Television interview - ABC News Breakfast

29 Dec 2022
Prime Minister
Voice to Parliament; First Nations people; COVID-19; health advice

STEPHANIE FERRIER, HOST: The Government has been under pressure to provide more detail on the Voice but says it wants Australians to agree to the principle before Parliament irons out the finer points. Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, joins me now from Woodford in Queensland. First of all, Anthony Albanese, Merry Christmas and happy new year to you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, very much. And to you and all your listeners.

FERRIER: First of all, I just want to ask about the Voice. And you say that this is not just the right thing to do, but the best thing to do. You have narrowed the time frame. Are you convince that you are going to be able to get enough Australians to support you to get this over the line in time?

PRIME MINISTER: I am very positive that Australians will take up the gracious and generous offer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for reconciliation, to move forward together. And the Uluru Statement from the Heart is an incredible document. In such a short space, people would be surprised that it can fit on one page, it can fit on a t-shirt, and in that Statement, it was a call for unity, it was a call for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution. It was also a call for a Voice. We know that for a long time, for over 120 years now, since Federation, we have had decisions made for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. What the Voice does is just say that they should be consulted on matters that impact their lives. On their education, health, justice issues, housing, on all of these issues. You will get better outcomes when you have dialogue and when you have that genuine engagement.

FERRIER: Critics are saying there is not enough detail. Will you put forward the model for the Voice before this referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: There is an over 200-page document of detail that went to the Cabinet of the Morrison Government, not once but twice. There has been a process, a five-year process, leading up to the Uluru Statement in 2017. And then a five-year process since then. There has been parliamentary committees, parliamentary reports, there has been this Cabinet document worked through by Marcia Langton and Tom Calma of over 200 pages which outlined equal representation between men and women and what that representation could look like. Its recommendation was a model of 20 people. That is all subservient to the Parliament. That is point here. The Voice is not something that sits above or even beside the Parliament, it is simply a consultative body so that there can be that engagement. And it will change over time because it's subject to the Parliament of the day. That is why this is a very modest request of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And I am very confident that Australians who are generous people will accept this offer that has been made and will vote yes in the referendum when it is held in the second half of next year.

FERRIER: You say it has all been out there, so then is it a matter of your messaging that you need to employ further to try and make sure that you can allay some of those concerns that people have and will you decide to use that model that has been put forward by the report?

PRIME MINISTER: One of the things that we are trying to do here is to make sure that this isn't my proposal or even the Government's proposal, that it's the proposal of the Australian people. That's why I went to the Garma Festival last year and outlined exactly what a question could look like, exactly the three changes to the Constitution that would be made, that made it clear that the Voice would be consulting about matters directly impacting them, that it would also not usurp any of the role of the Parliament. And so, I was told before I did that that we didn't know what the question would look like and we didn't know what the change would look like. It has now been more than four months since that was put out there for consultation. We will continue to engage in the lead-up to the referendum. But I am very confident that the Australian people will accept this offer, will do something that's good for Indigenous Australians to have that respect of being recognised in our nation's birth certificate, our Constitution. But it is also about how we see ourselves and whether we're a confident nation, able to tell the truth about our history, that we share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth, and also the way that the world sees us as well. Whether we are a mature nation that recognises our history didn't begin in 1788, it goes back at least 60,000 years. And that should be a source of great pride.

FERRIER: We are hearing from people like Warren Mundine who are saying this is going to potentially be a huge bureaucracy. The Nationals have decided to oppose it on the basis that it lacks practical outcomes. What can you say to convince them that this will lead to change and improvement in First Nations peoples' lives?

PRIME MINISTER: What I can say is that when you look at the most effective programs, whether it be justice conferencing, which has occurred around places like Bourke in New South Wales, that has been implemented with the support of Coalition and Labor governments, when you look at the Indigenous Rangers program, Caring for Country, that has done an extraordinary amount of work involving Indigenous Australians, giving them employment, giving them that sense of ownership, when you look at the best programs in Indigenous housing and in Indigenous health, they have all been ones that haven't imposed things from outside. They have all had that engagement directly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the design as well as in the implementation of those programs. We know that when you involve people directly, you will get better outcomes. That is not just the case for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that is across the board. If you are designing programs aimed at young people, probably a good idea to talk to young people about those programs. What the Voice does is recognise that we have tried the other methods for 120 years but we had this massive gap that is there in educational outcomes, in health outcomes, life expectancy, infant mortality, incarceration rates of Indigenous people are so much higher than non-Indigenous people. How about we give this a crack?

FERRIER: A lot of issues there. Staying on First Nations issues, Prime Minister, on Christmas Day a First Nations two-year-old child was taken back to Europe under the Hague Convention. Is the Government going to do anything to intervene and protect the rights of this child to culture and community?

PRIME MINISTER: We don't comment on individual cases regarding family law. That has been a long standing practice. Can I say that we have changed, through legislation, the law so that courts can and should take into account issues like domestic violence and other issues when considering what is best for a child.

FERRIER: The US has just announced that it will impose travel restrictions on travellers from China, in line with Italy, Japan, India and Taiwan. What is Australia going to do in the face of these rising COVID cases in China?

PRIME MINISTER: We will continue to monitor the circumstances that are occurring in China and in other parts of the world as well, as we do. We will take the appropriate advice from the health experts and follow that advice. There is no change in the travel advice at this point in time. But we are continuing to monitor the situation, as we continue to monitor the impact of COVID here in Australia as well as around the world. Our priority is to keep Australians as safe as possible.

FERRIER: So, you are open to imposing mandatory testing for Chinese travellers coming into the country?

PRIME MINISTER: What we will do is take health advice, not just when it comes to China, when it comes to every country. There are outbreaks in various parts of the world. We will follow the health advice. Of course, what is occurring in some parts of the world as well is that people have to get tested before they get on a plane as well. So, there are various methods. We will examine the advice which is there. But we will always do what we can to keep Australians safe. We know that COVID is still impacting right around the world and, of course, here in Australia as well.

FERRIER: Thanks for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much. Can I take the opportunity to wish all those ABC viewers a very happy new year for 2023.

FERRIER: Thank you.