Subjects: Happy Australia Day to all Australians; Taryn Brumfitt; Alice Springs crime crisis; Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Well, everyone, thank you for being here today.
We live in the greatest country in the world, and Australia Day is a day to celebrate our multicultural communities – and the citizens that we’ve just sworn in at this ceremony are our latest citizens, and we had ceremonies around the country today. It’s been quite a remarkable day again for Australia. We have a proud British heritage, and we have an incredibly proud Indigenous heritage in this country, and we celebrate the three limbs of what it is to be an Australian. The stories that we heard today – the bravery, the sacrifice, the efforts that people put into making their communities a better place – are quite remarkable. So, thank you to all of those Australians who have been recognised in the awards today. You’ve gone above and beyond. You’ve served our country with great distinction and we’re incredibly proud.
To our Australian of the Year – what an incredible young lady. Taryn has got a very, very important story to tell – not just her own story, but what that conveys to other young people and older people who are subject to all sorts of intimidation and harassment and bullying online. That is a very inspired choice for Australian of the Year and I really am very proud that she’s been able to be recognised and for the message that she will convey. There will be lots of parents and grandparents and young people that will be very happy to hear more about her story and her bravery and the way in which she stood up to those online despicable individuals who post comments of hate and that doesn’t belong in our country. It’s an element of social media, we know that, but it should be a safe place as it is in a schoolyard or in the community for people to have a conversation and for brave Australians to stand up – that is a great thing.
I’m very happy to take any questions.
The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said his door is open to, I guess, working constructively on the Voice and the way forward. Will you be taking up his offer on that?
Well, I’ve written to the Prime Minister asking 15 pretty basic questions on behalf of millions of Australians, and I want to understand what his response is, because at the moment, as you saw in the Ben Fordham interview, the Prime Minister doesn’t understand or hasn’t decided on the detail yet. So, how can Australians make a decision when they’re not properly informed? As you move around the community, it is quite obvious that people don’t understand what it is that the Prime Minister’s talking about. They understand that changing the Constitution is a big deal and instinctively, like me, like millions of Australians, we want better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. We don’t want to see the dreadful circumstances that are the reality in Alice Springs and other parts of the Northern Territory at the moment. So, we’ll work with the Prime Minister, we’ve been very clear about that. We’ve got a Party Room process to go through and I think my Party Room, like most Australians, want to see the detail and the Prime Minister has proposed a significant change to our Constitution – the way the government would operate, the way that laws would be enacted – and I think it’s incumbent on him as the Prime Minister to provide that detail.
In relation to Alice Springs, the Northern Territory Chief Minister has argued the former Coalition government had been in a position to ensure alcohol restrictions continued but ultimately the Stronger Futures legislation was allowed to lapse. Should the Coalition government have paid more attention to it and done more at the time?
Look, I don’t think anyone’s taking those comments seriously. The Chief Minister in the Northern Territory really has been shamed over the course of this week. It’s been quite astonishing that she hasn’t stood up for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Territorians.
We were up in Alice Springs in October. I came back and met privately with the Prime Minister because what I saw on the ground was a tragedy. I know the Prime Minister was able to spend four-and-a-half hours up in Alice Springs, which I welcome, but it wasn’t in the meetings and in the air-conditioned offices where I really got a feel for what was happening on the ground. I took the time to go out to the town camps to meet with Indigenous mothers at their homes and to speak to those leaders and that’s where I got a true taste of really what was happening in Alice Springs. I think all Australians want to see an environment where kids can go to school peacefully, where they can go home to a place that is welcoming and safe, and that they can contribute to their society as we would expect kids in other regional areas or indeed in our capital cities.
The tragedy that’s unfolding in Alice Springs at the moment is not going to be addressed by what the Prime Minister has offered by way of a fig leaf. Yes, there needs to be alcohol controls in place, and we fully support that, but it goes so much further than that. I raised with the Prime Minister the idea of a boarding school at one of the primary schools where kids could go and be safe so that they could go to school during the daytime. That hasn’t been funded, it hasn’t been addressed, and there are many other voices within the community up there that the Prime Minister is just not listening to.
So, I hope that he can go back and spend some more time, some more meaningful time, than just spending it in roundtables talking to politicians. He should be out talking to mothers and grandmothers who are living this every day. The small business owners that we went to see who have been broken into multiple times. Elderly residents who won’t go to the shops by themselves even during daylight.
It’s a huge issue to deal with. I offered to go up there with the Prime Minister, offered to provide bipartisan support to him in October. I’ve written to him, asking for a Royal Commission, which I think is absolutely still warranted in Alice Springs to get to the root causes. It’s not just the abuse of alcohol and gambling, there’s another big issue in the community. It’s well beyond that and this is a first step by the Prime Minister, but there’s a lot of work to do to see a better outcome for those kids and for those women on the ground in Alice Springs and indeed in other Indigenous communities across the country.
[inaudible] the federal government’s response to the social issues in Northern Territory I guess is intrinsically linked, particularly since the intervention of ’07. Surely the federal government and the former Coalition government has a responsibility to play here in the response in the Northern Territory?
