Subjects: The barbaric attacks on Israel and the ramifications around Australia; the appalling Hamas protest in Sydney and planned protests elsewhere in Australia; the Prime Minister’s lack of leadership; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal.
Afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for coming out to the airport this afternoon.
Look, I’m really pleased to have accepted an invitation to be part of a peace gathering tonight in Sydney, which is going to be a demonstration of goodwill towards people of Jewish faith. There are many Australians of Jewish faith at the moment who are going through a very difficult phase, not just because they might have a loved one or a family member or somebody they know in Israel who’s been affected by this atrocious terrorist act, but also because it has an impact on families here. We’re hearing stories of young kids who are going to Jewish schools, being told not to wear the uniforms in public, obviously people are worried about the general safety – particularly when you’ve got abhorrent people yelling to ‘gas the Jews’ or ‘F the Jews’ or ‘F Israel’, that sort of anti-Semitism just doesn’t have any place in our country.
I want to welcome the comments by Bill Shorten and by Richard Marles, in condemnation of some of the behaviour we saw and the anti-Semitic conduct of some people who were at the rally at the Opera House.
I just can’t understand why the Prime Minister can’t get his line and length here, and why the Prime Minister can’t see anti-Semitism playing out when it’s on the screens, it’s in the newspapers and it’s horrifying millions of Australians. This is conduct that deserves condemnation from the highest office in the country, and the Prime Minister should be out there sending a very clear message that these rallies shouldn’t take place.
He should be reaching out, speaking to community leaders to stop the rallies from taking place in the first instance, and it’s unbelievable that the National Security Committee hasn’t met to talk about our equities in the Middle East, what happens in relation to staff – not just in Israel, but in Lebanon, in surrounding areas otherwise, if there’s a need for an evacuation. What happens here in terms of the policing effort, the coordination around places where people of Jewish faith are gathering? Not just synagogues and schools, but other places as well? These are simple questions that need pretty significant contemplation about the best way to keep Australians safe, and the Prime Minister hasn’t yet convinced convened a national security committee meeting.
It is unbelievable at a time when we’ve got world leaders who are without any reservation whatsoever lending their support to Benjamin Netanyahu, to the people of Israel. Our Prime Minister, it seems, hasn’t made any phone call and hasn’t even convened the National Security Committee. It’s a very, very significant issue and it’s not over yet.
The thought of the horrific acts that have taken place send a shiver down anyone’s spine. The beheading of babies, the terrorist attacks which have slaughtered women, raped women. There are still people that are being held captive now, and our Prime Minister can’t call the Israeli leadership or can’t convene a National Security Committee. I think it is an absolute outrage and the Prime Minister deserves to be called out on it.
Mr Dutton, from your experience as our Defence Minister, what’s your take on how the Americans may respond in these circumstances, given their presence in the Mediterranean and the language of Mr Biden in terms of his unequivocal support for Israel?
Well, the answer is we just don’t know. But there are different scenarios that could play out, and that’s what I think the National Security Committee should be contemplating at the moment.
The Prime Minister should be taking advice from the Chief of the Defence Force, of ASIS, of ASIO, should be looking at the intelligence picture and putting together different scenario planning. They should have anticipated that there would be significant public disorder activity. I don’t know whether Border Force is looking at individuals who were protesting at the Story Bridge, sorry at the Opera House, and now it seems other protests planned around the country in other capital cities. I don’t know whether Border Force is looking at whether those people are permanent residents, if they’re citizens, if they’re visa holders. If they’re visa holders, the visa should be cancelled immediately, and the Minister should be taking that action right now. Calling for people to be gassed, or celebrating the death of women and children is just appalling.
So, all of that needs to be contemplated by the National Security Committee, and the Prime Minister doesn’t have any coherent reason as to why the committee hasn’t been convened. I think it’s a very, very significant issue and he deserves to be asked those questions.
Would you expect Qantas and Virgin to help the Federal Government with repatriation flights from Israel?
Well, again, this is the sort of issue that gets discussed in the National Security Committee. There would be advice from the central agencies and from the Department of Transport about discussions. There would be – as we did during the course of COVID, make approaches to the companies, look at the options that are available to us. Do you need to pre-deploy Air Force assets to be in Al Minhad or somewhere close by in the region if we need to quickly uplift people out of Lebanon, for example? Or out of Tel Aviv? I mean, these are all questions that you ask reasonably, but they can really only be answered if they’ve been considered.
