Subjects: Visit to Adelaide small-business; Labor’s cost of living crisis; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal; the barbaric attacks on Israel; the ABC.
Well, it’s my great pleasure to be here in my electorate of Sturt this morning with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton – the sixth time that he’s been here with me in my electorate since he’s been the Leader since the last election – and of course my colleague, Senator Kerrynne Liddle, Senator for South Australia and Shadow Minister for Child Protection.
This morning we’ve been visiting this iconic local business in my electorate, Euro Appliances, having a tour and talking to them about what they’re doing to create jobs and grow our economy. It’s been a very rewarding experience to hear from that business, to hear about the opportunities, but also the challenges that they face.
I really appreciate Peter Dutton prioritising my electorate this morning and a great iconic local business, and talking with them about things that really matter to them in doing business in South Australia, and of course their workforce and the broader benefits to the South Australian economy.
So Peter, thank you so much for being here in my electorate again. It’s always a great pleasure to have you here in Sturt, and I’d now like to invite my colleague Senator Liddle to make a few opening remarks.
Well, it’s terrific to be here and particularly this is a great migrant story of Australia, and that’s one of the arguments that I have about this Voice to Parliament. It is that the Australian Constitution belongs to all Australians equally, regardless of whether you came here or you can trace your ancestry 70,000 years ago, or seven years ago, or 70 years ago. The Australian Constitution must remain every Australian’s foundation document. Thank you.
Kerrynne, thank you very much. Thanks James, as well. Great to be back here in South Australia.
I want to say firstly, thank you very much to the business, to Euro, here this morning. They’re an incredible migrant story from humble beginnings and starting out with nothing like many small businesses and growing now to a national business – soon to have a presence overseas as well. Employing about 60 Australians and being a really significant part of the economy here in South Australia. So, to Mario and to all of the staff here this morning, thank you very much for having us. But most importantly, thank you for what you do in employing those staff and being such a big contributor to the economy.
We should celebrate small business more in this country. As we know at the moment, like many families, small businesses are really struggling with the cost of living pressures. We know this is a Prime Minister who doesn’t get across the details, he has the wrong priorities and when he makes a decision, he ends up making the wrong decision.
The decisions out of the last two budgets have resulted in upward pressure on inflation and therefore higher interest rates. When you are paying your mortgages, they are much higher under Labor than they were under the Liberal Coalition. When you’re paying your insurance bills, they’re much higher under Prime Minister Albanese than they were when the Liberal Party was in government. Obviously petrol prices are higher and when you go to the supermarket you’re getting less for your dollar at the checkout.
So life is tough for a lot of Australian families and the Prime Minister has prioritised other issues above those Australian families and above those small businesses since he was elected Prime Minister in May of 2022.
It’s obvious now to all Australians that the Voice, at a cost of $400 million, has divided our country. The Prime Minister has been warned on a continuous basis over the course of the last 16 months, not to go ahead with this divisive debate, but it seems that he knew best, he wouldn’t listen to the advice, and we’ve got a situation now where I think Australians in their millions are increasingly wanting to vote ‘no’ for the Voice.
As Kerrynne rightly points out, people of Indigenous heritage and the wonderful culture that we have because of our Indigenous heritage in this country is complimented by the fact that we had migration here over the course of the last 200 years.
The migrant stories today of people who have come here, who have set up businesses, who have contributed to our society: we are all equal Australians and the Constitution is our nation’s foundation and rulebook, and it shouldn’t be changed lightly.
The Prime Minister has made a deliberate decision not to give the detail of how the Voice will operate to the Australian public. There’s been no constitutional convention, there’s been no proper explanation around the impact and the import of a broad range of words going into the Constitution in the form of a new chapter. So that gives level pegging with the High Court, but you can only get into the Voice if you’re of a particular ancestry.
