Radio interview, ABC Melbourne, Mornings with Virginia Trioli

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

18 July 2023

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Pamphlets that comprise the major arguments either in support of, or against the referendum that you’re going to be asked to take part in later in the year, to establish a Voice to Parliament – they’ve been sent into the Australian Electoral Commission and now they’re about to be published today. They’re going to publish the 2,000 word essays on their website and then mail them out to more than 12 million households at least two weeks before polling day. We’re just not quite sure when that polling day will be.

Richard Marles is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, and, of course, the Member for Corio, down the road to Geelong. Richard Marles, always good to talk to you. Good morning.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Virginia. How are you?

TRIOLI: I'm very well. So, how have these essays been compiled? What's been the background to the construction of these two arguments?

MARLES: Well, firstly, it forms part of the process of a referendum. Having a Yes and a No case has been part of referendums in the past and is part of this one. In order to participate in either the Yes or the No case, as a parliamentarian, you needed to be voting yes or no in the parliament and so there was a process that went through there. But what you'll see when these are published is that significant figures from around the country in the case of the Yes argument; Johnathan Thurston, Eddie Betts, Evonne Goolagong Cawley have put their names to it, along with Pat Dodson and others. And these articulate the positions in favour and against the referendum which will be held later in the year.

TRIOLI: As I understand it, the Australian Electoral Commission, they've received the essays as they've been written and put together and as I mentioned before, they're going to publish them today and then distribute them, but they've not fact checked them. They've not actually gone through as the independent arbiter, if you like, and made sure that misinformation on either side of the debate is not about to be distributed to Australians. Is that the way that we should have proceeded?

MARLES: Well, it's the process and in a sense it's not that dissimilar to what happens in elections. I mean, it's not for the Electoral Commission–

TRIOLI: I'll just jump in. The Electoral Commission doesn't normally distribute the arguments by people, that's done by the parties. But given that they are the independent umpire, really, in managing this entire voting system, shouldn't they have been given the remit and the task to actually fact check this? I mean, we don't know what we're about to receive.

MARLES: I mean, ultimately it comes down to the question of freedom of speech and the Electoral Commission is the independent umpire for elections as well and they don't jump in in respect of what people say or don't say in the context of an election. But I think it is right– you raise a reasonable point in the sense that people need to have their eyes wide open when they read these cases. And when you look at the No case, for example, what you see is just 2,000 words of fear really, and there's not any alternatives being put forward. But I think when you look at the Yes case, there is a clear articulated position in favour of the referendum, the need to consult with people who are impacted by policies – people in terms of our First Nations people who have been experiencing a persistent gap in social outcomes, life expectancy, health, education, wealth. All of these need to be addressed. And the Yes case submission talks through the fact that when you consult with people, you get the best answers about how to improve their lives.

TRIOLI: I think, in a way, you're actually continuing to make the point, because, as we hear from you, Yes case good, No case bad and we can't actually know that anyone independently has verified this to at least make sure that there's not bad faith arguments, misinformation, disinformation or even hate speech involved in either side of the argument. It's an opportunity missed. Is there some way that you think that can be rectified? Some organisation that maybe people can look to, to find an independent analysis of the two cases?

MARLES: Well, ultimately, Virginia, this is how people engage in our society. People need to assess what they have before them and make their judgements. Certainly hate speech is a separate issue and that's not there. But in terms of the actual arguments that are being put forward, people need to make their assessment. And, yeah, I make no bones about the fact that I'm very much in favour of the Yes campaign and believe that people should be supporting this when they get the opportunity at the referendum. But people should also read the No case and see whether you find any solutions in there to what disadvantage Indigenous Australians are facing, because there are certainly none that are presented as I see it.

TRIOLI: We don't have a date yet for the referendum. When will the Prime Minister announce that date?

MARLES: Well, that will happen in the not too distant future. We've talked about the fact that the referendum is going to be happening in the latter part of this year and that's still to be determined. But there's really a period of a couple of months, and when you take out some dates which are not available, it's a relatively short list that is available. But all of that will become clear in the next little while.

TRIOLI: It's a very powerful, simple message, though, that the No campaign have put together: “If you don't know, you should vote no”. And this is a country that's well known for producing pithy aphorisms and that's clearly one of them. That's a powerful message to counteract, isn't it?

MARLES: Well, it's a message of fear, really, and it's not a message which offers any solutions. And I think that's what people need to have a clear eye to. The simple fact here is that since European settlement Indigenous Australians have faced significant disadvantage. And even since we started measuring the gap, we articulated the idea of there being a gap. The gap has been persistently stubborn and hard to close. And what I think that says is that despite a lot of well intentioned policy over the years, we have not succeeded in coming up with the answers to how we improve in First Nations people's lives. And that's why, when the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was really done by our First Nations leadership who wanted recognition in the Constitution – and that's the first step here in terms of what will happen if the referendum is supported, that we are recognising our First Nations people in the Constitution – but doing that in a practical way through a Voice to Parliament where we listen to them, around the issues which affect them, so that we can actually really make a genuine difference in terms of closing the gap. And I think the simple point I would make is that an ethos that we all feel as being essentially Australian is the idea of a fair go for all. But is there a fair go for all when a group in our society, by virtue of their birth, have shorter lives, are less healthy, are less educated, are poorer? And the answer to that is clearly no and we need to do something about it.