It’s not a political issue. It’s not the fault of Liberal or Labor. Obviously, Labor has been in government at the Territory level for a long time and I think Natasha Fyles was humiliated by the Prime Minister this week and I think she’s let down Territorians. I’m really sorry to see that because the residents of Alice Springs couldn’t have been any clearer in their advice to the local Labor members and their voice just wasn’t heard.
But this is an issue that spans a long time. It’s not going to be solved overnight and it does require a bipartisan response, which is why, as I say, I met with the Prime Minister privately – I didn’t make it public. I pleaded with him for additional resources to go in and the police have said that they’re overwhelmed. The Prime Minister has ruled out sending the Australian Federal Police to supplement the work of the Northern Territory Police Force, even though the Commissioner up in the Northern Territory has said that they’re stretched to breaking point. It was clear on the ground that when police are taking seven, eight hours to respond to a job just simply because the numbers of jobs that they have to deal with – not through any fault of their own – then there are additional resources that are required on the ground.
But it’s not just police, it’s the family services workers, it’s the wraparound support services that can get beyond the bureaucracy and into the lounge rooms and to provide support on the ground to keep kids and women safe. That’s the paramount issue here. It’s above politics and the Prime Minister going in making a four-and-a-half hour visit to meet with politicians in an air-conditioned room is not going to solve the problems in Alice Springs. He’s got to get out, roll up his sleeves and speak to people in the townships and in their communities, in their local suburbs. That’s where I heard most of what was happening, where we didn’t have TV cameras with us. We had one-on-one conversations and it was confronting and it’s why the Prime Minister needs to do a lot more than what he’s done through his flying visit.
You say that Anthony Albanese needs to do more. Can you recall how many times the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, went out to these communities and rolled up his sleeves, as you say Albanese should do?
Well, how about how many times did Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard or, I mean, how far back do you want to go? Every Prime Minister has had good intent in relation to the Indigenous issues in this country and I don’t detract from that for a moment. I offered to go up with the Prime Minister to the Northern Territory because I thought it was an important message for the community there to hear the bipartisanship in the approach that I was proposing. The Royal Commission is not about politics, it’s about understanding the root causes of what’s happening in the Northern Territory. The Prime Minister hasn’t even responded at all to that letter requesting a Royal Commission. The issues are many, varied, deep-rooted in the community in Alice Springs and they need to be addressed. You see the response from some of the Labor members where they’re talking about for race reasons we’re not responding. These are kids who are being raped in their communities. These are families who are suffering because a woman has been bashed or stabbed. It’s not about race. It’s about providing a humane response, restoring law and order, and providing responses so that people can live a peaceful life in our country. It wouldn’t be tolerated here in my community or in communities or suburbs around the country and why should Australians, just because they live in a different postcode, in the Northern Territory, be treated differently than those who live in this postcode or others right around the country?
It’s arguable that I guess the rhetoric right here, right now sounds a lot like a couple of steps away from, you know, a repeat of the Northern Territory intervention in ’07, which was considered quite traumatic for the community. Is that the end game here? Is that something that you want?
Well Madura, the Prime Minister can respond because he’s got all the resources of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Families, Home Affairs, etc. What needs to happen is that law and order needs to be restored. People need to have faith in the system, and you need to have a situation where kids can go to school. At the moment, you see truancy rates and non-attendance rates, you know, in the 70 or 80 or 90 percent. I mean, that’s not acceptable. So that needs to be addressed, not just the issues around alcohol and gambling, but the issues in relation to housing, the issues in relation to employment. The talk that we had in relation to a boarding school or boarding schools – all of that is incredibly important, but it’s not been part of the Prime Minister’s response and we would support additional expenditure and actions in that regard because that’s part of the solution.
But you can’t have a community, in this suburb here where I live, if there were no-go zones for the police, the local residents wouldn’t tolerate it and they’d be calling the Premier out and saying ‘get it fixed.’ It would be a law and order response until the police could maintain stability and the rule of law and then provide the services that could be rolled out in that local community. So, let’s not, you know, listen to the rhetoric and the brushing off and complicating it beyond what it needs to be. It’s, first of all, the response to the needs of those children and women. That comes above race, it comes above culture or anything else. We can’t say – and let’s call the elephant out in the room here – as many of the Indigenous women raised with me in the Northern Territory, kids aren’t being taken out of those homes at the moment and when they’re taken back, they’re clinging on to the legs of the DOCS workers, the family services workers, not wanting to go back into that environment. That is a situation which is untenable, but they’re not being taken out of that household and put into a safe environment because we live in the shadow of the Stolen Generation.
Now, nobody in this country will repeat the tragedy of that episode of our history. But let’s be serious. Are people proposing that we’re going to leave children in that environment because of cultural reasons over their own safety? That is an absurdity, and if people don’t have the guts to call it out, well, they shouldn’t be in leadership positions or contributing to these debates. Those kids deserve the same upbringing as kids around the country do and none of us would tolerate putting children back into an abusive environment, regardless of their Indigeneity, their non-Indigenous status, if they just became an Australian citizen today, and it’s the most important issue that the Prime Minister needs to deal with.
Thank you very much.