Sarah Abo, Today Show

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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27 January 2023

SUBJECT/S: Alice Springs; Voice to Parliament; Australian Open

SARAH ABO, HOST: It's the crime crackdown that's gained the attention of a nation this week. The PM jetting into Alice Springs holding emergency talks with community leaders to address rising crime rates. The result, new alcohol restrictions that are already dividing opinions. For more we're joined by Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles and Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton. Good to see you both this morning. Richard, I want to come to you first. The party has been told for months now about the issue in the Alice, why do you think it's taken so long to act?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is an issue which is of great concern to us. Dealing with the gap which exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has been at the forefront of what Labor has been about. The Prime Minister was in Alice Springs and in Alice Springs acting. What we've done is with the Northern Territory government, put in place the Central Australian Regional Controller- Dorrelle Anderson is going to be reporting back to us, not in a month, not in a year but next week about the steps that need to be taken. And we will do what is required- both in the short term and in the medium and long-term. We're very much engaged in this and we’re acting on it.

ABO: It's a very complex issue that’s for sure. Peter, I'm not sure if you bought your ‘fig leaf’ with you. But you have criticised the PM for not going, then you criticised him for going. This is an important issue. It's one that we all need to get right. You're using it as a bit of political point scoring mission, aren’t you?

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's above politics. I offered to go up there with the Prime Minister. In fact, I met him personally before Christmas after I had been up in Alice Springs in October. And the Indigenous leaders, the women, the grandmothers were very clear in their advice to me and that is they needed to have further assistance. The police and the Family Services workers were exhausted. The kids were out of a night-time committing crimes because it wasn't safe to go home, they’re then sleeping during the day so they can't go to school. Jacinta Price has written an excellent opinion piece in today's Australian, just talking through some of the crazy decision making of the Northern Territory government and the inaction of this government. There seems to be this response, this ideological response that you can't, if you are in the Labor Party, you can't provide the resources on the ground because somehow that's a race based response. Where, I think the vast majority of Australians where they see kid whose are in need of help actually want to put the interest of those children first above any other considerations. And that's a real dilemma in the Northern Territory at the moment. Because the Prime Minister went up, he was on the ground for 4.5 hours meeting with politicians up there, that's fine. But I got a real taste when you go out and speak to those mothers and grandmothers in the community, at their homes out to the community at their homes- out to the town camps- and it is confronting. And in our country, we wouldn't tolerate it if it was that sort of squalor, that sort of condition, that sort of arrangement for children if it was happening in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane or another capital city.

ABO: Yeah, I did see that opinion piece, and it's obviously very important to get diverse perspectives on an issue like this. But Peter, we can't ignore that the Coalition let policies lapse without following through. So it's not necessarily the government's fault here is it? It's the whole of government and Opposition problems.

DUTTON: Sarah, that is the Prime Minister's spin on it. If you listen to Labor Member of Parliament in the Northern Territory, she lays the blame squarely at the Northern Territory government. Now, the Northern Territory government has made all sorts of errors. And let's leave that to one side. It's now what we do in the future. This, as I said, is above politics. It's been going on for a long period of time. It just hasn't happened in the last six months, and it hasn’t just happened in the last six years. It's been a long time in the making. The issue is now the Prime Minister has to show leadership and respond to it and allow these kids to go to school. Allow them to come home to a safe environment. Allow women to live safely, not with the domestic and family violence that is occurring on a rate that is just phenomenal. Businesses can't open their doors because they're broken in or there has been a ram-raid again overnight. They're losing tens of thousands of dollars. People are leaving Alice Springs in the droves. Because when we were up there, people are saying they won't go to the shops without their husband going with them during the day to do their grocery shopping- let alone at night- they won't go out at night with some of the people we spoke to. So, it is a dire situation. Everybody accepts that. The question is what is the response? I wanted the response last October with more police so that you can restore law and order. More Family Services officers that could provide that wraparound service. That's just the start.

ABO: It's an issue we need to get on top of. Now there were of course rowdy scenes yesterday, thousands marched in Invasion Day rallies, supporting the changing of the date for Australia Day. But they were also critical those protesters of the Voice to Parliament saying a treaty is needed first. Now, that's despite overwhelming number of Indigenous Australians supporting the Voice based on pole of 300 people. Richard, do you think that's enough of a snapshot?

MARLES: Well, the Voice is a really simple proposition. And to be frank, I hear what Peter said about wanting the issue in Alice Springs to be above politics- we do too. That's why the Prime Minister went there. That's why we're acting. You kind of can't on the one hand say things should be above politics and take a political shot along the way, which is what Peter is doing. This should be above politics as well. I mean, the Voice is pretty simple. The Voice is an act of recognition of Indigenous Australians in our constitution by giving Indigenous Australians the opportunity to be consulted on issues which affect them- through a Voice. That is what the Uluru statement from the heart back in 2017 said should be the basis on which recognition of Indigenous Australians should occur within our constitution. So, it's not just a snapshot of 300 people. This is a proposition which has been worked up over many years through Indigenous Australians coming together at Uluru and saying this is the way in which Indigenous Australia wants to be recognised in our constitution. And it's a clear and simple proposition, a clear and simple principle, which should be above politics as well. And should be something that we can move forward in a unified way as a country in what would be a really important step. Just as The Apology to the stolen generation was. Instead, what we're getting is flipping-flopping around on the part of the Liberal Party seeking time to undermine this and indeed playing politics.

ABO: Everything you say there is right, we do need to unify on this and come together. But is there any concern Richard, within the government when you look at the hard left and hard right they're actually unified on wanting to vote "No" on the Voice.

MARLES: I think, that the vast majority of Australians want to see reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and would welcome the idea of recognising our First Nations people in our constitution in terms that they want, not just a word in the preamble, but through having a mechanism which allows Indigenous Australians to be consulted on issues which affect them. That's what the Voice is. This is a fundamental basis of recognising our First Nations people within our constitution. I think that's what Australians want to see. And that's why we’ve committed to putting this to a referendum. Obviously we'll see how that plays out through the course of this term of government. But, this is a really important moment for the nation. And it's really important that it be above politics.

ABO: Yeah, it's too important. Absolutely. Alright. Well let’s just move on quickly now. And I want to come to you, Peter. There has been more Djokovic controversy believe it or not. This time from his dad. Seen posing with Putin supporters at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Now, you called for Kanye to be banned from the country. Should we be kicking Djokovic senior out as well?

DUTTON: Sarah, it's the Australian Open taking the decision not to recognise Australia Day, so they've certainly weighed into controversial issues. So, it will be interesting to see what their resolution is in relation to this incident. But, I mean at the moment, as you've seen overnight, with attacks again and at least 11 Ukraine citizens killed, the Russian onslaught continues. And frankly everybody of goodwill should be trying to deter, not encourage Putin. So, it's a bizarre act and sometimes you see these from tennis parents and others over the years. But it's an issue for Tennis Australia as to how they react.

ABO: Loves a bit of controversy, the Djokovic family, don't they?

DUTTON: As I say, not the first tennis family to court controversy and it will be interesting to see how the Aus Open people respond.

ABO: Alright, thank you so much both for your time.



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