to the leadership of our Prime Minister, we are now going to a referendum. There's been a lot of work that has gone into this, a lot of work from Australians across the political spectrum. First Nations and Australians working together. So this is the culmination of many, many decades of hard work. It's the culmination of the Referendum Council's work and the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the many men and women who contributed to that dialogue, some of whom are in this room today. We implore all Australians to unite behind us and walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. Thank you.

THOMAS MAYOR: You’ve heard about the incredibly hard work we have been doing as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is the culmination of generations of work. At Uluru, we gathered with an eye to the lessons from the past and we looked to the future. We suspended our disbelief that this nation would listen to us. We chose hope for a better future. We must have hope. We must believe in ourselves. We must do better. It's not good enough that here in this country, the life expectancy of Indigenous peoples is almost ten years less than other Australians. It's not good enough that proportionately, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. It's not good enough that our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. It's time for us to have a Voice. Today, we’ve delivered on another major piece of work on this trek to a better future. We have a set of words, a new chapter IX, that does something simple and profound. In its simplicity, it is giving Indigenous people who have been ignored and treated poorly for far too long a Voice so that we may improve our lives. It is profound because it includes over 60,000 years of continuous heritage and culture in our constitution, a recognition from that the moment we say ‘Yes’, we are collectively as an Australian nation the longest continuing civilisation on the planet. The Constitution Alteration Bill goes to Parliament next week. Indigenous people will be watching.  We want this to be above politics. We are tired of having our lives used as a political football. We want all Australians to hear us, not just in rare moments like this, but any time decisions are made about us. We want you to believe in yourselves, believe in us, walking together, believe we can do better. We want the Australian people to vote Yes. Thank you.

PATRICK DODSON, SPECIAL ENVOY FOR RECONCILIATION AND THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART: Thank you. The words that ring in my head from the Uluru Statement is the tyranny of our dispossession. And today is a clear example where the Government and the Aboriginal leadership here have laid the foundation to actually give hope. To give hope to the reversing of that tyranny. Because a successful referendum will give the Aboriginal peoples a Voice to the Parliament and to the executive on matters that affect them. This requires all Australians. We need your help, all Australians, to see the significance that this moment, with this level of unity here, this level of magnanimity, this level of dedication that has taken place amongst us and the Government, that we as Australians can arise to a better relationship with our First Peoples. One where we are liberated, and when our hearts and minds are cleared, from the tyranny of the oppression and suffering and shame that we have lived with. The Working Group has worked on design principles, the Prime Minister has outlined some of those and I want to throw to Mr Tony McAvoy to speak a bit about that, because it's not easy to cover every detail in a process where you're focused on principle. A principle for the Australian people to vote on, to put in our constitution a set of words that clearly gives recognition to the Aboriginal Peoples and gives them a Voice to the Parliament and the executive. I'll ask Mr McAvoy to comment on those matters.

TONY MCAVOY SC: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has already outlined to you a set of principles which will be released today with Cabinet approval. I will reiterate those nine principles, but underlying those nine principles is an expansion which we hope will go a long way to eradicating the fears that some people might have about this Voice. The design principles are: Following the design principles of the Voice to Parliament agreed by the First Nations Referendum Working Group:

A.    The Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government.
B.    It will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities.
C.    It will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender-balanced and include youth.
D.    It will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, and culturally informed.
E.    It will be accountable and transparent.
F.    It will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures.
G.    It will not have a program delivery function.
H.    It will not have a veto power.

The Referendum Working Group encourages everybody, everybody that has an interest this this process, to pay close attention to the design principles. This is how we set out where the Voice should go. Thank you.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Thank you, Prime Minister. Today is a truly historic day. Today we take a big step forward on the long journey to constitutional recognition through Voice. Last night, the Referendum Machinery Bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Constitutional recognition should be above politics. Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution will be a simple, but powerful act. It will move Australia forward for everyone. It will give all Australians the chance to come together to recognise and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and story. It will give our people a say in the matters that affect us so we can make better policies. I want to thank all the members of the Referendum Working Group for their wisdom, their dedication, and getting this right. And I want to thank the Prime Minister for staying the course, and being such a strong, strong leader. This has been a rigorous and comprehensive process. Australians can be confident that the work has been done to ensure this is a Voice that works. A Voice that works. A Voice that will make practical difference. A Voice that will work for you. And so today the starter's gun has been fired. Let us get on with the campaign to deliver a "Yes" vote in this constitution to be held later this year.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Linda. And I do want to acknowledge as well the work of our Attorney-General in working with the Referendum Working Group. There he is. It has been, as well as the members of our First Nations caucus, has been quite extraordinary, but the Referendum Working Group have been, it's been a great privilege to be invited by them to participate in this process. Happy to take questions now.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, as we saw the vote go through the Senate last night, would you be hoping for unanimous support in June and for people to voice their reservations beyond that in the lead-up to the referendum rather than try and stymie in June?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm hoping for unanimous support when the referendum’s held. That's my starting point, but I think that's a bit ambitious. But it's not too much to ask that people, I think it would be a very brave Member or Senator who said they don't want Australians to have the right to vote on this, and I would expect that it will receive the support of every Member of the House of Representatives and Senate, regardless of their views on whether ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ should be voted on. And I can say that, in an authorised way, that I briefed the Leader of the Liberal Party, Peter Dutton, and the Leader of the National Party, David Littleproud, in between the Cabinet meeting and this press conference and it was a courteous meeting.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, obviously this is a great show of unity here in this room. But these are not the people that you have to convince to vote yes. What do you say to the portion of Australians who may be considering voting no?

