Television interview - Today Show

29 Dec 2022
Prime Minister
Fatal stabbing in Queensland; Voice to Parliament; Ukraine; Australian killed in Ukraine; COVID-19; Australia's relationship with China; trade

CHRISTINE AHERN, HOST: Emma Lovell was a mother of two, a wife and a much-loved member of her North Lakes community. She was tragically killed on Boxing Day, stabbed to death allegedly at the hands of two teens who were out on bail. Queenslanders are now demanding action, outraged that nothing is being done to curb the youth crime wave gripping the state. Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, joins us from Woodford in Queensland. Prime Minister, thank you for your time. You have a loving mother, we've got this loving mother killed in her own home. Youth crime is now at crisis levels in Queensland. Would you like to see more done from the Palaszczuk Government?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: The first thing I'd say is this is an incredible tragedy. Of course, you have the loss of a mother, a father who was also injured in this brutal attack by these two teens and we, of course, will have a legal process will be gone through there. But it is just a tragedy beyond belief for it to occur as well, particularly at this time of the year will mean that those children will grow up always thinking about their mum at this time of the year. It's just a horrific tragedy.

AHERN: It is a horrific tragedy. But people are calling for change in Queensland. And that includes a push for Emma's Law to mandate judges to incarcerate and not offer bail to repeat home offenders, regardless of their age. That just makes sense, doesn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not about to get into the details of trying to write state laws from the Federal Government. I think there obviously should be a response to this. There is justifiable community outrage. And that is perfectly understandable. And I'm sure that the Palaszczuk Government will respond appropriately.

AHERN: Do you think the Palaszczuk Government has responded appropriately so far?

PRIME MINISTER: I think what we're doing here is going through – this should not be, and I have no intention of making this a political issue – this a tragedy. And I think it's important to recognise that, to mourn this young mum who's lost her life. And that's my view. I'm sure that the Palaszczuk Government will respond appropriately, as State Governments do right around Australia.

AHERN: Moving on to another tragedy with another Australian killed serving in Ukraine, the fourth so far. Do we know how many Australians are currently in the war zone in Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Australian travel advice, of course, is to not be in Ukraine at this time, let alone go and participate in the war that's occurring there. The Australian Government is the largest non-NATO contributor to the support, the people of Ukraine in the struggle that's a struggle not just in their interests, this a struggle for national sovereignty, for the international rule of law. There are important implications for world order as a result of the brutal and illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine. The way that Australians can give support is to give money, to give support to charities and others who are acting in Ukraine, not to go and participate in fighting there. It is dangerous. I myself, of course, travelled to meet President Zelenskyy earlier this year to show Australia's support. We're providing Bush Masters, we're providing training for the Ukrainian defence personnel in the United Kingdom, we're providing other support as well. And I would just say that Australian citizens should follow the advice which is to not travel to Ukraine to participate.

AHERN: I understand, Prime Minister. The reality is Australians are over there. Do we have a figure on it?

PRIME MINISTER: The point here is they don't notify us because it's against what Australian advice is. So, what is occurring here is that some of these tragedies are occurring where not even their families are aware of the fact that they're participating in this fighting that's occurring in Ukraine.

AHERN: The US this morning, Prime Minister, has announced it will require all travellers from China to show a negative COVID-19 test. Will Australia be following suit?

PRIME MINISTER: Our travel advice hasn't changed at this point in time. But we'll continue to monitor the situation, as we do right around the world, and update our advice when it's appropriate. We take the health advice on this. At the moment the health advice has not changed.

AHERN: But you're open to that change, potentially?

PRIME MINISTER: We are always open to following the health advice, which is what we do with travel to various countries. Of course, I give people a reminder again – go out there, if you're eligible for a booster, please get it. It does help you to, one, avoid catching COVID but, secondly as well, if you do, it minimises the impact that it can have. And that's a very important message that people don't relax. COVID is still around. It's around here in Australia but, of course, there are new variants around the world as well.

AHERN: The Trade Minister has signalled that you're prepared to drop two World Trade Organization cases against China if trade bans against Australia are lifted. Will those cases be withdrawn if trade bans are lifted?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll negotiate in good faith with China. We've seen increased engagement. I met with President Xi at the G20 meeting. It was very constructive. We had the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, visit Beijing. We expect there will be more visits in the coming year. And we've had engagement between our ministers. And that contrasts with the no talk going on during the last term of government. It is in Australia's national interest, and the interests of our jobs, for the relationship with China to improve and for any impediments which are there to be removed. We'll continue to argue Australia's case, as we do consistently.

AHERN: On that, will you be visiting Beijing in the new year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly not in the early new year. My planned visit in a couple of weeks is to Port Moresby and Wewak in Papua New Guinea, a visit we put off because of COVID just a few weeks ago. So, I'm really looking forward to that. We remain engaged at the diplomatic level with China. It's a good thing for dialogue to occur. My position on China is that we will cooperate where we can, we will disagree where we must and we will engage in our national interest.

AHERN: One your main agendas in 2023 will be the referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. You say momentum is building, but we're yet to hear any real detail on how it will work. When are we going to get that detail?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there, is a 270-page document I think it is. It is over 200 pages of detail. It went to the Cabinet of the Morrison Government, not once but twice. It's there in Parliament for all to see. This is a pretty simple proposition which some opponents will try to make it more complex than it is. There are two propositions here. One is we recognise that we live in and share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth. That should be recognised in our Constitution, that our history didn't begin or end in 1788 and that it goes back 60,000 years. We should recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our nation's birth certificate. That's the first thing. The second thing is pretty simple, there should be a Voice to Parliament that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be consulted on matters that affect them. Their education, their health, their housing, justice issues. That they should be consulted. Because we know that you get much better outcomes when you engage with people. That's the simple proposition which is there. And that is subject to legislation that will change over time as to how many people are on the body or how many people from the different regions. The proposal that went to the Cabinet that's out there is a body of 20 people, 10 male, 10 female, representation guaranteed for people from rural and remote communities and from other communities around Australia. It's a simple proposition that is being put forward. It is a matter of good manners, really, that where you're having an impact on someone's life, you should talk to them about what that impact will be. And you'll get better outcomes.

AHERN: Okay, Prime Minister, it is a big job ahead in unifying Australia on that. But we do appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for talking to us on Today.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much. And can I take the opportunity to wish everyone a very happy new year.

AHERN: And right back at you, Prime Minister. Thank you.