Subjects: Indigenous Voice to Parliament; NSW election; Aston by-election.
The Voice has been introduced, the referendum bill to Parliament this morning, but I draw your attention to the front page of The Australian newspaper and the comments of two constitutional law experts Anne Twomey and George Williams.
Now, in relation to Professor Williams, often referred to as the expert that many go to when they want to know that the Constitution from the University of New South Wales, the professor said, ‘Mr Albanese’s statement on the primacy of Parliament could not stand without qualification.’ ‘They (the Parliament) do have primacy over most things and that’s what clause three does, it’s a strong power, it emphasises the role of Parliament and government has strengthened the role significantly, but there are some things it will not have a remit over, which is actually pretty limited.’ ‘Parliament couldn’t stop there being a Voice and Parliament, can’t stop the Voice being able to make representations to Parliament and the government of the Commonwealth on those matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They’re fixed.’ He says ‘the point of putting things in the Constitution is, it puts them out of reach of Parliament, beyond Parliament.’
The Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is on the line. Good morning Mr Dutton.
Good morning Ray.
A standing ovation when this was put to Parliament by the Attorney-General, but you weren’t there when it happened?
Well, it’s been introduced today. I think there are a lot of questions that are still out there that reasonable Australians have and that they want answered. I don’t understand why when we’ve asked the Prime Minister questions in Question Time this week, he refuses to answer the questions, the Labor members start to scoff when you ask any questions about what the Voice will mean or how it will operate.
I think there are frankly millions of Australians who have a reasonable position. They want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, particularly in places like the Northern Territory, but they want to know what the Voice is about? What will it mean if it goes to the High Court?
It’s obvious now that it applies to all areas of public policy, whereas the Prime Minister at one point was saying, ‘well, it’s only about health and education and law and order’. Well, it clearly goes into defence and budget priorities, it goes into foreign affairs and every other element of government work. So, I think it’s reasonable that the questions are asked, and when the Prime Minister stands up in Parliament, he should be answering the questions.
Just on this, my colleague Ben Fordham took a call from Darren Clarke, who has been most vocal from the Alice in recent times, and said that things in Alice Springs, as recently as the last weekend, are far worse than they ever have been, despite that five hour visit by the Prime Minister earlier this year.
So, if a Voice is required, the Voice is required for the residents, all residents of Alice Springs, no matter what their colour, because the place is a basket case, and I don’t know how a Voice to Parliament’s going to solve the problems of Alice Springs, there are far, far more problems than simply some sort of constitutional change.
Well Ray, as you know, I mean, we went up to Leonora and Laverton in WA. They’ve had real problems with alcohol and violence in those communities as well. So, a similar story to what you’re seeing in Alice Springs and it’s in Katherine and in a number of other communities as well. They’ve been very clear, the Indigenous people within the communities, the elders have said ‘we want a return of the Cashless Debit Card’, and the Prime Minister refuses to do that.
So, they’re expressing their view. They’ve got a strong voice saying that, you know, ‘we just want to lead a normal life. We want support, we want to send their kids to school, but alcohol has taken over our community and it’s resulting in significant violence, and we want law and order restored’. They’re very clear in their voice to the Prime Minister, and the government’s refused that.
This is the most significant change to the Constitution that’s been proposed since the Constitution was first drafted. Let’s be very clear about that. The Prime Minister of the day who’s proposing this change can’t answer the basic questions; for example, why not release the legal advice? The Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General went to speak with the referendum group and they rejected the Solicitor-General’s advice when he said that the form of words proposed was risky and it would end up, ultimately, on the view of many lawyers, in the High Court for many, many years at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Prime Minister won’t release that information. He won’t answer the question why the form of words that he’s adopted is against the advice of the Solicitor-General. The Solicitor-General’s the chief legal adviser to the Prime Minister, to the government, and he’s rejected the Solicitor-General’s advice. It just doesn’t make any sense. If you want people to vote for it, then explain to the people what it is that you’re voting for.
The other proposal that is part of this Ray, now, you shouldn’t forget this, there is a six month consultation period that takes place to design what the Voice is about, but it starts after the vote has taken place. Now, you’re putting the cart before the horse. I mean, do your six months of consultation, work out what the design looks like and then put that before the people and people are smart enough to say, ‘yep, we’ll give that a tick’ or ‘no, we think that’s not going to work’. But doing the six months of consultation after the vote takes place doesn’t make any sense, and I don’t understand why the Prime Minister would adopt such a stance.