PRIME MINISTER: I say to them that this is an opportunity to recognise that, firstly, to recognise First Nations people in our constitution, that this is about closing the gap and showing respect to First Nations people, making a practical difference. I say to non-Indigenous Australians, this is also about you, because it's about how our nation sees ourselves. Whether we have the confidence to embrace our history, in all of it, in all the wonder that we have of sharing this island continent with the oldest continuous culture on Earth, should be a source of pride. But it also should be a source in which we're prepared to acknowledge that what we’ve done up to now hasn't worked. If it worked, we wouldn't have closing the gap reports. We can't keep doing the same thing. If you keep doing the same thing, you get the same outcomes. And we know that when First Nations people are consulted, when you look at issues like justice reinvestment, community health programs, Indigenous ranger programs, the success stories that are there, they are ones in which Indigenous people have been involved. Involved, not things that have been imposed for them. So I say we have had 122 years largely of doing things to or for Indigenous Australians. What this is about is doing things with Indigenous Australians.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I just ask, there's a lot of emotion on the stage here today, including from yourself and some of the members up there with you. Why is this such an emotional day announcing these words?

PRIME MINISTER: It's a big deal. It's about justice. I grew up, and I’d ask anyone else to add, but I grew up including with a little kid at my primary school who was an Aboriginal Australian who didn't talk about it. I'm not sure what all their circumstances were, but we’ve all had experience of, I grew up not far from Redfern, and a lot of kids from Redfern came to my school and I had that contact. We didn't acknowledge country. Now we do, and we're richer for it. And we feel, certainly I feel as the Prime Minister, an incredible responsibility to make a difference. There's a whole lot of things that we do in this place that no one will remember in a year's time or a day's time. This matters. This matters, and I don't know if anyone else wants to.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this is obviously a momentous day and I don’t seek to diminish that in any way, but there are a lot of people who want this work, and as you know and the Attorney-General knows, have legal questions particularly about the executive government reference. Can you reassure them watching today that on issues like, does the Voice make representations to public servants, do public servants have to give notice to the Voice when they make decisions pertaining to Aboriginal Australians, maybe the Attorney wants to say something, but your chance to reassure them? I know there are a lot of people who strongly want this to happen but have legal questions about that specific reference.

PRIME MINISTER: I understand, but the Referendum Working Group also had a legal team of the best legal minds in the country who have worked on this. And if you look at the tweaking of some of the words, it's based upon advice. Making it very clear about the primacy of the Parliament, making it very clear that this isn't about veto or third chambers or anything else. It is about consultation and respect. And if you look at the words that have been put forward or, you know, Tony McAvoy SC standing here with us, KC these days, that's right. You know, names like French and others who have worked on this have been very, very clear about their advice, as was the principles that have been worked on by the Referendum Working Group, and I pay tribute to Marcia and Tom who are here who appointed, and to Ken Wyatt here, who commissioned that work as Minister and took it to the Cabinet on multiple occasions. This isn't something that's just come out, as I said at Garma, it wasn't something whereby I said, ‘I'm going to give a speech at Garma. How about I come up with something?’ This has been decades, literally, in the making. It is very, very clear the advice. The words that are being put forward are even stronger, we don't necessarily believe that that was necessary, if you look at the legal advice that was there. And there was legal advice prior to my speech at Garma, but the Referendum Working Group have been incredibly generous in considering, ‘OK, how do we maximise, how do we rule out any of the nonsense which is out there about what this will mean?’ The executive government derives its power, of course, from the Parliament, but the idea that you wouldn't make representations to the Government is quite clearly not appropriate, and I agree with the Referendum Working Group who were very clear about that. I don't know if Mark wants to add anything there, but you're welcome to.

