Radio interview - ABC Radio Australian of the Year Broadcast

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: Prime Minister thanks for making a bit of time for us this evening.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good evening. My pleasure and what a splendid occasion, it was quite something.

SHIRLEY: A big night that's come, well every week for you is big, but a big few days for you as well. When you see people doing what they do, the nominees and the winners this evening, how do you as Prime Minister respond or reflect on that?

PRIME MINISTER: It's just humbling to see the inspirational people who we have in this country. People who are motivated by doing something for others and doing something for their nation. For making Australia, which we commemorate tomorrow and I certainly believe is the greatest country on Earth. But what these people are all dedicated to not just the winners, but every nominee is to making Australia a better place in the future.

SHIRLEY: Taryn Brumfitt is Australian of the Year. I mean, her work on body respect, body image, diversity of bodies has been going on for many years. Given what we know about online bullying, about young people by their influence nowadays, as well as older people Prime Minister, how timely is her now award as Australian of the Year and what do you believe it could do in that national conversation?

PRIME MINISTER: It's perfectly timed. Unfortunately, it must be said we all know people who've been impacted by body image issues. Some in the most drastic way possible with tragedy. We have rising rates of youth suicide in this country, we have bullying online, we've seen people who are very prominent. In the last couple of days we've seen Jelena Dokic speak out for example. She's someone who was a champion tennis player who's been bullied and the sort of dreadful things said about her online. And one of the things we know about social media is that it can be a real plus, it can be a democratising force in the way that everyone can have a say. But people will say things online that they would never say to you face to face. And it's cowardly behaviour, of course, but it can have a real impact on people. Young people going through, particularly their teenage years, can be really impacted by this. We see rates of suicide rising but we also see real mental health issues. We see people with health issues that become physical health issues as well and endanger their long term health by damaging their organs because they are simply having these unreal expectations out there as well. And the message of Taryn, of be proud of your body and who you are and that everyone should be valued for who they are. Not just talking about their body weight but talking about the whole range of issues regardless of what colour their skin is, or how tall they are, just love your body is a really good message. And Taryn, I think will make an enormous difference this year, just as Dylan Alcott has been an extraordinary Australian of the Year over the last 12 months in raising issues of people with disabilities.

SHIRLEY: They're all fabulous awardees, they have all done remarkable things. I do want to focus on for a moment Prime Minister on the Senior Australian of the Year Professor Tom Calma, the co-designer of the process that has led us to the to the Voice that is proposed for Australia. It is a concept you are firmly in support of along with your government. And we heard in his acceptance speech, Professor Calma speak directly to what he sees as misinformation, particularly that's targeted at senior Australians. What is your response to his award and what he specifically had to say to the Voice?

PRIME MINISTER: Professor Tom Calma is such a remarkable Australian. He has decades of service for his fellow Australians, but particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. And what he was saying tonight, very clearly was what the Voice is. That it is the opportunity to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution and that is also a chance for us to listen, to do things. His message was we need to do things with Aboriginal people rather than for them, listen to them and have that input and that really is what the Voice is about. It is I've said in other forums, that it's a matter of good manners that if you're going to have an impact on someone then you ask them what their thoughts are and that's really what the Voice to Parliament is, and some of the misinformation that's out there. He also spoke about what it isn't. It won't be a funding body, it won't run programs, it won't have any ability to vary any parliamentary decisions, it's subservient to Parliament and Professor Calma I think will do a great job as Senior Australian of the Year.

SHIRLEY: Clearly none of these awards have anything to do with politics. However, given his view and his advocacy that he will bring, is he the best spokesperson we could hope for and will the government actually look to partner with him to advocate for the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: Tom Calma is participating in the referendum working group now. And you have all these remarkable people. Whether they people like Professor Calma, Marcia Langton, Noel Pearson, but also a whole lot of younger Indigenous Australians too, like Thomas Mayor and Teela Reid and others who are coming though.

SHIRLEY: Think of Professor Megan Davis as well who's been central to this.

PRIME MINISTER: Megan Davis has played and will continue to play a critical role. Indigenous people came together six years ago at Uluru and did the Statement from the Heart. And there it says, I think in its final words where it says, it's only about a page long and it says 'in 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we asked to be heard' and that is what they are asking for. I think it's a very gracious and generous request and I really sincerely hope that Australians take up that offer of reconciliation.

SHIRLEY: How imperative is it in the context of what you've seen in the last day or so of Alice Springs. I know that is a sobering and a difficult thing to address on a night like this. But in lots of ways, we're talking about the broader frame and the big issue here.

PRIME MINISTER: What we know is that there's an enormous gap in life expectancy, in education outcomes, in health outcomes, in housing, in incarceration rates between Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians and we need to close that gap. And we know that we haven't had, as Professor Calma said in his powerful speech tonight, we haven't had a vehicle to do things with Aboriginal people rather than for them and that's really what he is asking for. We know that there are a whole range of issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We need to solve it with them, not think that we know better in Canberra to do it just for them. And the first step in that of course, is listening to them.

SHIRLEY: Prime Minister, we appreciate you making time after the awards have concluded and speaking on what has been a remarkable night celebrating incredible people. Thank you for making time at the beginning of 2023.

PRIME MINISTER: It was such an incredible privilege to be here tonight. To be here as Prime Minister just makes me, every day I'm proud of this great country of Australia and tonight was just a reminder that on top of all the wonderful environment that we have, it's really the people that make this country so great.

SHIRLEY: Prime Minister, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.