Press Conference, Yule River

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

13 July 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament; Cost of living; Aged care; Additional assistance to Ukraine; AUKUS.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: It’s an enormous honour to be here in this country, to hear directly from people of the Pilbara - Aboriginal people of the Pilbara - what the issues are directly affecting people. We’ve listened to the call for action, which was a very well-articulated call for things like wellbeing, education, health, community safety. And that was very important for us to hear at the federal level, as well as the state level as well.

Obviously, we are very pleased that the Yule River Bush Meeting resolved last night to support the Voice to Parliament. There will be a referendum at the end of this year. And it is about recognition, and is about listening. And what was wonderful was that the Yule River Bush Meeting resolved to support the Voice last evening. That is very important to have First Nations people from the Pilbara saying very clearly that they support the Voice. The other thing before I hand over to the Acting Prime Minister is to say that these bush meetings are incredibly important for people like the Acting Prime Minister and I to attend. To hear directly from people what the issues are, not hearing them second hand, but actually go out on country, with the people from that country to hear directly from them. We've done that today. We walk away more informed about the Pilbara, more informed about the issues that are directly affecting people. And once again, I thank the Yule River Bush Meeting for their support to the Voice to Parliament and the referendum that will be held later this year.

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Well, it's fantastic to be here at the Yule River Bush Meeting, and it's fantastic to be here with Linda Burney, our wonderful Minister for Indigenous Australians. We have listened to the call to action, which has been made by the Yule River Bush Meeting. Let me start by acknowledging the Kariyarra people who are the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, thank them for having us here, for hosting this meeting, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

The call to action which was agreed to by this meeting yesterday goes into issues around housing, education, health, community safety – the key issues, which affects the lives of people who live in this region. But what comes loud and clear when you listen to the call to action, is firstly that Indigenous Australians here and around the country are thinking intimately, deeply and thoughtfully about the way in which programs affecting them should be applied so that the outcomes are best. And what's also clear is that, in articulating those programs, and the way in which government should act, what comes through in the call to action is a desire to have the views and the opinions of those who are affected by these programs listened to. What comes through is the desire to have their voice heard. And that is at the heart of the referendum which will be placed before the Australian people later this year. It is unsurprising, given that the Yule River Bush Meeting last night wholeheartedly supported the referendum later this year, the recognition of First Nations people in our Constitution through a Voice to Parliament. And we are really heartened by the support that the Yule River Bush Meeting has given to the Yes case in supporting this referendum. It is profoundly important. And what it says is that, whilst you look at Indigenous Australians around the country who are a diverse and rich group of people for whom there are obviously going to be differing points of view, what is absolutely clear is that the overwhelming majority of First Nations people in this country support the referendum and support recognition of First Nations people in the Constitution through a Voice to Parliament. This referendum comes from Indigenous Australia, it comes from the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017. The Albanese Government is very proud to be putting this proposition to the Australian people this year. But meetings such as this around Australia should give a sense of confidence to every West Australian, to every Australian that Indigenous Australians want to see this happen. And that in the passage of this referendum, we will make a profound step in the growth of our country.

JOURNALIST: It would have have been disconcerting, you’ve come here as the Acting Prime Minister, but they didn't want to hear from you – you weren't invited to speak, they wanted to tell you something?

MARLES: There's nothing disconcerting about that. I came here to listen. And I'm really proud to be able to be here. Listen, can I say, as Linda has just said, there is so much that I learned today in listening to the voice of those who spoke about these really specific issues which are impacting them. And I think, at the heart of what we are seeking to do, in the way in which we go about our Government, but in the referendum that's been put to the Australian people, is to change the way we do business, so that we're actually listening to Indigenous Australians when we think about the programs that we put in.

JOURNALIST: Last night they voted overwhelmingly in support of the Yes. Is that – you're preaching to the converted, though aren’t you? I mean, these aren’t the people you have to convince, you've got to convince the No vote, the undecideds.

MARLES: I think firstly, it is a really important statement that this meeting has made to Australia that Indigenous Australians here at one of the really important meetings that happens around this country want to see this referendum pass. I think it's really important that Australians across this state, and Australians across this country are hearing that call. We understand that Indigenous Australians are a diverse and rich group of people with differing opinions, but the overwhelming opinion that is coming from Indigenous Australians is to support this referendum, and that's a really important statement that the Yule River Bush Meeting has made.

