Television interview - 10 News First

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

Ashleigh Raper, Host: Prime Minister, all along you said when the campaign started properly and people began engaging with the Voice that you were confident the majority of Australians would vote Yes. Are you still confident?

Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister: I am confident and I'm optimistic that Australians will take the opportunity to embrace the generous offer that First Nations people are saying they want. This is a clear proposition. And if not now, when? As Paul Kelly is singing. This is just about recognition, and then about an advisory body, which will give advice about matters affecting Indigenous Australians. It won't change the way that our government functions, it won't change the decision making processes, but it will allow Indigenous Australians to be listened to about matters that affect them.

Raper: There was a sign at the Yes march in Sydney yesterday, it said, ‘It's an advisory body for goodness sake’. Well, actually, the language was slightly stronger but we'll go with that. It's an advisory body, for goodness sake, not armageddon. Have you and the Yes campaign, done enough to get across what the Voice actually is?

Prime Minister: People really focus in the last weeks. And I've always said that. There is nothing to fear here. This is just an advisory body, not a funding body. It won't run programs, it can't have a right of veto. The decision making is still quite rightly up to the Parliament and up to government. But it will allow a Voice to be heard. And we know that we get better results when we listen to people who are directly affected.

Raper: You've copped a lot of criticism, especially from the Opposition, claiming there's a lack of details. Could you have been more specific about the setup and the makeup of this advisory body?

Prime Minister: The detail is there. And of course, the Parliament will determine the composition and procedures of the Voice.

Raper: Why couldn’t that happen ahead of time?

Prime Minister: Because it's not a genuine question, the Constitution sets out the principles. And the beauty of this proposal is that it doesn't interfere with the primacy of the Parliament, it reinforces it - that's the whole point. It will be up to Parliament to determine the functions and procedures, composition of the Voice. And that has been the way that our Constitution is written. It says we'll have a defence force, it doesn't say how many tanks we'll have, it doesn't say where the bases will be, it doesn't say what the size of our army should be. It sets out a principle and then government and Parliament implements that. Same as social security legislation. Constitutional change was made to allow for family payments and social security payments as part of our system in the 1940s. It doesn't set out the pension shall be so many dollars. And that's the beauty of this proposal. It's not interfering with our way of government, it's reinforcing it. But doing it in a way that's showing respect for Indigenous Australians, but also allowing all Australians to walk together in that spirit of reconciliation.

Raper: Last week the tone of the debate took a turn for the worse, there was a lot of discussion about racism. Are you surprised how this is playing out? Or is it an inevitable consequence of the model you've created?

Prime Minister: Well, this importantly hasn't been created by me or by any politician. It's come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves. Tony Abbott asked them to come up with what is the form of recognition that you want? And at Uluru in 2017 Indigenous representatives came together to ask for constitutional recognition through a Voice, by listening, because they wanted substance as well as symbolism. So that's the beauty of this proposal. It is unfortunate some of the tone of the debate, and I continue to call for a respectful discussion of this proposal. But I would ask for people to discuss what the proposal is. A lot of this debate is about things that aren't on the ballot, that people aren't being asked to vote Yes or No for. So for example, Warren Mundine was out there supporting treaty making yesterday, but that's not what this is about. So he’s a No campaigner splitting with the other No campaign about treaty and Australia Day, none of that is on the agenda. All that is on the agenda is recognition and an advisory body.

Raper: There has been a bit of an ugly element to it and you can't deny that. Do you feel a sense of responsibility or weight of responsibility?

Prime Minister: I think that some of the tone of the debate has been really unfortunate. And whether it be the participants or some of the tone that's been set by some elements of the media, it is unfortunate. I certainly have conducted myself in a way that has been respectful. And I respect every Australian whether they're going to vote Yes or No. It is a democratic process that is taking place. I sincerely hope, though, that Australians do take up this opportunity. This is once in a generation. So for all those of your listeners and viewers under the age of 40, they've never voted in a referendum before. This is an opportunity to get this done and to make sure that the debate then can move to the next phase of reconciliation. It will be regarded, I think, as our nation taking up the opportunity to declare ourselves as a more mature nation, to declare that sense of pride that we all have in sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth.

Raper: But isn't that what your critics have seized on? That this would start that next phase, and that it's not just the Voice, it’s something else, and something else, and that has left this open to your critics seizing on that?

Prime Minister: No, what the Voice will be is an enshrined body to give advice. And what’s to fear from listening to people about their views about matters that affect them? Because we know, as well, that when you do that you can save money. No one in this debate is saying we need more money thrown at Indigenous affairs. What we know is that with the best of intentions, the gaps aren't being closed, and a No vote will close the door. We want to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It's the fair thing to do, and I believe firmly that it's the right thing to do.

Raper: We've seen you get emotional about the Voice. We know it's important to you. Will you feel like you've let people down if it fails?

Prime Minister: It isn't about me. I will feel very disappointed for Indigenous Australians. There are people who have campaigned for this for their whole lives. During this debate, at one stage a pamphlet was produced that was authorised by Patrick Dodson and Marcia Langton back in 1986. People have campaigned for a long period of time. I've come to this at the end of the debate, not at the beginning.

Raper: So do you feel their weight on your shoulders trying to get this through?

Prime Minister: I think this is about lifting a burden off Australia's shoulders. When we wrote the Constitution in 1901, the founding fathers if you like, and they were all men, they sat down and made a provision for New Zealand to join Australia without a referendum. They thought about that. There was no recognition of the fact that our history didn't begin in 1770 or 1788 with the First Fleet. It goes back for tens of thousands of years, that needs to be acknowledged. It's acknowledged in every constitutional founding document around the world where there's a former colony, except for Australia. And it is time that we get this done. And we will, just like the Apology, when the Apology happened was like a burden had been lifted, that we'd done the right thing as a nation. It was a coming together, it was uplifting for the nation – this will be as well. And marriage equality as well, there are a whole lot of fear campaigns. None of the former married people, heterosexual people, have said that that's had an impact on their marriage, but we were told that it would. It didn't undermine anything. And that's the point here. There's no downside, only upside by people voting Yes.

Raper: How much time have you devoted to the Voice over the past month? Take aside your recent trip overseas. Some voters could be forgiven for thinking that you've forgotten them in a cost of living crisis.

Prime Minister: Not at all. A range of jobs continues. And this week again, tomorrow, I'll be doing a housing policy. In the last month we've had cheaper child care come in. We've had the 60-day medicine dispensing to make medicine, literally to cut the price in half. We've had the increases just this month in everything from pensions to Jobseeker allowance to support for single mums. We've had an increase in paid parental leave. We've had the energy price relief rebates come in, done with states and territories. We've established the board of the National Reconstruction Fund for new industries and jobs. We're doing everything across the board. This is an important element. But we understand as the Government that we've got a responsibility to work each and every day, and that is what we're doing.

Raper: Will the referendum be successful on October 14th?

Prime Minister: The referendum will be successful. And Australia, when we wake up on October 15, we will feel better about ourselves. It's about respect for Indigenous Australians, but it's also about the way that we see ourselves, whether we can embrace the fullness and richness of this great country that we call Australia.

Raper: And how will you feel?

Prime Minister: I'll feel elated. Then, of course, there's more work to do. And I'll get up and continue to work for Australia's national interest. But this is a once in a generation opportunity. And one of the things that we have done during this campaign is there is a focus of Australians on the gap that’s there. The eight-year life expectancy gap, the fact that an Indigenous young male today is more likely to go to jail than to university. We need to do better. Voting Yes will give us the tools in order to listen and therefore do better.

Raper: Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

Prime Minister: Thanks very much.