MARK DREYFUS KC, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much, Prime Minister. The process has worked, in answer to Kieran’s question, the process has worked exactly as it should have. I’ve been very proud to be part of it. We have words here that put beyond doubt the power of the Australian Parliament to legislate on the broad scope of the functions, powers, of the Voice to Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just in relation to the question – are you open to any alterations through the parliamentary process in terms of the debate that occurs? Are you open to taking feedback and changing this question at all? And just secondly, in terms of the process of the people who are on the Voice, how many people do you anticipate will be on the Voice? And will they all be elected via a ballot process? People are keen to understand how democratic the process will be.

PRIME MINISTER: We are distributing the principles today of it. And of course, the principles will be determined, will then be the basis of the legislation. And if there is a ‘yes’ vote, we will establish a process in order for that to be worked on, including a parliamentary process which will involve the whole of the Parliament regardless of where people stand to develop that legislation going forward.

JOURNALIST: She did ask you about the question of whether it could be altered?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course it can be altered. We have a Parliamentary process. Of course, it can be altered, people can have the numbers to alter it. I’ve said though, very clearly and unequivocally that this is the Government’s position, we’ve arrived at it on the basis of the consultation process with the Referendum Working Group. This is something that has come up from the fine men and women who stand beside me now, and I would take a lot of convincing before I would support any amendment. This is quite clearly what we are going forward with. This has been adopted by the Cabinet and I don't know how we can make it clearer than that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, further to Kieran's question, on the inclusion or the addition of the words ‘of the Commonwealth’, and perhaps the Attorney would like to answer this as well, is that because of suggestions made by the Government, by the Cabinet, by yourself? And is it to clarify or is it to curtail the prospect of High Court judgements?

PRIME MINISTER: It's about clarification based upon the advice that we received. We had a bunch of lawyers sitting in various rooms advising the Referendum Working Group. We think that that clarity of being very clear, even though I think it was clear anyway, but to stop frankly some of the silliness that will occur. ‘Will this advise state governments, will this advise someone else?’ Clearly, this is a Voice to Parliament and the executive government of the Commonwealth. So it's about clarity.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on Peter Dutton's Liberal Party eventually agreed to support the referendum, the machinery legislation. How hopeful are you that they'll end up supporting the Voice legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm hopeful and I have reached out consistently. It's one of the reasons why, you know, we have been going through this process in a respectful manner. I would urge them to support it. I thank Adam Bandt and the Greens Party for saying that they will support the referendum. I would hope that this is an opportunity for a moment of national unity. I think when people wake up the day after this referendum is held, there is an opportunity to wake up to a better Australia. And I hope that people seize that opportunity.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there was a group in Parliament yesterday of about 20 First Nations community leaders from around the country, including remote parts of the Cape and such, they're concerned that the Voice will only seek to further entrench segregation. What do you say to members of the First Nations community who are concerned by the Voice?

MARCUS STEWART: I think I just want to be clear that we're not a homogenous group as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We’re going to have parts of our community that don't agree, but we carry a responsibility to make sure we bring them along on this journey. So we can’t, we understand there's going to be people coming through Parliament, like there's us here, advising government, who are going to have a difference of views. But today is a momentous day because the start gun goes, the race begins towards a Yes campaign. And we've got an opportunity on the Sunday after a referendum to wake up a better country. And that's what’s in front of us, that's the opportunity, that's the moment, and we can't lose sight of that. We'll work with our communities closely. I think back to the question a little earlier around what does representation look like, there's a responsibility that we go out and speak to our communities to understand how they want to represent themselves as well. That's why we've got the design principles, that's why we've got confidence in it, but we can't actually lose sight of the moment in history of where we stand today, and we will get to, hopefully, on the Sunday after the referendum.

JOURNALIST: Just on the wording, there was obviously some reporting about the Attorney-General's proposal on executive government and so on, some additional words there. I would just like to know why that wasn't in what we're seeing today. And do you have concern about the lack of bipartisan support, not for next week obviously, that looks like it’s going through. But to the Voice, Liberals are campaigning actively against it. Are you concerned?

PRIME MINISTER: I would like people to be voting for it. But we're a democracy, and people will make their own decisions. What I do, though, is lead a political party that is totally united about this. Not just united in support, united in passionate support. The words, notwithstanding, you know, there was an article today in the paper that I have no idea where that came from, frankly, that was just wrong. What we've been doing is working through these issues, consultatively, in a respectful way, in order to achieve this outcome. And this is, to be clear, an absolutely united position by the Referendum Working Group and the Cabinet that I'm proud to chair. Absolutely united.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, another criticism made by this group yesterday was that previous bodies haven't delivered the outcomes that were intended. Why will this be different and what measures and safeguards are in place to ensure that the gap is finally closed?