I think there are just too many questions that Australians have unanswered. The Prime Minister starts the design of the Voice ironically next Monday after the vote has taken place. So Australians are being asked to vote for a model that won’t be designed until after they’ve cast their ballot. It just doesn’t make any sense, and I think that’s why at the moment there are all sorts of rumblings within the Labor Party about the Prime Minister’s leadership and the fact that he has turned 65 per cent support for the Voice when it was first announced, into something more akin to 35 per cent, that is a remarkable achievement over the course of the last 16 months. But sadly and tragically it’s divided our country. If it goes into the Constitution, if there is a successful vote on Saturday, it’s permanent, it stays in there, it will be divisive and it won’t be able to be overturned by legislation in the Parliament. I think it’s a very important point to make.
I just want to make a couple of comments in relation to the terrible scenes that we’ve seen in Sydney overnight. There’s no excuse for this sort of behaviour and conduct. If there was a terrorist attack in our country today, a couple of hundred people were taken hostage, hundreds of people were shot dead after a music festival; as Australians, we wouldn’t want to see protesters gathering in New Zealand or in another part of the world cheering and chanting that that was a great thing.
We are one country and we have a particular affinity with those Australians of Jewish heritage. These are people who can trace many stories back to the Holocaust, back to human tragedy otherwise, and as the human stories now start to emerge of young families, young girls – we’ve seen the images in the newspaper of that family with three young girls slaughtered, butchered – this is not a border conflict, this was an act of terrorism and treachery, and it should be properly condemned by every decent human being.
I think some of the behaviour that we saw at the Opera House last night does not belong in our country. People can protest peacefully – that is a right – people can express their view, even if we disagree with it in our country, but some of the conduct last night was appalling and frankly there should have been a lot more done to deter that gathering from taking place in the first instance.
I also think the New South Wales Police and the Premier of New South Wales have answers to provide today, to questions as to why a man carrying an Israeli flag was dragged from or removed from the vicinity of the Opera House and ordered to go home. People can protest peacefully in this country and the police are charged with keeping the peace and order. I think this is a very significant issue for the New South Wales Government to answer, and I look forward to hearing Premier Minns explain exactly what happened.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, you were just critical of the fact that if the Referendum gets up, the Prime Minister will start designing the model on Monday. You’ll also have a seat at that table. Are you saying that you, as a Coalition leader or the Coalition in general, is not going to want to take part in designing the Voice, and perhaps dealing with some of the concerns you have around the model?
Well Clare, we accept the outcome of the Australian people. We live in a democracy and we’ll respect the outcome of the vote. But note this important point; this bipartisan, sort of kumbaya moment that the Prime Minister speaks of, that some within the media are captured by, is actually skewed in the government’s favour. It’s a committee where the government has the numbers. So we can express a view in the committee – if this committee is to take place – but nothing we say has the chance of getting up – and that’s exactly a repeat of the process in relation to the legislation that facilitated the Referendum question being put to the Australian people. Keith Wolahan and our other colleagues were on that committee, but not one, not one recommendation from the Liberal Party was picked up by the Prime Minister.
So, I think you should be asking the Prime Minister the question today: ‘if that committee is to be formed as a result of the Yes vote being successful’ – if that’s what happens on Saturday – ‘will there be equal numbers on the committee?’. Not this stacked arrangement, and not a stacked arrangement which includes the Labor Party and the Green Teals and the Greens. They all vote as a block. So, if there’s to be some balance to the committee, then let’s hear the Prime Minister say it, but he’s dodged that question and hasn’t answered it. So I look forward very much to his response.
Just back on the Middle East, have you heard of any information about Australians that are unaccounted for in Israel? And obviously the travel advice is changing – is the government doing enough to get Australians home?
Well look, I had a briefing this morning from our national security agencies in relation to the events in Israel. There are some issues that I won’t comment on in relation to some of these matters, and that’s on advice from the agencies, that there are matters obviously that they’re working on.
I will say this though, I find it remarkable that the Prime Minister hasn’t held a national security meeting yet. I mean, the threat to people of Jewish faith in our country is very real. There are stories coming out of Jewish communities where they’re telling their kids not to wear their school uniforms in public. Now, imagine if we had to go home until our kids that, that because you could be associated with the local Catholic church, or school, or because you’ve got a Lutheran school uniform on, or because you’ve got the state school uniform on, whatever it might be, that’s the environment in which our Jewish communities are living in our country at the moment.
