Television interview - Sky Sunday Agenda

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

MATT CUNNINGHAM, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.


CUNNINGHAM: You said yesterday to the Dilak Council that not only would you be going to this referendum, but that it would succeed. How can you be so confident?

ALBANESE: I'm confident that when Australians focus on what this referendum is about, which is just simply recognising Indigenous Australians in our Constitution, we're the only formal colony that hasn't done that, but then in the form that has been asked for, including, of course, by the late great Yunupingu, that by listening to people, you get better results. That's what this referendum is about. And over coming weeks, people will focus on what a Yes vote means, the opportunity for a better future, and what a No vote means. More of the same, the same outcomes if you do the same thing.

CUNNINGHAM: When are you going to announce the date for this referendum?

ALBANESE: We'll announce it in coming weeks. We'll consult with the Australian Electoral Commission. I'll take a position to the Cabinet. And then we'll make an announcement with plenty of time, plenty of notice for people. I said this time last year, I was foreshadowing the timetable that we've stuck to, the work to be done on a draft piece of legislation based upon the words that I said at Garma last year. We did that in March. We had the parliamentary inquiry, as I said we would. We had the legislation passed in June. And then, of course, the referendum has to be held sometime between two months and 33 days and six months. And so, that means that sometime between mid-September and December. But of course, we know that either end of those doesn't really work.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, you can't realistically hold it in November or December, because people in this part of the world, there's a good chance that Aboriginal people in this part of the world, as Malarndirri McCarthy's already pointed out, may not be able to vote if you hold it at that time, because we'll be right into the wet season.

ALBANESE: Well, and that's why we're taking all of that into account. So, it's pretty narrow, the opportunity of when the dates are.

CUNNINGHAM: It's going to be October.

ALBANESE: Well, we'll make an announcement and we'll do that at an appropriate time with plenty of notice.

CUNNINGHAM: You make the point that this is about a moment of bringing the nation together, but this has become really divisive, has it not? You look at some of the commentary around, some of the commentary on social media, some of the commentary more generally, the split in the opinion polls. Are we not dividing the nation by what we're doing here, rather than bringing it together?

ALBANESE: This is an opportunity to unite the nation and to bring it together. Divisive comments on social media, tragically, are not something new. And one of the things that Indigenous Australians say to me is they speak about their experience of racism, their experience of people saying things that are just quite astonishing in 2023. But they're also so resilient. You know what? At the Dilak Council yesterday afternoon, I'm walking around the Garma Festival, no one's saying, ‘Oh, this is too hard’. What they're saying is, ‘Let's get this done. We're determined to do this’. And that is similar to what Yunupingu said to me last year. I was here in 2019, where it was announced, consistent with the Morrison commitment that was made prior to the 2019 election, that there'd be a referendum. Nothing happened. We've waited 122 years since Federation to recognise First Peoples in our Constitution. We're the only former colony in the world that hasn't done that. And that's why we need to get it done. And the beauty is, this is an Australian solution. We haven't borrowed something from New Zealand or from Canada or from Scandinavia. This is a uniquely Australian position that has come from the bottom up, this request, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, where they are saying, 'We want to be listened to, we're not asking for a right of veto, we're not asking to be the funding body, but we want to be listened to, because when that happens, we get better outcomes'.

CUNNINGHAM: It didn't happen in 2019 or in that term of Government, as we know. Did you offer support to Scott Morrison to make it happen during that term of Government?

ALBANESE: I did, absolutely. On the very first day that Parliament sat, I sat with Scott Morrison. The only time I went into his inner office in the entire term as Leader of the Opposition. I offered him support. I said the same with Ken Wyatt, the Indigenous Affairs Minister. I appointed Linda Burney to work with her friend Ken Wyatt. But nothing happened. And Ken Wyatt has, of course, expressed regret that that hasn't happened. He's a good person. And he's someone who's campaigning very strongly to fulfil his ambition, which is constitutional recognition. And that's why he's a very important part of the Yes campaign.

CUNNINGHAM: The Opposition says it supports constitutional recognition. Its issue is with enshrining the Voice in the constitution. Why not just put constitutional recognition to the Australian people and legislate a Voice so that, one, it will get over the line, and two, that we can see how a Voice is going to work before we embed it in the Constitution?

ALBANESE: Well, that's the point here, isn't it? That both sides, Peter Dutton says he supports constitutional recognition. Well, so do I. Secondly, he says that there should be legislation around a Voice. So do I. That's what the constitutional provision provides for, legislating the Voice. And on an ongoing basis, the Parliament will have control through legislation about the structure and functions and procedures, the organisational structure, if you like, of how the Voice will operate. The only difference here is he is saying that if you enshrine it in the Constitution, it can't be gotten rid of with the stroke of a pen. And that's precisely why Indigenous Australians have asked that it be enshrined in the Constitution. We're dealing with intergenerational issues. And it won't be solved in a week, a month, a year. Some of these issues will take a long period of time. They want that security of that enshrinement so that they won't put all their effort into something where it can just be gone in a stroke of a pen. It's also the form of recognition that Indigenous people have asked for. So, you can't say we want to have legislated Voice, so we can listen to indigenous Australians, so we can listen to local communities, but we'll fail at the first hurdle by not listening to them about the form in which it takes.

CUNNINGHAM: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Matt.