The fact that the Prime Minister is now trying to look busy running around the country in the last 36 hours or last 48 hours as we approach the weekend for the Voice vote. I think this is a time when the Prime Minister needs to show leadership, and I think the fact that he’s at odds with the Deputy Prime Minister’s words and at odds with Mr Shorten’s words, it’s no wonder that many people within the Jewish community are shaking their head at the Prime Minister right now.
You’ve worked closely with Australia’s own intelligence agencies, are you pretty confident – notwithstanding the criticism of the Prime Minister this time around – that they are prepared for any unrest that might be occurring within our own shores?
I’ve got no doubt – and some of the agency heads were on the briefing I had yesterday, I have no doubt that they will be doing everything possible, but there’s a gravitas that the Prime Minister brings to a convened meeting of the National Security Committee, and departments might have ideas that just don’t cut it, and the Government can reprioritize the planning and give directions to the secretaries or to the heads of ASIO and ASIS, etc., to undertake activity much more quickly.
If you’ve got people who are so minded, so warped, as to be calling for Jews to be gassed, I mean, that’s, the obvious historical reference there. If you’ve got people of that mind, it’s not difficult to contemplate that they might deliver violence themselves on people of Jewish faith. I think, again, the Prime Minister needs to step up and do this planning and give the agencies the direction that they need to conduct their planning.
There’s a rally planned for Brisbane on Friday, in Brisbane CBD. Should that be allowed to continue?
Not if it’s going to be a rally about calling for people to be gassed, for people of Jewish faith to be gassed, that doesn’t have any place in our country. It should be condemned, absolutely. An incitement of violence or that sort of conduct, should be met with a very, very heavy hand from the Queensland Police, or the Victorian Police, or New South Wales.
I think the New South Wales Police Commissioner and the New South Wales Police Minister owe an enormous apology to people from the Jewish community in New South Wales. I thought it was one of the most appalling acts I’ve ever seen to turn somebody away who was there to support people of the Jewish community with an Israeli flag. At a time when the New South Wales Premier had made a very public statement – and good on him for doing so – in lighting up the Opera house with the Israeli colours.
I think the Premier here needs to step up in a way that the Prime Minister hasn’t, to come down heavily and and not issue permits and not allow these protests to take place where there is an element of incitement and hatred and it doesn’t have any place in our community.
You’ve said Australia should assist Israel if the country requests ammunitions. Why should Australia be helping one of the most advanced defence forces in the world? Would that drag us into conflict in the Middle East?
Well, there were 260 young women and men driven out into the desert and then machine gunned down, there are now reports of 40 babies being beheaded, there were reports of women being raped, there were reports of over 150 women, children and men being held hostage – I can’t imagine the circumstances that they’re in right now, people have been slaughtered in their homes, including a Holocaust survivor. Australian citizens obviously have been affected by this and their families as well.
That’s a time when Australia stands up and supports likeminded countries, to provide them with support and to send a very clear and united message to those terrorists that their conduct is not acceptable and that we will push back and fight against it.
The conduct that you’re seeing from Hamas now is completely and utterly from the ISIS playbook, and we’ve been in a conflict alongside our partners, including the United States, our Five Eyes partners, our allies, otherwise, pushing back against terrorism, and the West needs to do that. Australia stands up for her values, and we shouldn’t be afraid to step back from that.
Mr Dutton, just three days out from the Referendum, just in terms of that slogan for the no vote: ‘if you don’t know, vote ‘no” – putting that to one side, can you see a high informal vote happening for people in those circumstances who don’t make any vote at all, just get their names crossed off, fold up the paper and put it in the box, still none the wiser about what this is about?
Adam, I’d just like two points. I mean, one is that this vote’s not won by any stretch of the imagination. People need to get out and vote. If you are ‘no’ supporter and you think this ‘no’ vote’s going to get up, don’t take it for granted, you’ve got to get out and vote. So I’d just encourage people to do that because if too many people think that, than that’s how the ‘yes’ vote can get up – first point.
Second point is that a wasted vote, an informal vote, in what is probably the most important ballot that you’ll cast in your lifetime is just not something that you want to contemplate. This is a new chapter being inserted into our Constitution – the first time ever since Federation that’s been proposed. There’s been no constitutional convention, the process to design the Voice doesn’t start until after the vote has taken place, again, without precedent. If you enshrine something this serious into the Constitution and you get it wrong, it’s there forever because the Parliament can’t override it. It’s divisive, it’s dividing our country. It’s permanent, and it’s not going to provide the practical outcomes that we want for Indigenous Australians in regional communities.
