Press Conference, Geelong

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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12 August 2023

SUBJECT/S: Voice to Parliament; ALP National Conference; Hawaii bushfires.

LIBBY COKER, MEMBER FOR CORANGAMITE: I'd like to begin by recognising our First Nations people, the Wadawurrung, on the land where we meet today and pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Today we have had an amazing community gathering to discuss the referendum, the Voice to Parliament, and we had an amazing turnout of community people who are out there saying vote Yes. We had the great privilege, Richard Marles, the Member for Corangamite [Corio] and our Deputy Prime Minister, and I, of hosting our beautiful friend, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Linda Burney, who came and gave such a moving presentation about why we should vote Yes at the referendum and it's my pleasure to now introduce her.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's great to be here with Libby Coker, the Member for Corangamite, and my partner in representing this fantastic city of Geelong in the Federal Parliament. And of course, to be here with the extraordinary Linda Burney, our country's Minister for Indigenous Australians. And we meet today on the eve of an enormous opportunity for our country. This morning, the people of Geelong came out in significant numbers to voice their support for a referendum later this year, which will see the recognition of our First Nations people in the Constitution through the practical step of establishing a Voice to Parliament. Recognising our First Nations people is so important because they have been the custodians of the continent on which we live for 65,000 years. And the founding document of our country will not be complete until it acknowledges that fact. But in recognising our First Nations people, we seek to do that in the way that our First Nations people have asked, at the Uluru Statement of the Heart, back in 2017. To do so in a practical way through the establishment of a Voice to Parliament. A consultative mechanism which can be heard on issues which particularly affect First Nations people. And that's the way we change the way government operates, so that we can actually close the gap. Because until we do that, we do not have a fair go for all in this country. We do not have that, so long as there are a group of Australians who, by virtue of their birth, live shorter lives, receive less education, are less healthy and are poorer. The gap offends the whole idea of a fair go for all. And today, the people of Geelong came out to express their support for that and for the passage of the referendum later this year. Of course, we had the great privilege of being addressed by my friend and colleague Linda Burney. Linda's grace in the way in which she has gone about leading the campaign for Yes in this country, I think has moved Australians and certainly that was felt in the room today. It was a privilege to watch the way in which Linda was received by the people of Geelong. Linda is an inspiration to so many and she is really the embodiment of the generosity and the opportunity which this moment represents in terms of the referendum. And it’s my pleasure to hand over to you.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Thank you all for coming out today. We can officially say that Geelong is Yes for the Voice. There were close to 300 people in a very packed hall who were out there volunteering, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. And just to be joined by Libby and Richard, in their neck of the woods has been a great privilege for me. So Geelong is saying Yes. As is the leader of the Liberal Party in New South Wales. Mark Speakman has very bravely come out today and I say thank you to Mark. I've known Mark for a very considerable amount of time. He is a decent man. He has been the Attorney-General in New South Wales for something like six years. He, as the Attorney-General in New South Wales, knew and has reinforced today that the Voice is legally sound and, like Richard and Libby have said, he understands that closing the gap, which is an offensive– offensive gaps in Australia, can only happen through the representation of a Voice. So I congratulate Mark Speakman. And he of course is in direct opposition, I guess you could say, to the leader of the Liberal Party federally, one Mr Peter Dutton. And it is an extremely proud day in New South Wales where we have bipartisan support for a Voice to Parliament from both the Liberal and the Labor Party. But today, we are in Geelong and it's just wonderful to see both Corio and Corangamite coming together to say a very, very firm Yes to the Voice, with close to 300 volunteers in the room, remarkable effort and thank you Geelong.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you mentioned Mr Speakman there. As you say he has confirmed his support. He has also said that– well suggested that, to win broad support the question should be put in two separate questions. Should that be considered?

BURNEY: The Labor Party, or the Government of this country, as the Deputy Prime Minister has just confirmed, is going forward with the referendum in the way that we have been asked by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. To put a question, a very simple, clear question to the Australian people. Do you support recognition through a Voice to the Parliament, yes or no? And I can say there was a very resounding and loud Yes, today.

JOURNALIST: And what about his other suggestion that the draft legislation should be released before the referendum? Why won't that happen?

BURNEY: Well, the way that referendums have happened since 1901 is that the principle is voted on. And that's what Australians will be asked to do later this year. Do you support a Voice to the Parliament and recognition? It is then normal, in every referendum, once the principle is established, that the Parliament does its work of developing the legislation. That's normal practice. Peter Dutton knows that, as does David Littleproud. They are wilfully ignoring it.

JOURNALIST: Given some of the polling has shown the No campaign ahead, should you be looking at a different approach if you want this to succeed?

BURNEY: The Prime Minister was very clear at Garma last weekend, we will be proceeding with the referendum in the way in which it's been requested.

JOURNALIST: Mr Speakman’s said that– well the New South Wales opposition has agreed not to bind MPs to a position. Are you hopeful other states and territories will follow suit?

BURNEY: Well it's up to the states and territories in the way in which they conduct themselves in terms of this referendum. But at the end of the day, this is not about politicians. This is about the Australian people having a say in the way in which we want our country to go forward.

