Subjects: State of Origin; the Prime Minister’s Canberra Voice proposal; Australian Defence Force medals.
Every Thursday on the program, I’m joined by the Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Today’s no different. He’s on the line this time from Canberra. Mr Dutton, good morning to you.
Good morning Ray.
You’re still cock-a-hoop like all Queenslanders after that emphatic victory last night by the Maroons?
I’m just glad you were gracious enough to bring it up, thank you Ray. It was a very good game, especially right toward the end. You must be replaying it over and over.
Well, I will play some highlights later because I was actually – I’m still in Adelaide at the moment, having called it – but look, just on that before we get to politics, they keep doing it, the Queenslanders, and they keep out playing, out thinking and out selecting New South Wales and they did it again last night. And more power to Billy Slater and the team and the young fullback and all the other players that did what they had to do. To be down to 12 men, with 12 to go and come from behind and win in the manner they did was quite herculean, just fantastic. And I think Paul Vautin’s quoted this morning as saying it’s – even allowing for what he did when he was coaching during the Super League ARL battle – it’s the biggest win that he can imagine given the circumstances that they confronted in that last 10 or 12 minutes. Yeah, remarkable.
Anyway, we move to other things. The Voice legislation. We’ve got a parliamentary hurdle that’s been surpassed – House of Reps 121 to 25. Given the way the Roy Morgan poll’s suggesting things might go – and your state looks like they’re going to vote ‘no’, and then if another state votes ‘no’, it falls over anyway, regardless of what happens nationally – do you think there’s any way the Prime Minister may reconsider? It doesn’t look like it at the moment, but you know, a week’s a long time in politics and it’s a long time in referenda. Do you think there’s any way that he might just find some compromise to get it through?
Well Ray, I hope that’s the case, but there’s no sign of it yet. I think it’s important to point out that both parties support constitutional recognition…
I think honestly, that’s the logical next step. The ’67 Referendum was a unifying moment for the country. It was supported by both parties, and he could do that tomorrow with the constitutional recognition, but the Voice hasn’t been explained, people don’t understand it. I don’t even know that the government knows how it will work, just that it sounds like a nice thing to do and you can’t change the nation’s rulebook just based on a vibe or a whim.
Increasingly, and certainly in a lot of the polling and research I’ve seen, there’s a rising level of anger amongst Australians who just want to know the detail and the facts so that they can make up their own mind. But clearly, the Prime Minister has made a decision that it’s in his best interest not to release that detail.
You see, I’m just looking at a document that’s come from the federal government and it’s about Indigenous affairs and the cost, and if people were looking at this from, you know, far afield, they’d be thinking, ‘oh geez, they mustn’t do much for those Indigenous people in Australia, and you know, they invaded the place in 1788 and they’ve done nothing to try and help these people since’. But when I go through the figures and what I have in front of me, we’re not improving the lot of Indigenous people and we have to, particularly in regional areas, it’s just not happening.
Now, I’ll give you some figures that I’ve got here from a graph in front of me on how much has been spent and how much the budget estimates, forward estimates, suggest will be spent into the future. It’s astronomical. It’s billions and billions of dollars. We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. And to what end? You know, even though the NIAA, the most number of people employed in the NIAA, the National Indigenous Australians Agency, are people, in fact, in Canberra.
If you take into account the $300 million allocated for Indigenous housing and the $177 million – this comes from a government document – underspent in 21-22. The October 22-23 budget provides $1.1 billion more than March 22-23 for Indigenous Australian related matters, averaging $4.2 billion per year over the forward estimates.
Now, I still can’t get anyone to explain to me, just say if it gets up – the yes vote – what happens to the NIAA? And its budget? And the hundreds of people it employs which replicates, I would imagine, what the Voice intends to do in the future? It just doesn’t make sense. The Prime Minister should say, ‘yeah look, if it gets up, we’re going to review the NIAA and replace it with the Voice’ or, you know, ‘the NIAA becomes the Voice’ in terms of its budget, or do we just keep throwing billions of dollars, while people in regional parts of Australia – Indigenous Australians, women are raped, women are bashed, children are raped. It doesn’t solve the problem – throwing money at it, and never has. It never has.
Ray, I think the government’s been very clear that the Voice will be another bureaucracy on top of the ones that are already there, and I think you’re right to ask the questions about where the money’s being spent, because when you go into the communities, you’re walking around in communities where, in Alice Springs for example, in the town camps, people are living in dreadful circumstances, in squalor, and somebody is making money somewhere, but it’s not getting into the areas where it needs to – the schools, some schools are doing very well in some Indigenous communities, others are just not. The kids aren’t attending schools at the rates we would want them to.