Now, I find it quite remarkable that the Prime Minister hasn’t held a formal meeting of the National Security Committee to discuss these very important matters, to discuss the domestic threat level, to look at ways in which they can de-escalate some of the scenes that we saw or prevent those gatherings from taking place in the first instance. The Prime Minister hasn’t spoken to any of the community leaders he met with at the Lakemba Mosque in relation to the Voice – only a matter of days ago.
The Prime Minister should be giving assurances to the Jewish community that everything possible is being done to protect those places of worship, for synagogues, to protect the schools and the other places where people of Jewish faith might gather. I think this is a really serious concern.
Having sat on the National Security Committee under different Prime Ministers over a long period of time, I find it quite astounding, and probably without precedent that after an incident like this, the National Security Committee wouldn’t have met to talk about our own equities within the region, to talk about the threats as they might manifest here. What happens if, as Hamas is threatening at the moment, there are beheadings, or some of the hostages are killed? What ramification will that have here? The Prime Minister needs to stand up and lead this country. It’s clear to a lot of Australians he just doesn’t get across the detail, and when he does make a decision, he makes the wrong one.
Adelaide landmarks lit up for Israel overnight. Was this appropriate? And do we appear to be taking sides?
I think it’s absolutely appropriate and I applaud the decision makers for doing that because as we’ve seen in Germany, as we’ve seen the Eiffel Tower overnight, people are gathering in their thousands to pay respect to those who are lost. Anybody who seeks to try and compare Israel to Hamas here, and somehow there’s a moral equivalence: it’s completely wrong thinking.
What we’re seeing here, as I said earlier, is not a rudimentary incursion across a border by an individual and a matter that’s dealt with – this is a terrorist attack. These people were driven into the desert and they were slaughtered – over 260 people who had been to a music festival. Can you imagine what would have happened in the aftermath of 9/11 if there had have been demonstrations in the United States, or Europe or elsewhere, where ISIL sympathisers, or friends, or gatherers around the cause of Saddam Hussein, or twisted ideologies otherwise had have been cheering for the deaths and celebrating the deaths of American citizens and other nationals who were killed in in the Twin Towers attack? It’s just it’s unimaginable.
This is a terrorist attack where somewhere in excess of 150 people have been taken hostage, remain hostage right now, have either been killed, are being brutalised or raped, and somehow people are equating that to other actions. I mean, I find it quite astounding, and I think it is absolutely appropriate that as many national monuments and points of national significance in this country, stand up and are part of the message to our Jewish community here that we sympathise with the loss, and the pain and the horror that you’re again living through.
I have some questions around the Voice. So the Electoral Commissioner has raised concerns about his staff having to deal with hostile behaviour from members of the public at pre-poll booths. He says the behaviour is the worst he’s seen. What do you make of his comments?
Well, I just say to anybody – whether you’re on the ‘no’ or the ‘yes’ case – and as I’ve said repeatedly, this should be a respectful debate.
I have respect for people who are going to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I strongly advocate that people vote ‘no’ because I happen to believe that we live in the best country in the world, and one of the big reasons for that is our founding document, our nation’s rulebook, the Constitution, and it shouldn’t be changed lightly because you could change our whole system of government very easily with this new chapter in the Constitution.
So, people should conduct a debate respectfully, and there’s just no place for abuse of electoral officials, many of whom are part time workers; they’re teachers or people who are performing other jobs, there’s just no place for that sort of abuse. I would encourage people on every side to make sure that they’re respectful to others. Of course, it’s not without precedent that we see members of the CFMEU and the union movement otherwise exerting pressure and abusing elderly women as I saw at the last election, that sadly is a dynamic at polling booths and it just shouldn’t be.
Mr Dutton, you say you believe we live in the best country in the world, but the statistics in Indigenous communities would say that while that might be the case for the majority of Australians, it’s not for many of them. Why are you so confident that this proposal that many of them have asked for is not going to ensure that they get access to the best country in the world?
Well Clare, why don’t I ask Kerrynne to answer this question, but I’ll just make this quick point: we don’t want a new bureaucracy in Canberra, we want the detail before we vote for something. Instinctively, all Australians want to help Indigenous Australians, but we don’t want another Canberra based bureaucracy. We don’t want another layer of red tape that’s going to make it harder to help people in those communities, and it’s an unproven, untested model and those of us old enough to remember ATSIC know that we don’t want a repeat of that model. We want to see practical outcomes.