So if you’re intending on voting ‘no’, please get out and vote pre-poll or go out on Saturday because this is the most important vote that you will cast in your lifetime in our country, and we can’t afford for complacency to allow the ‘yes’ vote to get up, because it’s not in our country’s best interests, and I want to thank the millions of Australians who have been speaking to their kids and their grandkids, to give them the advice which is necessary to get out and make an informed vote.
If you don’t have the detail, you don’t understand what it is the Prime Minister’s proposing, there’s no embarrassment in that because that’s exactly what the Prime Minister has designed to be the case. He hasn’t given you the detail, so how can you expect to understand it if he doesn’t understand? And we know with this Prime Minister that he doesn’t get across the detail, we know that when he makes decisions, he ends up making the wrong decision, and I just don’t think, at the moment, we’re seeing the leadership from the Prime Minister that Australians voted for in May of 2022.
Last week at the Press Club, former Western Australian High Court Chief Justice Robert French dismissed fears the Voice would be legally ‘risky’. Today, Senator Pat Dodson did the same. More than 70 constitutional and public law teachers signed a letter last week saying it wasn’t constitutionally risky. Why do you continue to say that it is?
Well, there’s obviously an enormous amount of emotion involved in this. I’ve heard lawyers say that this is a ‘risky proposition’, and yet they’ve still advocating a ‘yes’ vote, which I mean, is quite bizarre and I mean driven by emotion.
You can’t out-legislate what is in the Constitution. It’s our nation’s rulebook, and on 44 occasions, Australians has been asked to amend the Constitution, only on eight has it been successful, and so the founding fathers advised us to be very careful with the double majority test, don’t change the Constitution until you’re absolutely certain it’s for the better.
We live in the best country in the world and we should be protecting and defending our nation’s rulebook because it’s given us democracy and stability since Federation, and I don’t think we should change it on a whim or because of emotion.
There are plenty of solicitors and KCs and former justices out there who have different views. The best that you can say is that the legal interpretation is conflicted, it’s clashing one opinion against the other because people don’t know, and if you’ve got something like this in legislation, you can amend the legislation, you can abolish legislation, you can add to the legislation. If it’s in the Constitution, it’s there permanently. Don’t forget, it’s its own chapter. It’s not just a couple of words that are being inserted into the Constitution, the High Court has its own chapter and this is the first time Australians are being asked to insert a new chapter into the Constitution. It will open it up to significant interpretation by the High Court and we just shouldn’t allow that to take place.
Just finally, Mr Dutton, do you think given the bemusement of the Australian electorate about the divisiveness, the politics, the emotion involved in this, that there would be a sound argument for having someone in a position of neutrality like the Governor-General, for example, insist to both sides of politics, including the leaders foremost, that they remain neutral throughout the process and accept the decision of the Australian people and not campaign for one case or the other. Does that make sense?
Well Adam, I guess the first point is that the Governor-General doesn’t have a legal capacity beyond the opinions already sought. He would be seeking an opinion from the same people the government has, or that we have, or who have provided their own opinions publicly. So, it’s hard, particularly when we don’t have a model, that hasn’t been tested, and we don’t know the interpretation of a future High Court – the composition, the inclinations of those justices as to how they’ll interpret it.
As, you know, I mean that there are single words inserted into the Constitution that end up being debated in the High Court for well over a decade. So, I think it’s hard for him to sort of arbitrate in that sense…
For argument’s sake.
…The second point is that our leaders in this country, particularly the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, but, you know, other leaders at the state level and at a Commonwealth level, need to argue in a democracy for and against significant proposals that would either improve or turn out to be a great negative for Australians. Our responsibility is to protect those founding documents, to enhance them where we can, but the Government just hasn’t made that case, and the Prime Minister’s hoped that Australians will vote for the Voice on a vibe, but Australians aren’t stupid, their instinct absolutely and rightly is to help Indigenous Australians. But the Prime Minister has not made the case out, has not answered the questions, has not provided the advice for Australians to be able to satisfy themselves that a new chapter in the Constitution is going to be of net benefit to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Thank you very much. Thank you.