Doorstop interview, Sydney

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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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8 September 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice referendum; Australia-China relationship; Australia-Philippines relationship; Qatar Airways flights; Parliament.

KYLEA TINK MP, MEMBER  FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Thank you so much for being here. North Sydney is at the heart of (inaudible). And today we're here in Chatswood, because it's actually a very vibrant, multicultural centre. And if we're going to get this Yes vote over the line, it's important that all Australians feel like they're welcomed into the conversation, feel like they're informed, and are informed when they cast their vote come October 14. I'm very, very grateful to be joined today by the Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles, and by Yes23 spokesperson Chloe Wighton. And so I'm going to step back now and let the Acting Prime Minister talk.

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Well, it's great to be here this morning in Chatswood, with Chloe Wighton, and with Kylea Tink the Member for North Sydney. And we are here today to campaign in support of the referendum, which will now be taking place on the 14th of October.

The process of seeking to recognise our First Nations people in the Constitution was started by the Howard Government. And the idea of recognising our First Nations people in a way that our First Nations people want to be recognised was an initiative of the Abbott Government. And that led to thousands of meetings around the country of our First Nations people leading up to the 2017 meeting at Uluru, which produced the one-page Uluru Statement from the Heart. And all we're doing on the 14th of October is finishing that process, by making sure that our country's founding document is complete, in recognising the fact that our First Nations people were the custodians of this continent for 65,000 years, and doing it in a practical way that First Nations people have sought by listening to them through a Voice to Parliament, so that we can meaningfully close the gap of social disadvantage, which affects Indigenous Australians. And the referendum that is in front of the Australian people on the 14th is as simple as that. Whether I'm in the Pilbara at the Yule River Bush Meeting, or in Tasmania, or right here in Chatswood, in Sydney, there is so much enthusiasm when I speak to people about what this can mean to take our country forward. This is a huge opportunity to bring our country together. We are so excited about what the passage of this referendum can mean for Australia. And I really appreciate all the volunteers who are out here today. If you are interested in volunteering, put your hand up. If you're not on the roll, make sure you get on the roll. And let's all walk forward to the 14th of October because it is going to be a great day for our country.

CHLOE WIGHTON, YES23 SPOKESPERSON: My name is Chloe Wighton, I’m a spokesperson for Yes23. It's great to be here this morning with Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles and local member Kylea Tink. We at the Yes23 Campaign are leaving no stone unturned, we will be throwing everything into this to ensure a successful Yes vote. More than 35,000 volunteers will be out in force every single day between now the 14th of October, we will be at train stations like we are this morning, we’ll be at shopping centres, knocking on doors and holding hundreds of community forums. We are buoyed by the support on the ground, the positivity is amazing. When we talk and explain the referendum is about recognition, it is about listening to Indigenous people, and about practical change and better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. So if you're one of those people who may not have made up your mind yet, and may need some more information, please come and talk to one of our volunteers engaged with our campaign and be a part of what will be unifying Australians.

TINK: I'm Kylea Tink the federal Member for North Sydney and it's incredibly exciting to be here today. We, as a nation have an opportunity in the next five weeks to vote to finally do three things; one, recognising the First Nations people here in Australia. Two, empower them to be heard when our federal government is making laws. And number three, giving our government of the day the right to pass legislation on how that Voice will performs. It's no more complicated than that. And it's really important, I believe, for future generations for us to step in and be everything that we possibly can be as a nation. As our Acting Prime Minister just said and as Chloe has touched on, this is our moment, Australia. This is our moment to be everything we want to be. So I think for all of those that have been sitting back waiting for the date to be called, it's now time to show up. We need you to turn up, show up, speak up. And let's get as many people as possible writing down the word ‘yes’ when it comes to that October 14 referendum. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Yes, Kylea, you comprehensively addressed the Voice in your statement. But one question for you, and then a few from the newsroom. Kylea, how do you feel about the reaction to your speech in Parliament yesterday, especially after a volatile sitting week?

TINK: Yeah, look I think the last week in politics has been very bruising for many people, not just those of us sitting in the chamber, right. I actually think for Australians in general, it was a very bruising week. The reaction has actually been – how do I describe it? Sorry I’m just trying to think of the wording. I would say the reaction to my speech this week has been sobering. You know, I've had lots of messages from different people, either within the system or outside the system, I think that there is always an opportunity for reflection in any environment, about how it works and how it is received. And if we know one thing from the last election, it is that Australians want to see politics done differently. You know, this Government came to power, saying that it would approach politics in a different way. And I think that moments like yesterday are important to ensuring we deliver that truth for Australians.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Scott Morrison's comments about the Government appearing concessional in the eyes of Beijing?

MARLES: Since coming to power we've sought to stabilise our relationship with China. And that's important, because what we inherited was a situation where trade had been severely reduced, where there was no contact between ourselves and our largest trading partner, where the formal Defence dialogue had been suspended, which is so dangerous in respect of not being able to have effective communication and to avoid miscalculation. What we have sought to do, without making any concessions, is to stabilize the relationship, which now has seen trade come back on board, with the result of thousands of jobs being put back in place, we have the formal Defence dialogue back in place and beginning again, we've now got ministerial level discussions which have been underway, really from the first month of our government, and that's leading to the visit of the Prime Minister to China before the end of the year, which is a really important step in and stabilization of the relationship. This is a good thing, from the point of view of our national security, it is a good thing from the point of view of our trade.