The Canberra Voice, ultimately, is a bureaucracy and it’s going to be literally thousands of additional public servants at the cost of billions of dollars to provide the advice and information on every area of government policy. The fact is, as the Referendum Working Group has pointed out, this has a very wide-ranging remit and the Voice won’t be silenced, as the Indigenous leaders are saying at the moment.
So that means they’ll have to be consulted on defence policy and all the other issues, which will come at a huge cost to provide that expert advice in the bureaucracy that will need to be created, and it’ll be very expensive.
I think Dennis Shanahan wrote a very good article yesterday after the speech by the Prime Minister in Adelaide the day before about how the modesty, or the modest approach to the Voice has now changed the narrative. All of a sudden it’s ‘not so modest’, you know, ‘it’s not going to make a big difference’, all of a sudden, ‘we have to make a really big difference’. And he’s picked out a number of articles where the Prime Minister previously has, you know, tried to quell, you know, upset and anger about the Voice by saying, ‘well, it’s only modest. You got to understand not much is happening here’. Then all of a sudden, at the O’Donoghue lecture, he started to change the narrative that it’s ‘not going to be so modest’ that, you know, we’ve got to accept the fact that things will have to happen.
So, I don’t know whether he’s starting to worry that because the Roy Morgan poll is showing a swing against the ‘yes’ vote and all of a sudden he’s thinking, well, ‘I’ve got to try and garner support from those – even from the other side of the debate who don’t think it goes far enough –by actually empowering them to think it will go as far as they want it to go’.
Well, I think that’s right Ray. I think one of the problems the Prime Minister’s got is that he says one thing to one group and then something different to the next audience he’s speaking to. He wants to be popular with everybody and, as a leader, you end up getting yourself in strife if you do that.
To your point, I’ll just read you this quote, which is from one of the members of the government’s Referendum Working Group. This is the working group that the Prime Minister’s appointed to work out the Voice. This is a direct quote:
‘The Voice will be able to speak to all parts of government, including Ministers, public servants and independent statutory officers and agencies, such as the Reserve Bank. It [as in the Parliament] won’t be able to shut the Voice up.’
It’s deliberately designed to be wide-ranging, and I don’t believe that the High Court will find that there are areas of public policy that don’t apply to Indigenous Australians. You can’t say that defence policy doesn’t apply to Indigenous Australians in the same way that it does to people of non-Indigenous heritage, and therefore the body – the Voice – will have the ability to make representations to the Reserve Bank Governor or to the Defence Force, to the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It’s a very different proposal than a recognition in the Constitution.
You know that they’re playing games when you listen to the ads at the moment. It doesn’t mention the Voice. All it says is that this is recognition for Indigenous Australians. It’s not. It goes beyond that. There are two elements to what the government is proposing and the problematic one is the Voice, and it comes at a time, frankly, when a lot of people are hurting significantly, and increasingly, with cost-of-living pressures, and you’ve got a government that’s, I think, obsessing over this issue, and then you’ve got treaty and then you’ve got truth-telling, and there’s a lot of money. I mean, as we know, literally billions of dollars potentially involved in settling some of those claims. So, I just don’t know where it all stops.
Now, when you were Defence Minister, you reversed the decision of Angus Campbell to strip citations from soldiers. Richard Marles has been very quiet on this issue. Now, at Senate Estimates, he’s been cross-examined, the Defence Force Chief, by a number of people headed by Jacqui Lambie, who was pretty strong. But I thought Malcolm Roberts was very eloquent, as was the Greens Member, David Shoebridge.
David Shoebridge, you know, cited the conflict of interest about the awards given to Angus Campbell while he was in Dubai and while the other people were in Afghanistan and said, ‘don’t you see it as a conflict that you know, you should get this and you want to strip it off’, and then he fell back, Angus Campbell, ‘well, I don’t make the award. I don’t give it to myself. It comes from other people and it’s the relevant Minister that must determine whether I should get it or shouldn’t get in all the rest of it’.
But do you think Richard Marles will be strong enough to stand up or he’ll be as weak as water and just sit in the background and let Angus Campbell do what he wants to do?
Well, so far, he’s been as weak as water and I think veterans across the country are really shaking their head in disbelief at the moment. The facts haven’t changed since I was Defence Minister and, frankly, Richard Marles needs to step-up and do the job that he’s paid good money to do.
