Subjects: The Prime Minister’s divisive Canberra Voice proposal; PWC.
The debate about the Referendum on the Voice became bitter and personal in Parliament yesterday with the Liberal Leader Peter Dutton calling on the Prime Minister to drop the ballot this year, saying it’s on track to fail, which would harm reconciliation.
In response, Mr Albanese’s accused Mr Dutton of lacking empathy, being not worthy of the alternate Prime Minister and for giving ‘a statement without a heart’. The federal Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton, joined me earlier.
Peter Dutton, the criticism of lacking empathy and heart, does that sting? Or you just shrug it off?
Good morning Sabra. Look, I think we just need an adult debate and I think the Prime Minister is under pressure on the Voice and I think the personal attacks just don’t have a place in this debate.
We all want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, and I think, like in many debates, when people start to lose on the substantive issue, they go personal and I don’t think it lacks any substance. I think it was an off the cuff remark by the Prime Minister. I suspect he regrets it, and it doesn’t advance the debate, and, frankly, I think there are millions of Australians who are just wanting to know the details so that they can make an informed judgement when they’re asked to vote in October.
Many Australians though would be very curious; you voted earlier this week to pass the Bill enabling this Referendum, yet now you’re saying the PM should drop it. If you feel that way about it, why did the Coalition pass this Bill to enable the vote?
Well, the government went to an election with an election promise that they would go to a Referendum, they promised that they would explain it to the Australian people, and we’re not stepping in the way of a democratic process, or a commitment given by the government.
We’re not seeking to disrupt what’s a very important question for our nation. It’s the most significant proposal – in terms of inserting a new chapter into our Constitution – that we’ve seen in 120 years, so it’s worthy of a very significant debate.
I believe very strongly that the Prime Minister’s strategy of withholding the information of the design of the Voice, not starting until after the vote takes place, I think it’s put the debate in a very precarious position, and all of the pollsters at the moment, and credible commentators, believe that it’s either going to fail in October, or best case scenario for the yes case, is that it gets up 51-49, and in that scenario our nation’s split down the middle. I think there’s an opportunity to unite our country here, instead of divide, and that is that we should proceed with constitutional recognition.
I think the vast majority of Australians would support that. We would get our ’67 moment, where we would have 80 or 90 per cent support, that would be a nationally unifying moment; but the Prime Minister’s handling of this debate, and just the refusal to answer basic questions, I think has made people suspicious, dubious, they haven’t had their hesitation answered, and yet, every Australian I think wants a better outcome, more practical outcomes for Indigenous Australians. I think we can do that through a legislated Voice, demonstrate how it works and then subsequently you can go to a Referendum.
But at the moment the country is not ready to vote for the Voice as the government is proposing, and if it goes down – as the Prime Minister points out – I do think it sets back reconciliation and that’s something that he’s acknowledged himself.
But it’s just a couple of points on that. Tom Calma, who wrote the report with Marcia Langton about the Voice, has told The Guardian; ‘we briefed the Opposition Leader and Members of Parliament, we’ve talked with them about the report, Professor Langton and I, under the previous government, about how it’s going to be structured, and yet they still mislead the population and I think it’s very deliberate’ – they’re his words. How do you respond to that?
Well, I have the greatest respect for Tom and many Indigenous leaders, but I think in terms of the law, and the way that our Constitution operates, it’s very clear, and the constitutional experts, at the very best you could say, are divided in relation to the question of what it actually means.
Tom has been involved in a process, he’s done a lot of good for Indigenous reconciliation and advancement in our country, but I think you need to listen to the lawyers in relation to the questions that are arising at the moment.
The government’s saying that because of a second reading speech by the Attorney-General, that somehow that will limit the scope of the words in the Constitution…well that is a legal fiction. So I think we need to deal with the facts and I think also that the reasonable questions that are being asked, just aren’t being answered.
Why do you think then Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer says that she agrees with Minister Linda Burney on this, that she’s not interested in culture wars and negativity and she wants to walk forward positively with purpose to change the lives of Indigenous Australians? She’s on your own side and she’s saying that.
But everybody’s got that in their own heart and mind, Sabra. Nobody’s denying that. It’s a question of the scope of what the words provide in the Constitution. This is why millions of Australians, who might be inclined to say yes because they want to see a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, can see the emotion of it, but also see the reality of the way that it proposes to change our system of government.
The Prime Minister hasn’t been able to answer those questions, which is I think why he resorts to personal attacks, and the scope within the wording that they’ve put forward, which is recommended by the Referendum Working Group – not by the lawyers – opens the Parliament up to a very different system of operating.
I don’t think it’s going to deliver the practical outcomes on the ground as we would want in places – particularly remote parts of Australia like Alice Springs, or Tennant Creek, or Katherine – and that’s where the greatest disparity is, that’s where we need to have the most effort.
Both sides of Parliament frankly have poured literally billions and billions of dollars into this issue over many years, many governments. We’ve worked with Indigenous leaders of good faith over many years – including some of those that you’ve cited, including Tom – and we haven’t got the outcomes that we want, but the proposal at the moment of the Voice goes beyond, I believe, where the Australian public is, and I think it’s incumbent upon the Prime Minister, in that situation, to find the unifying moment.
The unifying moment is constitutional recognition, with which we can all agree, and we can talk about the Voice in legislation, combined together, to draft that in a sensible way and provide the practical outcomes that we want, but at the moment there’s a great risk that they’re proposing in the words that people will vote on in October.
The Speaker asked everyone yesterday in Parliament to reflect on their own behaviour to make it a safe and respectful place. Is that something you’re going to do?
Well of course, and don’t forget this was the Prime Minister’s approach at the start of the Parliament that he wanted a new kinder, gentler Parliament. He said it all through the last election and yet, you saw yesterday from the Prime Minister himself, an unfounded personal attack. The PM has a bit of a glass jaw, and when he’s under pressure he strikes out like that, and I think it’s regrettable, I think it doesn’t advance the conversation in a respectful way.
The questions we’ve asked of Linda Burney this week, and the questions that I wrote to the Prime Minister on six months ago – that still haven’t been answered – have all been put and proposed in a very respectful way. I just want the information so that Australians can be informed as to whether they’re going to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ come the October Referendum.
To PWC; the interim Senate report was damning, the Treasurer says he’s ‘filthy’, the company undermined the Coalition’s policy on tax. What do you think should happen to the company?
Well obviously there is a very serious situation that continues to unfold, and maybe we’re not to the bottom of it yet, but I think where people have breached a contract, they’ve breached trust, there’s a penalty and a price that should be paid. I don’t know whether that’s…
Should the company be cut…
…sort of separation, or whether there’s a solution that the government can provide to it, but there’s a significant sanction that’s required, and no doubt the government will be looking at that right now.
Do you think it should be cut from all government work? It happened on your watch, the Coalition…
…I don’t believe they should be cut from all government work, nor do I believe that KPMG, or EY, or other companies that are involved in provision of work to the Commonwealth should be cut.
I think the company’s taken very significant action in sacking a number of staff who were involved in a very egregious act, but to close down contracts that are essential to services being delivered by the Commonwealth would be very disruptive, and you’d want to think very carefully about how you would impose such a regime.
Peter Dutton, thanks for joining AM.
Pleasure. Thanks Sabra.