TRIOLO: Before I let you go, just a couple of quick questions. And the pamphlets have just dropped on the AEC website, so our conversation is well timed, Richard Marles. If you go to the Australian Electoral Commission website, you'll see it there. The Yes and No case pamphlet. And right up the top in a big box:

“The AEC was not involved in the development of the content in the Yes and No cases. The words in the Yes and No cases are as supplied by the respective Parliamentary committees.”

But these messages are coming in:

“This is outrageous.” “These should be fact checked.”

These are the messages from our listeners, Richard Marles. And this:

“If something is being distributed by a government body, the absolute minimum is it should be factual.”

That's a reasonable observation by a listener, isn't it?

MARLES: And I would ask people to go out and make sure that they read all that is presented with a very clear eye. And I reckon when you look at both essays, there's a very clear answer that presents itself.

TRIOLI: I wanted to ask you just quickly, do you have any knowledge of what's just about to be announced today by the State Government, by the Premier, in relation to changing some aspect of our commitment to the Commonwealth Games here in Victoria in 2026? As a born and bred Geelong boy, and the Games have a strong Geelong focus, do you have any line of sight over it?

MARLES: Well, they do have a Geelong focus. Look, I listened to your news bulletin and as I was waiting for this interview, but I think I'll leave those announcements to the Victorian Government.

TRIOLI: Do you have a view? I mean, would you want to see our commitment wound back in any way? Would that bother you if that was the case?

MARLES: Well again, look, I think I'll leave this to the Victorian Government. I mean, obviously people are excited about it and there are various infrastructure projects that have been promised in Geelong, as they have in other parts of regional Victoria, but I think let's leave it to the Premier and see what he has to say at 9:30.

TRIOLI: Do you have a view as to why the Prime Minister's personal poll support is falling?

MARLES: Well, I think that the Prime Minister has done a magnificent job since he came to power and actually I think the polls have been pretty strong. But to be honest, polls aren't what's driving the way in which we go about our business each and every day. And there's no sure recipe to do your head in as a politician than to be thinking about the polls day in, day out. What we're focused upon is improving Australians lives. And right now I think people are really doing it tough with cost of living. And from the moment that we came to power, cost of living has been central to what we've been trying to address this month. Literally in the last couple of weeks we've seen much more affordable child care come into place as an example of what we're doing in respect of cost of living. We're focused on the job, we're not focused on polls Virginia.

TRIOLI: Do you like Alan Fell's idea of breaking up the big four consultancy firms as he declared yesterday to that parliamentary inquiry?

MARLES: Well I must say I haven't thought in depth about that, so I'd want to think more about it. I mean those questions go into the questions of competitive markets and I guess Alan is certainly somebody who is an expert in that field and is compulsory listening to I guess. But I think I'd want to read more about it in terms of whether or not that's what's required in that space.

TRIOLI: Is that something that should be part of the discussion or at least part of the thinking that a step like that needs to be taken, simply because of the deep conflicts of interest there?

MARLES: Again, I mean I understand there's been a whole lot of attention in respect of PwC in the last few months with all that's happened there. But definitely– I've not seen what Alan Fell said, but I obviously very much respect his view. But I think that's a matter that we'd want to give real consideration too, in terms of thinking it through.

TRIOLI: And just finally, the AFLW season has been revealed. We're just about to speak to the CEO of the AFL Players Association. The women, of course, have as many teams now as the men but, as we've just learned, half as many games for 2023. And the fixture has finally been released, only weeks really, before the season opening. Is the AFL, in your view, really backing this code as it should and as so many women and men want them to?

MARLES: Well look, I think the AFL deserves credit for establishing the competition in the first instance. I mean it really has been a revolution and not just at the elite level, but in terms of the number of young girls who are now pursuing footy in local clubs around the country and certainly I see that here in Geelong. I'm reluctant to give the AFL advice. I mean, again, I leave it to them. But I would say this, that I enjoy the AFLW, I'd certainly be happy to watch more than ten games or more than ten rounds. I'm very excited about the Cats prospects coming into this season.

TRIOLI: I'll just jump in there, though. But the Cats are only going to be able to play each of the teams once and not even twice, because of the limits of the season and the shortness of it. I mean, you must be disappointed about that?

MARLES: Well, I hear that point and as I say, I'd be happy to watch more than ten rounds. But taking a step back, the AFL has done an incredible job, I think, in putting in place this competition. We want to see it grow and we want to see it become a full time professional competition, which then presents itself as a kind of role model and example for girls around the country who want to pursue footy as a sport. And I think the AFL is on that journey. Whether this is the right number in this precise year is obviously a matter for debate. I'd be happy to see more. But I do think, fundamentally, the AFL deserves credit for getting this competition going.

TRIOLI: Richard Marles, good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

MARLES: Thanks, Virginia.


Other related releases