I formed a judgement that the Chief of Defence Force shouldn’t go down that path and that’s still my view now. Richard Marles lifted the instruction that I gave, and now it’s allowed the Chief of Defence Force to head back down this path and I don’t think it’s helpful.
I think it’s very difficult in a circumstance to hold…I think it’s difficult to maintain an argument that if somebody is alleged to have committed an offence in Afghanistan, that somebody of a higher rank who wasn’t there, didn’t know about the incident, that they should lose their medal because of the chain of command. The argument is that they should have known what was happening. I don’t know why that doesn’t extend up to very, very high ranks.
What’s the logic for it? If you’re going to strip a medal from somebody who is not alleged to have committed an offence, the allegation against an individual might be that they were a Captain, or they were a Colonel, or a General, and they should have known about this particular circumstance and didn’t, but I don’t know how that doesn’t extend up to the Chief of Army or the Chief of Defence Force? And these are questions that Richard Marles should answer.
Are you a fan of Blackadder with Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson?
I tried to get my kids to watch a bit on YouTube the other night, and that’s too an old story for them, but yes I am, is the short story.
Oh, well that’s good, because you may recollect that when we got to the World War I version of Blackadder, the General, Stephen Fry, was talking to Rowan and he was joined by Captain Darling. And this is what he had to say:
‘Boy, if you should falter, remember that Captain Darling and I are behind you.
‘About 35 miles behind.’
Yeah. So that’s what he said. He said that:
‘Don’t worry my boy, if you should falter, remember that Captain Darling and I are behind you.’
‘About 35 miles behind.’
Dubai, Afghanistan, I checked yesterday, is about 1,700 kms – so it’s a bit further than 35 miles – far removed from what was happening in Afghanistan, but anyway, we move on.
Just in relation to other matters at the moment; the RBA Governor Philip Lowe has come up with a unique idea – stay at home with mum and dad, not enough houses being built at the moment.
But we’ve got all these problems with PwC, Price Waterhouse Coopers, we’ve got problems with again the figures yesterday which would indicate that the Reserve Bank will bump up the interest rates again next Tuesday.
Are we in a position at all to say at any stage that perhaps the government can intervene here and try and save people from increasing energy costs, increasing of course mortgage rates and the like?
Well Ray, the difficulty with blaming, you know, I hear people sort of blaming Philip Lowe, but Philip Lowe is responding to the government’s policies; and the fact is that the government has now had two budgets – they keep wanting to blame the Coalition when we were in government, all the rest of the nonsense they carry on with – but they’ve now had two budgets.
They went to the election saying they had a plan to help people with cost of living pressures. They knew that inflation was becoming an issue. They knew about Ukraine – Russia had already gone into Ukraine by the time Anthony Albanese was elected Prime Minister – and they’ve had two budgets, they haven’t done anything to help people. They haven’t changed their energy policy. You’ve still got Chris Bowen out there, you know, running around like he’s got his head cut off and screaming, you know, ‘Chicken Little’ that the sky’s falling in and that your electricity prices and your gas prices have to go up and up and up.
I mean talking now about prices going up 25 per cent again in July, and Chris Bowen says, ‘oh, well you should be grateful it’s not 27 per cent’. It’s a nonsense. We were out the other day in Yarra Valley talking to some of the food manufacturers out there – their bill’s gone up $200,000 since Labor came into power.
So, they’ve had the chance to put in place the policies to reduce the inflation pressures that are in the economy at the moment. That would make it easier for the Reserve Bank not to lift interest rates again or in fact to bring them down, but the budget again was inflationary and that’s the reality of the decisions they’ve made.
When you look at the supply chain as we were doing the other day, it’s not just the manufacturer of the strawberry jam – the place we went to – but it starts with a strawberry grower and it starts with the guy who’s providing the fertiliser, the energy that’s used in that, his prices have gone up so the price of fertiliser goes up. The transport company faced a new tax by Labor in the budget, so the truck driver’s passing that cost on. The bottles that the jam was going into have gone up by 20 cents a bottle because to make the glass bottles is very energy-intensive.
So, all of a sudden you’re paying more and more when you go to the checkout in the supermarket and Labor don’t seem to be able to understand that, and I just think families and small businesses at the moment are suffering a lot more than what they have to.
Well said and we’ll talk to you again next Thursday. Thanks for your time, as always.
Thanks Ray, see you mate.