JOURNALIST: Minister Burney, you got a lot of different questions from the crowd today on health, on funerals, on all different sort of things. Can you sort of explain how the Voice would help these sort of issues in these communities?

BURNEY: I can. The Voice is about practical change for the life of First Nations people. It is about making sure that there is First Nations people from the grassroots being able to talk to the Executive Government and the Parliament on issues that directly affect them. It might be funerals, it might be cultural heritage issues. It might be health and education. But I have articulated from the Government's perspective, the issues that I want the voice to focus on; health, education, housing and jobs. There may be other issues, of course, that the Voice will bring forward. But I can assure you, just listening today, and from my travels around this country, that the issues that keep coming up every community you go to are around housing, around health, around education, and around economic development. In other words, jobs and businesses.

JOURNALIST: People here have talked about the Pilbara hub. And that sounds sort of like a local and regional voice. They’ve said we don't want to go to Canberra, we want people to come here. How would that sort of body plug into, for want of a better word, the national Voice?

BURNEY: Well the whole point of the Voice is precisely what you're describing. Not a voice in Canberra as some people are calling it, but a voice that represents local communities chosen by local communities. It is precisely what you've been hearing today.

JOURNALIST: So you're referring so those sub voices, if you like, those regional voices that talk up to not only the Voice to Parliament in Canberra, but also state government and local government?

BURNEY: State governments in a number of jurisdictions around Australia, for example, South Australia, are developing their own Voice to Parliament, and that's through a democratic process. And obviously, the national Voice needs to be very cognisant of what's happening in states and territories. And there is a lot happening to make sure that we enhance what's going on the state and territory, not tripping over each other.

JOURNALIST: The Calma-Langton Report lays out a groundwork for establishing those regional bodies first, those regional voices, who then elect members to the national Voice. So the regional voices come first, and then they established the national Voice?

BURNEY: The Calma-Langton report is obviously an incredibly important report. It is one of the things that we're looking at in terms of the final structure and functions and responsibilities of the Voice. But if you know anything about the process, there will be the referendum, where we will be asked to vote on the principle of establishing the Voice, and then it will be the responsibility of the Parliament to put in place legislation that would determine the functions, the shape and the responsibilities of the Voice. And that will be done after proper discussion and consultation. I can assure you that this has, as the Acting Prime Minister has said, this has not come out of the blue. This has come from years and years of discussions, report recommendations, and obviously the 2017 Uluru constitutional conventions.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that very remote communities know enough about the Voice in places like the Western Desert?

BURNEY: Look, the referendum is some time off. And I have to say that Marion Scrymgour, the member for Lingiari really put it well, where she said she talked to some communities and you say do you know about the Voice? They had varying views about that. But if you say to people, ‘do you want your voice to be heard in Canberra?’ the obvious answer is yes. This is the vehicle for making it a reality. Voices of people from remote, regional and urban Australia will be absolutely heard. And there is already an agreement of very good representation, particularly from remote communities.

JOURNALIST: Minister quick question for today from the elders, we've heard some people speak on the outskirts, you've come along to some of the forums for us up there in Perth as well, how are we going to educate our people? And what can our reporters be doing on truth telling for the facts of what you're unpacking with what you're putting in place? Tell us about that.

BURNEY: I think the media has an enormous responsibility, and I thank you all for being here, taking up that responsibility. But the media's responsibility is to make sure that the information is accurate, that we discuss things respectfully, that we make sure that it's a very balanced way in which the media takes information forward. And of course, the media has an important role, particularly First Nations media, in making sure that our communities get a good sense of what this Voice is about. And I just reiterate that if you want to go to one place, where everything is there, it's

JOURNALIST: Can I ask some other questions of the Acting Prime Minister? Can I just start with the banks, evidence was given to Parliament by the banks yesterday about the cost of living crisis and they say that – they were playing that cost of living crisis down in that evidence. I mean, what universe do you think they’re living in?