JOURNALIST: You also mentioned federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, he has said the Coalition would fight for constitutional recognition. Does his position change the prospects of the referendum?

BURNEY: The referendum will be voted on by the Australian people later this year. And I have every faith in the Australian people doing the right thing, understanding that the gaps in life expectancy, in baby birth weights, in educational outcomes are unacceptable. And I am sure that will be very much on people's mind. What this Voice will do will make a practical difference to the life outcomes for First peoples in this country.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried by the polling? Are you concerned it won't get up despite the support you've had at your event today?

BURNEY: Like I have said, this will be a decision of the Australian people. It will be a unifying moment in this country. And it will make a practical difference for the lives of First peoples.

JOURNALIST: And what about the timing? Why is it that the Prime Minister is deciding not to announce the date for the referendum? What harm would it do to announce the date?

BURNEY: The Prime Minister will be announcing a date and you'll just have to be patient.

JOURNALIST: What are the perceived benefits of waiting for him to make that announcement?

BURNEY: The announcement of the date is absolutely in the purview of the Prime Minister, we all respect that and I know that he's giving it a great deal of thought.

JOURNALIST: I guess, just how are you feeling at this point? And you know, are we going to see the Yes campaign sort of ramping up, given that you are behind at the moment?

BURNEY: Well, what we saw here today in Geelong is an example of what we're going to see here through to referendum day. I am very optimistic.

JOURNALIST: If it's alright, Minister Marles, I just had a couple of questions for you on a on a different topic. Unless there's anything else you wanted to add on those issues?

On the ALP Conference, what's your message to Labor members planning to try to use Labor's Conference to reverse the party's position on AUKUS?

MARLES: Well, we look forward actually to ALP National Conference next week. It is one of the great moments in our country's political calendar and it is very much a moment where the Labor Party gets to express its voice in the colourfulness of its own democracy and so that's going to happen. I'm– the Government has taken a critical step in terms of seeking to pursue a nuclear-powered submarine capability for our nation. We need to have that capability, given the strategic complexity of the world that we face. This is something, a step that we're very proud to have made and we feel very confident about it, we’ll continue to prosecute and I look forward to next week having the opportunity of speaking about that to our National Conference.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a particular message that you'll be sending to members who disagree with you?

MARLES: The Labor Government is deeply focused on the defence of our nation and on our national security. And the message that I'll give to National Conference, a message that I've given to our Parliament, is that since Federation, Labor has been at the heart of the really big steps that have been taken by our country in terms of our own national security and our own defence. Defence policy is at the heart of what we have been about as a party. And we're making a very big decision now, in relation to pursuing this capability, but that's a decision which sits very well in the context of the history of the Labor Party and its role in the governing of our country.

JOURNALIST: Could a major dispute over AUKUS at the conference, I guess, cause concern for the UK or the US about the future of the alliance?

MARLES: Again, being very open with our partners in the United States and the United Kingdom, they share the confidence that we have in the partnership between our three countries and the fact that there is really bipartisan support across the policies of the UK, the US and Australia in respect of this. Part of what makes it work is that we have shared values and that we are democracies. And so all of us understand that in democracies, people get to have their say. And we see that happening in the United States, we will see that happening in the United Kingdom, it's going to happen here in Australia as well. But the commitment of this Government to walking down this path is unwavering. And that's very much understood by our partners in the US and the UK.

JOURNALIST: One other issue sir, Israel-Palestine, why was it necessary for the Government to change its language to declare Israeli settlements illegal and use the term occupied Palestinian territories?

MARLES: We are adopting nomenclature which is used in United Nations, we're adopting nomenclature which has been used by friends and allies such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand. That's all that's happening here. But let me say that Australia, since the very founding of Israel, has been a close friend of Israel and we remain that today.

JOURNALIST: How do you think that will help in terms of the push for a two-state solution and why now to change that language?

MARLES: Well, our Government, like governments of both persuasions in our country have over the past, hold the view of seeking a two-state solution in Palestine and we understand that what that involves is a negotiated settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. And our job as part of the international community is help support that dialogue.

Can I just say one other– they’re all the questions? I just did want to express our deep condolences for the people of the United States and the people of Hawaii for the terrible bushfires that we are watching take place, particularly on the island of Maui. Of course, Australia is no stranger to the horrors of bushfires and the toll that they take and the images that we're seeing coming back from Hawaii are all too familiar to people in this country. It's a part of the world that many Australians know very well and think about in very fond terms. We've reached out to Governor Green of Hawaii to offer whatever assistance we can in respect of the bushfires. And we stand ready to provide assistance to the Government of Hawaii and the Government of the United States in dealing with this really terrible tragedy.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there's a chance we will be sending people over to help and sending some personnel over?

MARLES: Again, we've made the offer to Governor Green. Obviously, we have an expertise in relation to bushfires, perhaps an expertise we mightn’t want to have, but we do given our own experiences here in Australia and we've been very much the recipient of help from overseas when we've gone through our own ordeal. So we stand ready to help. We will be talking with the Government of Hawaii, as we have, about ways in which we can usefully help.


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