Television interview - ABC 7:30

09 Jan 2023
Prime Minister
WA Flooding; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; AUKUS; Nuclear Submarines

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Welcome to the program, Prime Minister.
SPEERS: The scale of this flooding is creating some enormous logistical difficulties. Are you satisfied the emergency needs - food, clothing, medical supplies - are getting through to the communities who need them, particularly some of those remote communities?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is a massive logistical challenge. You have places like Fitzroy Crossing, but also Derby, as well as a range of other very small, remote communities that are being cut off. That the roads aren't usable, the bridge into Fitzroy Crossing has basically been destroyed. So the only way that goods can be got in at the moment is by air, and that presents some challenges. But I must say that the emergency services personnel here in Western Australia, combined with volunteers, combined with the Australian Defence Force, there will be almost 200 people on the ground by tomorrow. They have eight aircraft on the ground here in the Kimberley, three fixed-wing aircraft and five helicopters from the ADF. There is enormous work being done. And the community that I met with today was just incredibly resilient. They are determined to build back even stronger than they were before, and they are working together.
SPEERS: We have seen major flooding events now in, I think, nearly every state in the relatively short time you've been Prime Minister. We are told to expect more frequent and more severe natural disasters as well. Is this causing you to rethink whether communities are well enough prepared, and listening to you list some of the response there, whether Defence has the resources that it needs?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will give communities every support that they need. My government will always stand with communities in the face of natural disasters wherever they are occurring. In the short period in which I have been Prime Minister, I have visited the Riverland in South Australia, I’ve visited a number of communities in New South Wales, around Forbes, up on the north coast around Lismore, I visited Rochester and Bendigo in Victoria, I've visited northern Tasmania. The science told us that our climate is changing, that there will be more extreme events and they will be more intense and that is what is happening. We have always had natural disasters here in Australia, but the intensity of them, it's quite clear, is becoming more severe. We are just one-third of the way through the wet season here in the Kimberley and that’s why there is a watching brief and the experts here are being very cautious about the months ahead.
SPEERS: Let me turn to some of the other big issues you are going to be facing this year, Prime Minister. You plan to hold a referendum to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Constitution. The Nationals have already declared their opposition, the Liberals are demanding more detail. What do you plan to do between now and the Referendum to ensure its success, what are the next steps from here?
PRIME MINISTER: The important thing here is, David, that this is a bottom-up process. Remember that this began in 2012, there were five years in the lead-up to the Uluru Statement from the Heart being developed. Overwhelmingly endorsed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people after consultations and literally hundreds and hundreds of meetings right around the country. Then you had a Joint Select Committee Report to the Parliament in 2018. It was jointly chaired by Pat Dodson and Julian Leeser, who is now the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs as well as Shadow Attorney-General, about how a Voice to Parliament might operate. And then the Coalition Government established a process co-chaired by Tom Calmer and Marcia Langton that produced a more than 260-page report that Ken Wyatt took to the Cabinet not once, but twice. So there’s an enormous amount of detail out there. What I intend to do is work with people of goodwill, but it is very clear, David, that there are a range of things that are completely agreed upon. One is that a Voice should look at matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, how we close the gap in health, and education, and housing, how we make a difference there. The second thing that is in the draft wording of the proposals I have put forward at the Garma Festival, that you attended, is that the Voice will be subservient to the Parliament, that is Parliament will continue to control the destiny of Australia.
SPEERS: Sorry to interrupt, but is it still your intent to put to the Australian people the principle of a Voice to Parliament and leave that detail for the Parliament to work out in the event of a "yes" vote?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the way that our Constitution works, David, is that you have the principles of the way that our Constitution, our nation's birth certificate operates. There isn't actually even a recognition of the position of Prime Minister in the Constitution at the moment. So it is a simple proposition, that we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution, and that they have a voice, that they be consulted. I regard is as good manners. But it is also very clear that the reason why some of the debate is disingenuous at the moment about detail is that it misses the whole point. For 120  years since we federated we’ve have had the Australian Government do things for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, often with the best of intentions. What this idea is pretty simple, that we will do it with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
SPEERS: I understand that principle.
PRIME MINISTER: This isn't my proposal. This is the people's proposal. I said very consciously in that Garma speech I didn't say, "This is the words. Here is the Government's position." I said, "Here is the draft words. If you have a better idea, then I'm certainly open to ways in which, if  people think that improvements can be made then by all means, come forward with them.”
SPEERS: You have set up the working group and the engagement group that are doing that work and looking at what further information is needed for a successful referendum. When will you or the rest of us see those reports and what do you expect them to include?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, they are doing the work through about how the Voice could operate, but doing it being informed by the work that has already been done. See, there's the idea...
SPEERS: Will those reports be made public once they're done?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course. People can log on now and look at the report of Tom Calma and Marcia Langton and they can look at the interim report that the committee, co-chaired by Julian Leeser who is now responsible for Indigenous Affairs in the Coalition.
SPEERS: You have not committed to those reports. To be clear, they are not proposals that you have accepted.
PRIME MINISTER: Because what we are doing here, David, is trying to reach out and get as much support as possible. We want this to be an inclusive process, and people can either look for a way in which this can be given support, or they can look for reasons to disagree and look for division. I want to look for national unity. I have made that very clear and that's why I've met with Peter Dutton on a number of occasions, and that's why I was disappointed to pick up the paper and read that apparently he had written to me but he forgot to actually write to me. He just gave it to the newspapers, which is the first time that I heard about this correspondence. And to me, that isn't fair dinkum. If you’re fair dinkum, sit down, work the issues through, come up with a constructive proposal.
SPEERS: Just on another matter, Prime Minister, in the next few months you’ll announce which nuclear submarine Australia is going to go for under the AUKUS agreement. Two influential US Senators have raised some concerns about the capacity to build Australian submarines over there. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today has said that any nuclear submarine we acquire from the US will not be able to be obtained or maintained without the supervision of the US Navy. Is he right?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm very confident that we can come up with an outcome that serves Australia's national defence interests, as well as serves the interests of the United Kingdom and the United States. That's what the whole point of the AUKUS arrangement is - to recognise that through cooperation in our defence systems, we can, each of the three countries, be stronger. It is also a recognition that we are working through how we increase our capability. I want for submarines to actually be manufactured here in Australia. I want to see the skills that will come from that benefit not just the marine industry, but to have benefits right across the board, just as the automotive industry used to playing that role.
SPEERS: Just to be clear, will Australia maintain sovereignty over the maintenance and operation of these submarines?
PRIME MINISTER: We are being very clear that Australia's sovereign interest will be protected in any arrangements that we enter into and that is something that the United States wants to protect its interests, and the UK as well. But what we are talking about here is more cooperation, including cooperation on technology. It is not surprising that these two US representatives have made the statement that they have. But it is also the case that senior members of the US administration have been extremely positive towards the reform that is occurring. I've met with President Biden on four occasions since I've been elected as Prime Minister, and I've met with three UK Prime Ministers who all have in common their support for this agreement.
SPEERS: Prime Minister, we will have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, David.