Radio Interview - ABC Radio Sydney

15 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Passing of Queen Elizabeth II; suspension of Parliament; National Day of Mourning; King Charles III; Travel to London

JAMES VALENTINE. HOST: Mr Albanese, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, James. Good to be with you.

HOST: Thanks so much for coming on. Are you feeling the historic weight of this moment? It's Churchill to Truss, it's Eisenhower to Biden, it's Menzies to Albanese. That's the Queen's reign. Are you feeling that way?

PRIME MINISTER: I certainly am. And I think Australians are as well. For our whole lives, for most Australians, Queen Elizabeth II is the only Monarch that we've known. And so it came as a shock, even though, of course, she lived a full life to 96 years, that she passed. It still came as a shock, I think, for Australians.

HOST: Yeah, but you're the historical bookend. I wonder whether, as Prime Minister, you have time to reflect in that sort of way.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I certainly did. And on Thursday night, when I got a little bit of notice that the Queen was in a serious condition, we ended up not really sleeping at all Thursday night, the news came through very early in the morning and I had a discussion with the Governor-General and then my team were all in the office very early. The protocols kicked in and that really gave that sense of history as well, the fact that the protocols and arrangements had been thought about, not for years, but perhaps even for decades, a timetable of what would occur, when it would occur. The Governor-General would make a statement, I would make a statement an hour later, the Governor-General would make a public appearance on TV and then I would wait a period of time and then make a public appearance. It really had that sense of history about it.

HOST: And all of those things like suspension of Parliament, the Day of Mourning, they were all in those protocol notes, right.

PRIME MINISTER: They were all there. So things like the day after the Governor-General and I return from London, that was the day that was designated to be the Day of Remembrance, which will be, of course, next Thursday. So that is something that was all written down. The Queen had input into the ceremonial occurrences that are taking place and the timing of them, including the invitation that would go to ten Australians representative of the Australian community that are travelling with us this evening across to London.

HOST: Now, is it true also that travelling with you on the plane will be Gai and Robert Waterhouse?

PRIME MINISTER: That's right. They received separate invitations through the Palace. And they were having a difficulty, yesterday afternoon we got contacted, they were having a difficulty booking a commercial flight, getting across. As you can understand, it's a bit full at the moment. So, yes, we extended an invitation.

HOST: Is that at your generosity or are they paying for their tickets?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that level of detail I'm not down to. So I think though that Australians would be very accepting that Gai and Robbie Waterhouse, with the relationship they had training, of course, the Queen's horses, having audiences with the Queen at Royal Ascot. She had a great love of thoroughbreds. And of course, Chris Waller was also someone who trained her horses. And David Hayes, my understanding, is travelling also as a separate invitation from the Palace and he's travelling from Hong Kong.

HOST: The Prime Minister's with us on ABC Radio Sydney this morning. What do the next few days hold? What kind of events will you attend? What's going to happen when you and the Governor-General are in London?

PRIME MINISTER: It's a pretty busy schedule. We'll arrive on Friday night. On Saturday morning, I'll travel down to Kent to have a meeting with the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss. And I assume it is a part of the Westminster Estate where I'm travelling to, that's in the morning. There's a reception at Australia House for the ten people who are travelling with us, but other prominent Australians who are based in London, and that's occurring at lunchtime. Over the weekend, I will have an audience with King Charles and there is also a visit to see and pay respects to Queen Elizabeth, who is lying in state. And then Monday there is the funeral, of course. And between then there'll be other activities as well. I'm catching up with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, over the weekend as well, and things are moving pretty rapidly.

HOST: I can imagine. What do you plan to say to King Charles? What do you imagine that conversation is going to be?

PRIME MINISTER: Firstly, condolences. We must remember this is the loss of his mum, not just the loss of a Monarch. And I really believe that King Charles’ statement, his first statement that he made, was quite extraordinary and really acknowledged that loss so soon after losing his father, of course. So that's the first thing. Secondly, that all Australians pass on their condolences and their respect for the contribution of Her Majesty and we wish him well. Australians, of course, have different views and I have a view about the constitution, but that's a time for another day.

HOST: Do you know how much time you have? Is it five minutes? Is it a half hour?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, those schedules are being worked out as we speak. My understanding is it will be a one-on-one audience, if you like.

HOST: As you said, the death of Queen Elizabeth has brought up the consideration of the role of the constitutional Monarch in Australia. The republicans have always suggested that upon her death is the time to press the case again. You're committed to realising the Uluru Statement from the Heart bringing the Voice to the Parliament. In this term, there's no chance of both? Is there any consideration being said, look, why don't we do it all?

PRIME MINISTER: I want Australians to concentrate on the Voice to Parliament. If you think about the counterfactual it, to me, is inconceivable, that the next change that we need for our constitution is anything other than recognising that our national birth certificate, which is what the constitution represents, should acknowledge that our history didn't begin in 1788. It of course didn't end then either. But we should be proud of the fact that we share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth, at least 65,000 years of cultural continuance there, and that should be something that needs to be fixed before other matters are debated.

HOST: I suppose I can see that we're going to have a detailed constitutional debate around the Voice. So does it bring up the republic as well? We could do them both at once.

PRIME MINISTER: I've made it very clear, and I made it clear before the election, what my priority is. Getting constitutional change in this country is very difficult. We know that that's the case. We had a vote, for example, about the republic at the end of the last century and it is difficult to get the change through. The idea that you would have multiple debates at once is, I think, not feasible. I've made my priorities clear and that is what we have a mandate for and that is what I intend to do. We've had, I think, substantial debate. I’ve put forward a draft of a question, a draft of what the constitutional change might look like, a very simple change, saying that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should have a say, at least be able to express an opinion on matters that affect them and that we should recognise Indigenous people in our constitution.

HOST: Prime Minister, I know you’ve got to go, but South Sydney versus Sharks on Saturday. How are they looking?

PRIME MINISTER: I think Souths looked pretty good on Sunday versus the Chooks. I've tried to work out what the timing is in London to see if there can be a gap in the schedule of 90 minutes or so.

HOST: I think whatever it'll be will be wrong.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s right. We'll see how that goes. I think Souths are looking strong. But I always think that. Even when we were at the bottom of the table, I always thought we were a show. So that's the nature of being a South Sydney supporter. We're optimists.

HOST: Optimists and resilient.

PRIME MINISTER: Although I must say, my friend Andrew Denton always says that if we have a win, if I’m at the footy with him, he says, ‘I’m going home to watch the replay just to check that we still win’.

HOST: Exactly. Prime Minister, thanks so much.