Okay. Well, I wouldn’t think Dennis Shanahan’s viewed writing in The Australian as some sort of ‘radical’, but he writes today, ‘Anthony Albanese’s belief that emotion and people’s goodwill towards Indigenous Australians will carry the Voice to Parliament is leading him to serious mistakes and errors of judgement. He’s trying to ignore, downplay or ridicule legitimate concerns over the constitutional powers of the Voice – how it will work and where it can be intervened?’
You see, I don’t know how you feel about it, but if someone just put this in front of me, to propose this; ‘to alter the Constitution, to recognise the First People of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve of this proposed alteration?’ And you look at that and think, ‘yeah well that’d be good, put them in the Constitution – the First Nations people, that’d be good’. But then when you get the changes of the Constitution, section 129, where it says, among other things, ‘the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’. Well, that’s the paragraph that has the constitutional lawyers scratching their head. But it won’t have people answering the referendum, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ scratching their head because it’s not there. It’s not part of the question.
No, and this is the point about releasing the Solicitor-General’s advice. The government’s done that before. It’s been done three times. It’s not a regular practice, but it’s been done three times, including by the Albanese Government only a few months ago. So, there’s ample precedent, and if you’re proposing the biggest change in our history to the foundation document of our country, you should be very frank and upfront and release that advice.
I’ve never seen a Prime Minister less across the detail than this Prime Minister. I just don’t believe that Keating or Hawke or Howard or Abbott or Turnbull or Rudd or Gillard or Morrison wouldn’t have been able to answer these questions. The disdain that the Prime Minister’s showing, it’s either that he just hasn’t got across the detail, or they haven’t worked it out, but you just can’t say to people, ‘well, you know, if you feel good about it, vote for it’. If it ends up in the High Court for years and years, if it slows down the machinery of government, which is slow enough already, if it adds billions of dollars to the cost of doing business, all of that is just passed on to taxpayers, and these are very serious questions.
We live in a stable democracy and we have a whinge about different things in our country from time-to-time, but we live in the best country in the world. We have a very stable system of government, and if you seek to disrupt that, then it needs to be for good reason and it needs to be properly considered, and the Prime Minister just refusing to answer basic questions about how it will operate, will it impact on defence, what happens if the Voice doesn’t agree with the next phase of AUKUS – the Prime Minister himself has said that it would be a very brave government that didn’t take the advice from the Voice – and again, if the local elders have a different view than the Voice, what happens in that circumstance? You know, there are all these basic questions that the PM refuses to answer, and I think it shows a great disrespect to the Australian public.
The National Indigenous Australians Agency will have a budget 22-23 of over $4 billion. 4 ‘B’ for billion dollars. And if I read its charter, it appears to be replicating what this Voice will do if it’s ever formed. I mean, so we keep two of them running in parallel, the National Indigenous Australians Agency and The Voice? And who’s bigger than the other? I mean, if we’ve already got a budget of over $4 billion for one organisation and then we have, you know, all these other organisations at great cost to the community, Indigenous organisations large in number, where does the Voice fit here in comparison with the NIAA?
Well again, I mean we just don’t know Ray? I mean these are again reasonable questions. They’re not sort of radical, disrespectful questions that you’re posing. We’re talking about taxpayers money. I mean the government seems to have lost any regard for the cost of things or the money that they expend. The money that they’re spending in energy at the moment, all of which will be passed on in the form of higher power prices, there’s just no regard for it. I mean they just continue to spend and it’s ultimately what drives up inflation as well.
So, I think they’re proper questions to be answered by the government and I think the Prime Minister’s just, you know, playing a dangerous game here and billions of dollars, as you say, are being spent. And frankly, when you go out into the communities and speak to Aboriginal people out there, they have no idea where the money’s going, because by the time it leaves Canberra and ends up in these communities, it’s a trickle by the time it gets there. So, there are a lot of people clipping the ticket on the way through and ultimately, we want to see better outcomes for those kids and women in particular in those communities and at the moment they’re not getting it.