Now, over the course of the last 16 months, the government’s taken money away from Indigenous schools and the rest of it. I think there’s also an important point to make that in many Indigenous communities, East Arnhem Land for example, they’ve got a 90 per cent attendance rate at school, they’ve got a logging company, they’ve got a building company, they’ve got housing, they’ve got a functioning society, and in that instance it’s because of the leadership demonstrated by Yunupingu and others around him over the course of a long period, and that’s what we want to see replicated elsewhere.
We don’t want to see money diverted away from people who are most in need, particularly children in Indigenous communities, and I think there are many other reasons why this is not going to be the panacea for Indigenous Australians. I think instinctively that’s where millions of Australians, the majority of Australians, including now four out of 10 Labor voters who are voting against the Voice have landed. Kerrynne?
I think here we are, a couple of days from the Referendum, and yet last night I was watching television and saw the Minister for Indigenous Australians and a member of the Referendum Working Group talk about what they thought was the detail, and I became even more confused because they talked about the Calma-Langton Report, but then the Referendum Working Group member said, ‘well, it might not be 24, the Prime Minister has not come out and said that is the model we are working to’.
So, Australians are rightly and are right to be confused about this. They are right to be cautious about the change to their Constitution on the basis of changing the lives of Indigenous Australians – that’s a pretty bold claim.
What I’m hearing from Indigenous Australians that are doing it the toughest, is they don’t believe that another committee bound up by the Constitution, caught up in Canberra, with a bunch of finger pointers is the answer. The issue is actually the monies that’s going from the commonwealth to the states and the states also having responsibility as well as those organisations, whether they be Indigenous organisations or organisations that receive Indigenous specific funding, that’s where the problem lies and that’s where our priorities should be.
Do you think that that would be where the priority of a Voice might be though? To be able to give some information and oversight as to what those issues are to Canberra?
We don’t need any more information, the evidence is all there. What we actually need is action. Myself and Senator Thorpe and Senator Price put up in this Parliament a number of proposals to actually look at a review of some of those organisations and it was knocked back by the Labor Party, it was not backed by the Greens and it was not backed by Senator Pocock.
It’s not appropriate when headlines in newspapers are screaming that there are problems in these organisations and they won’t even support a simple review of these organisations. That’s where the rubber hits the road because the most vulnerable of Indigenous Australians are directly affected; and do you know what? They actually don’t complain and that’s the problem here. So we need to actually hear their voices.
The problem with the Prime Minister and the Minister, they only want to hear the voices they want to hear. They don’t want to hear the voices of the people that actually rely on these services and need those services to do better.
Just a question for Mr Dutton, if possible. More polling suggests that a heavy ‘no’ vote is likely at the Referendum. Do you think it’s inevitable now? And then just further to that, I might ask, obviously James Stevens was on the ABC recently, he was booed for some of his comments at the time. At this point in time, is it almost a matter of just not putting your foot in it, so to speak?
Well, I think the only poll that counts is on Election Day, as they say, and we need people to turn out and to make sure that they vote. No sense just being angry with the Prime Minister at home and realising that he’s made a decision to divide the country and put forward a proposal in the Voice that’s just not going to work, and then not turning up to vote. So, I’d just encourage people, if you’re going to vote ‘no’, then please go out and vote ‘no’, because we need to make sure that this most significant change in our country’s history to the Constitution doesn’t proceed. I think that’s really important, and I think there will be a lot of volunteers who are out there having conversations with people right now that will, I think, reinforce their judgement that they’ve finally arrived at.
As I’ve said before too, when you start out with 65 per cent of support, it’s because, you know, in people’s hearts they want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, but the problem is the Prime Minister hasn’t won their minds. Australians aren’t stupid and the Prime Minister’s treating them as such because he just thinks this thing gets through on vibe.
Australians aren’t silly, they understand that only eight out of 44 referenda questions have been successful in our country’s history and people don’t lightly change the Constitution and for good reason. As I said before, we live in the best country in the world, big part of that is because of the Constitution.
