Radio interview - ABC AM with David Lipson

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

DAVID LIPSON, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for your time. The No case has launched its advertising campaign with the slogan, ‘don't know, vote no’. Is that a sign that the Yes side has a lot of work to do explaining how the Voice will actually help Indigenous people in practical terms?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: It's a sign that the No campaign will be negative, what we are doing is promoting a very positive campaign. And today Pat Farmer’s run, the launch, with some 14,000 kilometres he’s going to run between now and the 11th of October. Eighty kilometres a day in the Run for the Voice to be launched by myself and Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff. This is one of the positive ways in which we'll be getting out there on the ground to the community. And it will be spruiked by members of the community, members of the indigenous community, as well as people of goodwill such as Pat Farmer, the former Liberal member for MacArthur and I pay tribute to him for his commitment to the Voice.

LIPSON: You've acknowledged Julian Leeser's principled decision to quit the Liberal front bench and campaign for a Yes vote. He's still concerned though the referendum could fail unless there's some changes to the proposal. Will you consider any changes?

PRIME MINISTER: We had the parliamentary process which is considering the evidence before it. But on the first day it heard from eminent lawyers, such as Bret Walker and others who believe that the wording that has been promoted in the legislation together when read with the second reading speech and explanatory memorandum make it very clear the legal soundness of the proposition which has been put forward. But we'll consider the parliamentary process. It's unfortunate that the National Party decided last year before they even knew what the question was that they'd vote No. And the Liberal Party pre-empted the process as well. And I do pay tribute to Julian Leeser for the principled stand that he has made. He is someone who has been a long term advocate of the Voice, and he'll be a powerful voice out there in support of a Yes vote come the end of the year. As will Ken Wyatt, of course, the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

LIPSON: So there will be this parliamentary process, as you say. Can you rule out the prospect of the reference to executive government being removed?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll have the process which is there. But of course, executive government has been spoken about for a long period of time, including by Mr. Leeser and some constitutional conservatives themselves, always spoke about that. In Australia’s system of government, of course, it's very different from the US system. In Australia, the executive derives its power from the parliament. We have a Westminster system of government in this country, and what the reference to Parliament and executive government is about is making sure that you can get early representation made. It doesn't change the fact that the parliament is primary, that’s very clear in the third clause that's been put forward. And it's also very clear that what this is about is just recognition and consultation. That we should recognise First Nations people in our Constitution. And secondly, that where matters affect them, they should be consulted because that will lead to better outcomes. The Voice is the means to the end. The end is about closing the gap in health, education, economic outcomes, incarceration rates, all of those areas which show that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the most disadvantaged group in Australian society, and we need to address that in order to move forward with reconciliation.

LIPSON: In the shorter term though, will the government look into the concerns raised by Peter Dutton and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price in Alice Springs last week about the alleged abuse of Indigenous children there?

PRIME MINISTER: They haven't as yet. I saw Senator Price’s interview yesterday, she was given the opportunity to come forward with some specifics and failed to do so. And of course, if there is any abuse then it's a crime and it should be reported to the police as a number of people, including Senator McCarthy and the Northern Territory Government, have said themselves.

LIPSON: But you don't plan on looking into that any further yourself or your department?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if there are allegations of abuse of children then that is a crime and it should be reported to the police.

LIPSON: Have you settled on an exact date for the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I haven't and I'll be consulting on that. I don't envisage determining that until the legislation is passed. Of course, we need legislation in order to set a date and the date must then be between two months and 33 days and six months for the referendum to be held. But I have well in advance, since last year, outlined a timetable and that timetable includes the passing of the legislation in June. And that would mean that a referendum can take place anytime between late September and December. But in practice, because of the AFL Grand Final and other activities that occur at the end of September, it is likely to be between October and December.

LIPSON: On aged care, Wesley Mission shut its three remaining facilities in Sydney citing pressures caused by the federal government's new regulations. Is the government considering expanding exemptions for aged care providers who are struggling to meet the 24/7 Nursing requirements?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've already said that the overwhelming majority of residential facilities, close to 90%, will meet these 24/7 nursing requirements. There'll be exemptions, around 5% of facilities have already been granted to have valid reasons for not being able to meet these targets and the Commission have said they won't be shutting down facilities that fail to meet the targets. Workforce is a challenge in aged care and that's why the government has committed to funding the 15% increase in the award wage for workers, this starts on July 1. It will make it more attractive for people to either be retained as aged care workers or to enter the sector. The Opposition didn't support this pay rise, we're funding it. We understand the Royal Commission recommendations were serious, that we needed to address these issues in aged care. And putting nurses back into nursing homes is something that I'm very proud of. I think it's something that most of your listeners would have expected had occurred in the past, just as a matter of fact.

LIPSON: The Minister, Anika Wells is saying she won't be kicking down the doors of facilities on July 1. Is that an admission from your government that these requirements were brought in too soon before the workforce was ready?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. The fact that 90% have met the requirements already shows that we make no apologies for being ambitious in this area. But we're also being very practical about the way that these issues are dealt with. We're dealing with elderly Australians who deserve the best care. And the way to deliver the best care, one of the elements of our plan for aged care was ensuring that nurses are available 24/7. That is something that will lead to better care for aged care residents and the Royal Commission made that very clear.

LIPSON: Experts last week also predicted that more centres could close. Is the federal government making contingencies for that?

PRIME MINISTER: We're closely monitoring the system together with the Commission. But we were confident going forward that people are receiving the right care, that the sector is heading in the right direction, and that our reforms are the right ones to make. The government, the former government reluctantly held a Royal Commission, but then didn't respond to most of the recommendations. What we're doing is responding to the recommendations. Some of the first legislation that my government introduced was about aged care and we're getting on with the job of delivering.

LIPSON: Just briefly, are you going to the NATO summit in Lithuania in July?

PRIME MINISTER: I haven't had a chance yet to talk to the NATO Secretary General. I have had a discussion briefly with the New Zealand Prime Minister by text about the invite that's been given. I haven't been in the office yet, I had last week on leave. I will give it consideration, but I attended last year in Madrid and subject to logistical arrangements, then I would be very pleased to accept the invitation.

LIPSON: Prime Minister, great to talk to you. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, David.