Look, there’s a stack of things to get to and I want to try and get through as many as we can today because there’s just so much happening. But Jim Chalmers has come out this morning supporting the ACTU and saying, ‘yes, we need the lowest income earners to have a sizeable increase, not as much as you want – seven per cent, to run in concert with inflation’– but at a time when mortgage holders have got some respite in April, we think, from the Reserve Bank, here’s the Treasurer of the country saying ‘no we’re going to increase wages’ and that would put that pause, I would think, early in April in jeopardy, surely to goodness.
Well Ray, the government’s ramped up spending and that fuels inflation and as, you know, every economist around the country has pointed out, you need to get the balance right in relation to increasing wages. Everyone’s in favour of increasing wages, but if you get yourself into a situation where you’re chasing inflation, then it will fuel inflation and inflation goes up. So even with a pay rise, it means that people aren’t getting ahead and inflation continues to go higher and higher and higher. I mean the Labor Party has made this mistake when they’ve been in government before and if they do it again, the workers in net terms will be worse off.
I mean, this government promised that there would be an increase in real wages if they got elected, that hasn’t happened. Real wages have gone backwards and so the ACTU and others will be pushing hard for all of this at the moment. But if their workers end up paying more to mortgage repayments and, you know, talking to cafe owners the other day down in Aston, in Victoria, I mean all of their input costs are going up, their energy bills are going up and, you know, they’re starting to put their own prices up in their cafes. So, you know, and people know it when they go to the checkout and know it when you fill your car up and everything is going up and if the government’s going to make that worse for people, then you get yourself into a very tricky situation. I think they’re not far from that.
One of the lessons that wasn’t learned at the defeat of your government last year rolled over into the defeat of the Dominic Perrottet government this year, and that’s the state executive in New South Wales and the federal executive not giving candidates enough time to be in a position to get into the community and perhaps attract attention of voters. It’s happened again.
I mean, do we need to have a change the way your Party, the Liberal Party, determines candidates for elections and give them some sort of chance of winning an election instead of parachuting people in or putting people in with a few weeks to go, as we did in New South Wales at the last state election?
Of course Ray. I mean, it’s a no brainer. You can’t put a candidate in four weeks before an election and expect people to form an affinity with them or create a connection and for the candidate to be able to create a following. People need to be out there knocking on doors, you know, turning up to functions and meeting people so that people can see what sort of person you are and whether you’re worthy of support.
I’ve made it very clear to the New South Wales division that we will be starting preselections in New South Wales very soon and it’ll be well ahead of the federal election, and I’ve made it very clear to them that I won’t tolerate an outcome that we saw at the last federal election or that we’ve seen in the recent state election, and that I can assure you will not be the case by the time the next federal election.
Well, hopefully that will be not the case for the next state election either, because they gave some people no help and we’ve got people who were, I think, guilty of branch stacking in New South Wales who are remaining unpunished by the Liberal Party. They tolerate that sort of behaviour and that’s one of the reasons among many they were punished last Saturday.
Now, you’ve got an Aston by-election coming up and I note you said to the Liberal Party in Victoria, can you start thinking about things other than yourselves? The inward gazing over the Deeming affair and other matters and the Opposition Leader came out of that with egg on his face, didn’t get the support of the Party he required just three or four days before this Moira Deeming incident and she’s now suspended, I think, for nine months and then she’s back into the Party. But I mean, it takes the attention away from a very important by-election that you’d be desperate to win.
Well, it’s frustrating because we’ve got a great candidate in Roshena Campbell. I think she’d be a fantastic local member for the people of Aston. She’s a very strong person. She’s a barrister, she’s been a councillor, she’s a mother of three and I think the opportunity here for people in Aston is to elect a good representative. They know they’re not going to change the government in a by-election and I think it’s an opportunity to send the government a message. The first act of the Albanese Government with their budget last year was to cut funding for road projects; Wellington, Napoleon Road duplications, Dorset Road. They cut that funding straight away.
So, we should be talking about those issues, not other issues and I think Roshena has done a great job on the ground and I’m confident that she can win but, you know, by-elections are always close and the government is still in its honeymoon and some of the propaganda and nonsense and lies that Labor’s been telling down there, it’s, outrageous, but that’s what they do and they win elections out of it.
But there a lot of Victorians who are hurting because of energy prices at the moment and under the Albanese Government they’re paying about $19,000 extra this year on their mortgages. So, there’s a good reason to send a message to Labor and that’s been part of our campaign and our message in Aston.
Okay, we’ll talk soon. Thanks for your time.
Thank you mate. Take care.