PRIME MINISTER: Marcia, do you want to? Anyone can jump in there.

PROFESSOR MARCIA LANGTON AO: So, yes, there have been many advisory groups and consultative groups and councils. There's no evidence to suggest that they didn't work. And, you know, I have been around since the very first one. And indeed, they did make a very positive difference. But what has happened in most cases is that with each election, a party will use as its appeal to the voters that it will get rid of this X, Y, Z body, because it's clear that it's not working. And that's happened, I think, we reckon seven times in our history. And you know, there are some of us here who’ve lived through every one of those encounters. There's no evidence for the proposition that they didn't make a positive difference. In fact, some of them made an enormously positive difference. But you know, it was in a room like this, elsewhere on the planet, where the idea of the alternative facts was announced to people just like you, and this is what we are contending with constantly. I want to acknowledge people who are not here today. You know, there's wonderful people who have been with us on this journey. Noel Pearson, and particularly Galarrwuy Yunupingu. He taught me many years ago that you know when you're being told the truth, because the truth burns. And truth is very much an Aboriginal value and a Torres Strait Islander value across the country. So that is a part, very much a part, of our thinking. That's why the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for a Voice, Makarrata, and truth-telling. So before you all rush off and recite what was said yesterday by a person who has never participated in any of these processes, I would like you to look for the evidence for such assertions. But believe us, each one of us here has been involved in a major initiative. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The inquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families. The Don Dale Royal Commission. I could go on and on. And in each case, we have doggedly recommended changes to stop the deaths, the incarceration, the early deaths, and the miserable lives. And it is so infrequently that our recommendations are adopted. This is why we cannot report on many improvements in the closing the gap indicators. And each year, people like you come along to listen to that misery fest, and each year, people go away wringing their hands. We're here to draw a line in the sand, and say this has to change, people's lives have to improve. And we know from the evidence that what improves people's lives is when they get a say. And that's what this is about.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, clearly there is a weight to history of this year. We could hear that in your initial address. Australians are reluctant to change the constitution, just eight of 44. We have never seen a referendum in the age of social media and already as we start this year the vitriol is at high levels. You’ve mentioned about the difference of opinion. What sort of weight do you feel as, to borrow Linda Burney's words, the starting gun is being fired? And if I may be as cheeky to ask Linda Burney as well, about how you're feeling? You have spoken often and including in Parliament about 1967. I wonder how this is feeling for you today?

BURNEY: Thanks Dan, you’ll make me cry again. I was 10 years old in 1967, so I spent the first ten years of my life not being counted. Not being considered. As did many other people on the stage today. This referendum, we are not unaware, Dan, of just how difficult referendum change is. And we believe that this is so just. We believe this will appeal to the fairness of the Australian people. And we believe that we have history on our side. And we are absolutely committed to the referendum. There is, collectively on this stage, we've been around a very, very long time. We've seen the good and the bad. This is good.

PRIME MINISTER: Can I say as well, I do feel a weight of responsibility. It is a risk having a referendum. They usually don't succeed. If you were just about positioning on politics as usual, you might not do this. But the people here can't wait. They can't. They've waited so long. The people who aren't here, like Noel and others as well, they've waited a long time for justice. And this is something where they are making such a modest request, that I do feel a responsibility. I was very conscious about it when, on the evening of 21 May, I began my prime ministership with a declaration about a referendum. I knew what I was doing. I knew the weight that was there. And I knew how that would be received by people on this occasion who are sharing this day with us. But I also knew I had my party completely behind me. I also knew that I wasn't staying in this place, making the relatively modest sacrifices and now privileges that I get, to occupy the space. I'm not here to occupy the space, to change who’s in the white car. I'm here to change the country. And there's nowhere more important than changing the country, than changing our nation's constitution to recognise the fullness of our history. So I want this done for Indigenous Australians, but I want it done for all Australians. We will feel better about ourselves if we get this done. We'll just feel better. You know what, I’ve said this, and this has been contested, but the truth is that Australia will be seen as a better nation as well by the rest of the world. That's just a fact. It's not, it shouldn't be a source of argument. It's just a fact. And our position in the world matters. People will have the opportunity to progress. I conclude today by saying that my thoughts are with one of the greatest of all Australians, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, at what is a very difficult time for him and his family. Thank you.