Subjects: Visit to Dubbo; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal; the Prime Minister’s insincere last-ditch effort to salvage the Voice.
Well, Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will be in Dubbo today, along with Federal Member Mark Coulton. To find out more, I have the Federal Opposition Leader on the line.
Good morning Peter.
Good morning Iain. How are you?
I’m going well and yourself?
Very well, thank you mate.
So, the reason for your visit to Dubbo today?
Well, we’ve been keen to get out and talk Australians, particularly in regional areas, about issues that are important to them: so, cost of living, just getting an understanding for water issues and what people are experiencing on the farm and in the towns, and how we can shape our policy.
Peter, the 2023 Voice Referendum – obviously postal votes already started and we’ll have pre-polling in New South Wales from Tuesday the 3rd, and of course voting day on October 14 – I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if I may?
Firstly, the ballot paper for the Referendum will state; ‘a proposed law to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice’. It will ask: ‘Do you approve this proposed alteration?’. It will be put to Australians that the Constitution be amended to include a new chapter titled, ‘Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’.
Peter Dutton Leader of the Federal Opposition, my first question is: will an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice enshrined in the Constitution, benefit not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but be good for the whole nation?
Well Iain, there’s obviously been a lot of debate over the course of the last 15 months. The Prime Minister’s spent a lot of time on this issue, and I don’t believe that Australians have the information or the detail before them to make an informed judgement. I think that’s why millions of Australians, including one in three Labor voters now who are deciding to vote against the Voice.
For a couple of reasons I advocate that people should vote ‘no’. Firstly, I don’t think it’s going to provide the practical support to Indigenous Australians. I think everybody wants to see a better outcome in terms of health and education and life expectancy etc, but creating a Canberra Voice that’s going to, not provide the practical support that people need, but is going to provide another layer of bureaucracy, it’s going to be expensive and it’s not going to get a better outcome for those young kids. I think that’s the reason there’s a lot of hesitation around at the moment.
Next, I don’t believe that enshrining in the Constitution, in a new chapter, a permanent body is wise. That’s why most Australians have voted down referenda in the past, and it’s also why the Founding Fathers took a decision of the double majority – that is that for a change to the Referendum to be successful – to our nation’s rulebook, you can only do that if you get a majority of Australians supporting the question, and if a majority of the states support the question.
I think what the Founding Fathers were saying to us was, ‘be very careful in changing this document or amending it unless you’ve got very good reason to do so’, and I don’t think the Prime Minister’s made that case out.
Peter, you make your case there that there is a little bit of hesitation, there’s confusion about the mechanics of what will happen if the ‘yes’ vote is successful at the Referendum.
So, my second question is: Anthony Albanese has pledged that if the Yes campaign prevails, the Coalition will have an equal role in shaping the design of the Voice to Parliament. In this case, can we trust that the Albanese Government will govern for all Australians, as the actual mechanics of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice are determined?
Well Iain, I always think you should look at people’s track record – not just at their words, but at their deeds – and the Prime Minister had a committee set up earlier this year. It was a bipartisan committee – which is what he’s talking about again now. The Coalition put forward a number of amendments as part of that process. The Prime Minister didn’t listen to any of the recommendations, didn’t implement any of them, didn’t change one word of the wording that you read out before – that was telling I think because we’d approached that committee in good faith, we took the Prime Minister at his word and when we put forward changes that we thought were sensible, he rejected them.
So, could you believe the Prime Minister when he says, ‘that if people vote ‘yes’, that there will be a committee set up and that’s going to represent the country as a whole’? I just don’t believe that you can take him on his word in that regard. Again, the proof’s in the eating.
I think there’s a lot of concern that we have about just how genuine that process would be, particularly if the committee had a majority of Labor members on it, then they would just vote through each suggestion on Party lines and we would end up with a Voice that would be very skewed toward a Labor-Greens view. I don’t believe that’s in the interests of our country.
You’ve stated too that should you win the next election or an election that you will actually – if this is not successful this time – that you will take a Referendum to the people concerning the First Peoples of Australia. How would yours differ?
Well Iain, again, we’ve said to the Prime Minister, the unifying question to put to the Australian people would be, ‘do you support recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution?’. Now, I think a Referendum on that basis would get 80 per cent support. I think it’s different to when it was proposed in 1999 and I think Australians would support it.
It’s important to remember that when you go to the polling booth on October 14 – as you mentioned before – whilst it talks about recognition and the Voice, it’s only one question. What the Prime Minister’s been tricky in doing here, is giving the Voice moral cover by mentioning recognition – because he knows that Australians support recognition by and large.
My suggestion to him is that the question should be amended just to be recognition and not the Voice, because people don’t support the Voice, and that would be a better situation than the division that he’s driving through the question that’s being put to the Australian people at the moment.
So, as we’ve taken to each election, we’ve said that recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution is a good thing and if you can get a bipartisan position and you can get the support of Indigenous elders etc., for that question of recognition to be put, well you could do that.
But I think the way the Prime Minister’s proposing the Voice at the moment, without the detail; it’s just going to divide our country in October. I think the unifying moment would be to ask, ‘do you support recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution?’ without the Voice and he’s chosen not to go down that path.
Peter, if the ‘yes’ vote does not prevail, do you think that the Prime Minister will try and enact some of this, or all of this through a legislation?
He may do. It reminds me a little bit of Kevin Rudd saying that climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time and then he, you know, went weak in relation to the policy and then to the laws because he knew that the public didn’t support his position.
The Prime Minister says that this is the greatest issue for our country to deal with. It was the first issue that he nominated when he won the election in May of last year and he’s spent the last 15 months of his time in government prioritising dealing with the Voice. I mean, that’s the decision that he’s made. So does he then walk away from it if it’s voted down? Well, he says he will, but I’m not sure, again, that you could take him at his word.
So Peter, if the Referendum is successful in the ‘yes’ vote and the mechanisms are put in place by the current government, can they be altered in any way down the track, should the Coalition come back into power?
Well Iain, it’s a great question, and the reason for that is that legislation can only be consistent with the words in the Constitution. I think it’s a really important point that you raise.
No Parliament can outlaw what’s in the Constitution – it’s our nation’s rulebook. The Prime Minister’s proposing the biggest change to the Constitution since Federation, since the Constitution was formed, and he’s not giving the detail up. He’s got a very broad interpretation, and the Parliament can’t out-legislate that, or undo (inaudible) words, or permanent chapter in the Constitution, and that’s the real difficulty that the Prime Minister’s got, and frankly that he can’t explain.
Peter Dutton, the Federal Opposition Leader, I thank you very much for your time this morning on 2DU Breakfast.
My pleasure Iain, thank you very much mate. Take care.