MARLES: Well, I think Australians are doing it tough and we really understand that as a government. I mean, we do see an inflationary environment around the world, and Australia is not immune from that. And so everything that this government has been doing since the moment that it came to office has been focusing on cost of living. As of the first of July, we've seen much more affordable childcare come into place. From the beginning of this year, we've seen cheaper medicines. At the end of last year, we put a package through the Parliament to put downward pressure on energy prices, on household power bills. So we are incredibly focused on the cost of living crisis. But we are very aware that Australians are feeling it, Australian household budgets and Australian businesses, and that's why we are going to be completely committed to dealing with it for as long as we're in government.

JOURNALIST: According to the banks, it's renters actually more than mortgage holders that are feeling the crunch. Do you agree with that?

MARLES: Well, I don’t think it helps to look at one group as opposed to the other. I think the fact of the matter is that cost of living is being experienced by Australians around the country, be they mortgage holders or renters. And as a government, we're focused on doing everything we can to alleviate the pressure in relation to cost of living.

JOURNALIST: They are also saying, apparently, that it's the cohort between 30 and 34 years old, that are suffering the most – young people. Do they just have to suck it up?

MARLES: Well, no. I mean, as a government we are very focused on helping all Australians deal with the pressures that are associated around cost of living. But we are mindful of that age group, which is why more affordable childcare, which as I say came into place in the last few days, is particularly of interest to that age group. We are looking at ways in which we can help with the cost of living pressures for all Australians, because we get the impact of it’s happening on all Australians.

JOURNALIST: Just on aged care, another couple closed just in the last couple of days, and there's been other previously aged care homes that can't keep up with these new nursing numbers, the laws imposed by the federal government. Are you going to cut them some slack? What can you do to stop that? Because that's not helping anyone.

MARLES: Well, let's be really clear. Since Labor's measures around 24/7 nursing in aged care centres has come into place, we now see the vast majority of aged care centres with 24/7 nursing. And that is a great thing for those people that are in those aged care centres. No Aged Care Centre is going to be closed because it can't meet that requirement now. For those aged care centres which are unable to meet those requirements, we will be working closely with them so they ultimately can meet those requirements. But putting in place those requirements have been really important in terms of providing 24/7 nursing for so many older Australians who, up until now, have not had that benefit.

JOURNALIST: Just a couple of defence questions if I may. Bushmasters, what's the time – this is the Bushmasters promised to Ukraine, what's the timeline for those?

MARLES: Well, we don't go into the specifics of the timeline for some obviously important reasons in terms of the security in relation to them and in relation to Ukraine. But it is a very important commitment that we've made. We've spoken to the Ukrainian Government around the schedule of delivery in relation to these Bushmasters, as we have with Bushmasters in the past, and we are meeting that schedule in terms of getting those Bushmasters to the fight. But they're making a real difference. And what we know is that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a complete affront to the global rules-based order. This is a protracted conflict, and we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. That's why we announced the $110 million dollar package a few weeks ago. That's why we've announced the deployment in respect of the E-7 Wedgetail. That's why we've now announced an additional 30 Bushmasters.

JOURNALIST: And why not the Hawkeis? The Ukrainians wanted the Hawkeis as well, and there's been nothing on that.

MARLES: Well, again, Hawkeis are a very different platform to the Bushmasters. We want to make sure that we're making a difference for Ukraine, Ukraine have come to us with a menu of options that we can help provide them in supporting their efforts. We want to make sure that what we provide makes a difference. We've spoken to Ukraine around the issue of Hawkei and our concerns about its effectiveness in their particular environment. I think that's something that is now understood by Ukraine, it’s why we're making an announcement in relation to Bushmasters, which is a much more robust platform for the conflict in which Ukraine is engaged.

JOURNALIST: And are there any plans to top up Defence’s budget to assist in that further assistance to Ukraine?

MARLES: I mean, we'll work through the budgetary process in relation to the latest announcement. What's important here is that this is being provided by the Australian Government. And as I said, we will stay with Ukraine for as long as it takes for Ukraine to resolve this conflict on their terms.

JOURNALIST: Just one on submarines, if I may. Are you confident that we're going to get three to five Virginia class submarines from the US? Chief of US Navy apparently says he doesn't know when they can be sold, when they can be given to us?

MARLES: Yeah, we're really confident. I mean, we've been working very closely with the United States in relation to the pathway by which Australia will provide this capability. There's been detailed work that we've done with the Biden Administration, and as we have with leaders in the Congress, and we're very confident that this will be delivered on time.


Other related releases