Television interview - Sky News First Edition

12 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Commemorating the passing of Queen Elizabeth; King Charles III; National Day of Mourning; Constitutional reform

PETE STEFANOVIC, HOST: The Prime Minister joins us live now. Prime Minister, good morning to you, appreciate your time. We just heard from Lynette Wood a short time ago. She had quite the honour today, I would suspect, of being Australia's first representative to see the King in person. What message did you give her and what was the response that she got from the now King?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, the message from the Acting High Commissioner to King Charles was a message of condolence at the loss of Queen Elizabeth, not just as Australia's sovereign for 70 years, but also for King Charles. We must remember that he is now our head of state, someone who has lost his beloved mother. And I thought his words were incredibly touching in tribute to his late mother, her Majesty the Queen. I conveyed in writing my condolences on behalf of the Australian people as well to King Charles on Friday. It is an honour for all of the High Commissioners to be brought forward and King Charles has acknowledged that with the event that was held there in London.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: So the decision on a new High Commissioner here in London has been taken. Who is it? And when will they be here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that decision will be announced in the fullness of time. It wouldn't be appropriate to announce it at the moment. The focus right now is very much on paying tribute for the 70 years of loyal service that Queen Elizabeth gave Australia as our head of state. And also yesterday, of course, the proclamation of King Charles III as Australia's new head of state. So it's a very historic day here in Australia, as well as in the United Kingdom and in Commonwealth nations around the world.

STEFANOVIC: So you're on your way here Thursday night, as I understand, Prime Minister. When will you expect to meet the King and what do you want to say to him face to face?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll be meeting the King over the weekend. There will be a range of ceremonies in place, culminating in the funeral service for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. And those planning mechanisms have been in place, of course, for a very long period of time. I'll express the heartfelt grief that Australians are feeling, but also the gratitude that Australians have for the service of Her Majesty. King Charles has very strong links with Australia. He studied here as a student, he has visited here many times and he's very familiar with our great nation as part of the Commonwealth.

STEFANOVIC: Have you got a gift for him?

PRIME MINISTER: It has been a very busy couple of days and there is a busy day today again, we'll be having all the appropriate mechanisms put in place. We're working very hard with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Foreign Affairs and Trade.

STEFANOVIC: Not a six-pack of Hawkies?

PRIME MINISTER: (laughs) We will of course act appropriately as we have.

JAYES: Prime Minister, you have ruled out a referendum in your first term. You haven't ruled out a referendum on a republic in your second. If you're not going to do it then, what is your Minister for the Republic going to do for the next two and a half years?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I said before the election, so before the reappointment of Assistant Minister Thistlethwaite, not just as the Assistant Minister for Defence, but also other titles that he has, and he's had that title since the term between 2016 and 2019, so that's been in place for some time. I made it clear before the last election my priority and the priority of the Government I lead would be recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution. It's inconceivable to me that you would have a debate about an Australian head of state before you had recognised Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people in the nation's birth certificate. Our history didn't begin in 1788. It goes back at least 65,000 years. That should be a source of national pride and should be recognised in our constitution. And so it's a matter of the right thing to do, and I made that very clear before the election, and I haven't changed my position on that.

STEFANOVIC: You have mentioned that now is not the right time to be able to talk about political matters when it comes to the Queen, and many would say that's fair enough. There are some countries, though, that believe the timing is now right for a reset when it comes to a particular country’s standing within the Commonwealth. I point out Antigua, which has just announced that it's moving towards a referendum within the next three years. If it's not now, when do you believe is a good time to begin that conversation with the Australian public about whether we should be a republic or not?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that debate, of course, has taken place over a long period of time. The Prime Minister doesn't stop people considering such matters, and my position on that hasn't changed. It's been my position for a long period of time and it's the position of the Australian Labor Party. But now is not the time to engage in that debate. The Queen's funeral is being held next Monday. It is a time to give thanks to the Queen's service and I think that is well above people's views about our constitution and our system of government. The Queen was widely respected, regardless of what personal views people might have about our constitutional arrangements. This was a life of service, it was an extraordinary well-lived life. She was someone who had great character and humour. She was someone who is much loved here in Australia. Australians are expressing their grief, but they're also expressing their gratitude. And that needs to be the focus which we have right now. And there's an opportunity as well now, on September the 22nd, in the National Day of Mourning, for events to be held in local communities right around the country, to say thanks and to acknowledge the contribution that Queen Elizabeth has made to our modern nation of Australia.

JAYES: Prime Minister, on that point, do you think Australians are more monarchists or Elizabethans? Do you concede that her death does change things for us?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, her death is an enormous change. Queen Elizabeth is the only monarch that I've known in my life and that most Australians have known in their lives. So for our entire lives, for most Australians, they've only known one Australian head of state. So this is a momentous occasion. It's historic. The last time that we had a change in our head of state, Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister. Sir Paul Hasluck was the Governor-General, I think, from memory. But it was a substantial period ago, way back in 52 years. And so this is an important occasion, which is why the National Memorial Day is being held and why it's appropriate that all Premiers and Chief Ministers have agreed, as well as the Leader of the Opposition has supported as well, it being a National Day of Mourning and it being a national public holiday as a one-off.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much for joining us and we'll see you when you get to London.