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The Hon Richard Marles MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
24 March 2023
SUBJECTS: Voice; AUKUS.
SARAH ABO, HOST: Let's bring in Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, and Nationals Leader, David Littleproud, good morning to you both. Thanks for being with us today. Now, Richard, this is a win for the government. After weeks of debate, we have the wording of the question, but no wording yet on the legislation?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, what's important here is to understand what this will be for our country, which is to properly recognise our First Nations people in the Constitution for the first time in our history, so that we actually make this right. But to do it in a practical way by the establishment of a Voice where we're actually listening to our First Nations people about the critical policies which affect them. And we need to do that. We need to change the way we do business, because there has been a persistent gap in life expectancy and education in all the social outcomes between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians. What that means is that a large section of our country is just missing out on the benefits of our country. And this isn't radical in the sense that when people who are affected by policies are listened about them, often you get those policies more right. And that's what the voice is about doing. So it's about recognising our First Nations people, but in a practical way, so we get to hear their voice.
ABO: Yeah. Richard, I guess there is an expectation that of course it will cover all that you mentioned there. But the confusion comes into it when we're not quite sure what the powers will be, just how much they'll be able to actually do through Parliament with the Voice?
MARLES: But what we know is there's no veto power here. This is not a group that's going to have a program or an agenda. It is simply that when government, when the Parliament makes decisions which are affecting our First Nations people, they get to be heard about what those decisions look like and they get to express an opinion. And when you hear that opinion, you get the policies better, you get them more right. And that's what we're trying to achieve.
ABO: David, the PM says he hopes for unanimous support come June, when the vote is up. I mean, it's not that far away. You've said you won't support it, you're voting no. Why? I mean, isn't this important a time now to show some unity?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD, LEADER OF THE NATIONALS: No, no. We're repeating the mistakes of the past. We've already had a representative body before it was called ATSIC and it failed. And the National Party see this through the unique lens that many people in metropolitan Australia don't see it because we live in these communities and we represent these communities. Adding another layer of bureaucracy won't work. Indigenous Australians are listened to, they’re listened to like every other Australian. There's 227 voices in Parliament, Senators and House of Representative Members that share their views, but every Australian's view. We have a core tenet that we believe every Australian is treated equally. But we make sure that those voices are heard here through elected representatives, and proudly, I think this nation should be very proud that we've elected 11 Indigenous Australians to this Parliament. But there's already over 1,000 indigenous representative groups to government around this country already and we are simply adding another layer of bureaucracy. We don't need bigger bureaucracy, we need better bureaucracy. And this has been a failure of governments of all persuasions in the past.
This is about making sure you get the bureaucracy out of Canberra and out into these communities. We have made advancement in some areas, but where the most disadvantages is in those small communities and you need bespoke solutions – you need the bureaucracy to be told get out of Canberra, get off your arse and get out around those campfires, around those town halls and let the community design the bespoke solution. Because a solution and an opportunity in Wilcannia will be different to Carnarvon, as it will be in Alice Springs. But those communities should be designed, not bureaucrats and not someone coming here. And the sheer size that you are talking about that someone's going to represent across different tribes over hundreds of thousands of kilometres, different communities, you're just adding another layer that won't shift and won't close the gap.
ABO: I mean, I guess the point of the Voice is to try and collect all those viewpoints and bring them together, so that they are under the same umbrella. I mean, I hear what you're saying there have been other bodies before but that's the aim of this, no doubt. Alright, let's move on. Richard, the subs deal. Paul Keating isn't backing down on his criticism of the Government, this morning in the Financial Review saying you're changing your strategic position now, arguing the subs will protect sea lanes from blockade. I mean, he's after you.
MARLES: Well, we're not changing any view. I mean, I've been talking about the need for our country to project for some time now. I made a speech to the Sydney Institute, I think back in November of last year, where I was speaking exactly to this point. I mean, look, obviously we deeply respect Paul Keating and his opinion is one that should be expressed, but we've been really clear about the fact that in 2023 we've got changed circumstances. I mean, we live in a part of the world where we are seeing the biggest conventional military buildup since the end of the Second World War. That's not a fact that you can ignore. We have a country today which is much more connected in terms of trade with the world than we ever have been before, certainly than we were in the 1990s. And we face the situation that the old capability, or the existing capability, which is a conventional submarine, is going to become less capable through the 2030s. So if we want to maintain that, we're going to need to move to a new technology, which is nuclear -powered submarines.
ABO: And David, obviously the Coalition designed this plan to begin with. It's now been accepted by the Government, the Labor Government, and rolled on. Are you worried, though, that the divisions within the ALP may actually fracture this deal and it may not get the rollout that we expect it will?
LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we're disappointed in in Paul Keating's comments. I mean, he's living in a 1990s utopia that doesn't exist anymore. Richard's spot on. But unfortunately, I think he's channeling the anger of some of Richard's backbench that's going to tear this mob apart. And this is why– and it's also holding us back, on talking sensibly about a civil nuclear energy system here in Australia, where we can look at the emerging technology of small scale, modular nuclear to reduce our emissions and to give us reliable power, because this is just going to blow the Labor Party up. We've got to use some common sense here. Richard has proudly continued on the trajectory that we did with AUKUS, and the Government should be congratulated for that, but he needs to make sure he can bring his mob with him.
ABO: Hey, Richard, I was going to kind of gloat about the second loss on the trot for the Cats, but hey, we've run out of time so you’re off the hook. You’re off the hook. Let’s just hope they pick up next week, right? Thank you both for your time.