Now, in relation to the ABC, I think to be honest, the ABC owes an apology to James Stevens for what I thought was disgusting behaviour. We need to have a civil conversation in this country, we can agree or we can disagree in a debate, but for many people that’s not possible. I thought the slanging match that took place where James was completely dignified, answered questions reasonably, became an opportunity for activists to go on with the usual rhetoric – and if they think that’s winning people across to the ‘yes’ column – those people are actually driving people to the ‘no’ position because Australians in their millions are not interested in those sort of debates and philosophical positions. They want practical outcomes for Indigenous Australians. They don’t want taxpayers money to be wasted, squandered and corruptly diverted away from Aboriginal Australians in need. They don’t want to live in a different debate. They want a bright future for Indigenous kids and that is what we all want, but we’re not going to get it if these activists conduct themselves the way that I saw on the ABC.
I think the Managing Director and the Chair owe James Stevens an apology. I used to enjoy QandA. I find it now I just can’t watch it because it is a gathering in the audience of people that do not represent the Australian public. There’s not a breadth of view there – so it’s not a proper debate – and it’s normally stacked in favour of the ABC view, who I see, if you look at the ABC coverage of the Israel situation and what’s happened in Sydney, you’d understand there’s another demonstration of the shocking culture which is obvious within today’s ABC.
I’ve just got some questions about the comments you made this morning. You said it’s going to take a lot for our country to heal post-Referendum. What will you do to help people, particularly Indigenous Australians, heal?
Well, the first thing that has to happen is that the Prime Minister has to take responsibility for spending $400 million of taxpayers money, which could have provided 800 houses in Indigenous communities, he could have provided support to the small business sector, which is struggling because of Labor’s economic policies at the moment and many other things. So he should apologise for the expenditure of $400 million.
He should apologise for dividing our country and he’s been warned about this over the last 16 months by many commentators, as well as the Coalition, and he’s decided nonetheless to proceed to a vote which I think was all but certain to go down many months ago. You didn’t have to be a great political reader to understand that this thing wasn’t going to get up if the details weren’t provided – and that’s why you’ve seen the polls deteriorate from 65 per cent down to where they are now.
In terms of the Coalition’s position; I think over the course of this campaign people have seen in our Party a measured tone. I wrote to the Prime Minister in January of this year asking for 15 questions to be answered. To this very day those questions have not been answered and I think they’re the questions that the majority of Australians want answered and many more. But I think what they’ve seen is not just the tone of the debate, which has been important, the constructive way in which we’ve approached this issue, but also the efforts of Jacinta Price and Kerrynne Liddle. I think they have really conducted themselves in an exemplary way with all sorts of personal abuse. As two Indigenous women who don’t count in the eyes of the left because they’re not of the left, even though they’re Indigenous, they wouldn’t know about what happens in Indigenous communities – even though Alice Springs is well known to Kerrynne and where Jacinta now lives – but somehow their views don’t count for anything.
So, I think there’s a continuation of our contribution to the debate, which sees the leadership of Jacinta and Kerrynne in their current positions. You vote for the Coalition at the next election, you’ll get Jacinta Price as the Indigenous Affairs Minister, you vote for the Coalition at the next election, you get Kerrynne Liddle as a member of our Ministry who’s going to be central to reducing family violence and many other issues.
There is a lot that we’ll have to say over the course of the next 18 months in the run up to the election; but we’ll be constructive, we’ll support the government where they get it right, but we’re not going to support the Prime Minister where he can’t get across the details, where when he does make a decision, it ends up being the wrong decision, and I want to support processes which will weed out the corruption and the maladministration and the diversion of money away from those who are most in need.
I want to see those boarding schools built so that kids can have a place of safety, they can get an education, they can be fed, they can be housed safely. I want to see job creation going on in Alice Springs and across the Northern Territory – that means approving all sorts of economic development opportunities so that we can grow the economy – and many, many more things within Indigenous communities. If we do that, we’ll have the best chance of healing our country after the Prime Minister’s divided it. But there’s a process to go through, no doubt.
Thank you very much.