JOURNALIST: Acting Prime Minister, Australia's Ambassador to the Philippines has written to Phil Star Global, that the two countries will elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership. What does this mean for Australia, and won't this antagonize China?

MARLES: We're very excited about the opportunity in elevating our relationship with the Philippines. The Philippines is a country with whom we've had a long relationship, the 400,000 strong Australian-Filipino community means that it's always been a very personal relationship. But now what we're seeing is a burgeoning strategic dimension to that relationship as we find ourselves much more closely strategically aligned, and there is an enormous amount of ambition for us to work more closely together, and that includes in the area of national security. This is the first bilateral visit of an Australian Prime Minister to the Philippines in more than two decades. It is a very exciting step. And it's not about any other country. It is about the relationship between ourselves and the Philippines. And there is so much in that relationship, which can benefit the national interest of both countries.

JOURNALIST: Sky is reporting you're set to have your security detail increased following reports about your chartering of Defence planes, do you need extra security to protect you from journalists?

MARLES: Well, it's certainly not about that. Security assessments are done independently of me. And I take the advice of the security experts, but all of that happens very much at arm's length from me and I really end up following what they advise.

JOURNALIST: Following the high level of discussion and dialogue between Australia and China, should we expect the wine tariffs to be lifted by the end of the year?

MARLES: Well, we will continue to advocate to China in respect of greater trade in relation to wine as we have in relation to a whole lot of other commodities, including barley, for example, where we have seen that trade come back online. I've got no doubt that this will be one of many issues that will be discussed by our Prime Minister when he visits China later in year. But I come back to what I said at the start; our aim is to stabilise our relationship with China. We want the most productive relationship we can have with China. We understand there are a lot of complexities in that relationship with China. And there are security anxieties in the relationship with China. All of this means that dialogue is all the more important. And that is what we are pursuing.

JOURNALIST: When did the Prime Minister know about Qatar Airways’ blocked bid for more flights into Australia? The transport minister says it was before it was made public but the PM says it was after he'd met the Virgin CEO. Can you clear that up?

MARLES: We have seen so much on this story this week. What we have is business as usual for an adult Cabinet government. A Transport Minister has made a decision, which is her decision to make, just as decisions of this kind have been made by transport ministers in governments of both persuasions in the past. Now, we understand that normal Cabinet processes where you let the ministers do their job is an idea which is confusing to the Liberal Party, given that they had a Prime Minister, who was also the minister for just about everything. But in our Government, we let ministers do their job. And in this instance, the Transport Minister has made a decision in the national interest. We need to see Qantas giving the best possible service for the lowest possible price as we need to see all airlines do that. That is achieved by increasing competition within our aviation market. That is why we have put in place a white paper process. That's why we've increased access to the Australian market for Singapore Airlines, for Cathay, for China Southern. And we will continue to make sure that we work in the aviation space to see that it is as competitive as possible, delivering the best service for the lowest price for Australian consumers.

JOURNALIST: Another one on the Voice if that's okay? How many representatives of the voice will there be and how will they be elected? Will there be a separate electoral roll created for Indigenous Australians who will be eligible to vote for these representatives?

MARLES: The Voice is a simple proposition. This is about listening to Indigenous Australians about the issues which particularly affect them. That is the principle at stake here. And that is the principle that will be put to the Australian people on the 14th of October. And this is about recognising our First Nations people in the Constitution, because our founding document is not complete until it acknowledges the fact that this continent was inhabited by our First Nations people for 65,000 years. And we are seeking to recognise First Nations people in the Constitution in the way they choose, which is exactly what Tony Abbott said we should do. And that is in a practical way by establishing a voice to parliament which will listen to them on issues which affect them. And if we do that, we can meaningfully walk down a path of closing the gap of social disadvantage, which affects Indigenous Australians.

JOURNALIST: The Opposition Leader Peter Dutton this morning he said he doesn't have any concerns in the tone or what was said yesterday. What do you make of that?

TINK: It took a lot for me to stand up yesterday and actually call out what I saw as inappropriate behaviour. I've spoken to other colleagues from across the house and whether or not the Leader of the Opposition wants to see it, the behaviour in the House on Wednesday was unacceptable. In many instances it was brutal, it was overbearing, the tone that was taken in that chamber, particularly as some members addressed others – other members, was meant to be intimidating. I didn't offer up the statement yesterday for any other purpose than to try and provide our political environment with an opportunity to pause and reflect about what messages we’re sending to Australians when we speak to each other. It disappoints me that that's the response from the Opposition Leader today.

JOURNALIST: I want to give you an opportunity to respond, he described it as stifling debate.

TINK: Sorry?

JOURNALIST: He describes it as stifling debate.

TINK: Well, I fundamentally disagree. I have spent my entire adult life working in environments where being able to debate is an extension to bringing the best ideas out of the people at the table. What took place in the chamber in the last four days has not been debate. It has been bullying. It has been harassment. It has been intimidation. And that needs to stop. And I think Australians are tired of seeing that sort of behaviour in our chamber. And I would just again, as I did yesterday call on all members of Parliament to stop and reflect on all of our behaviour, and then to turn up in that chamber and present ourselves in a way that we want to see other Australians behaving. And what I would say is to the Opposition Leader, because I know he comes from a law enforcement background, I'm fairly sure that if the Opposition Leader saw a man talking to a woman, the way he spoke in the chamber on Wednesday, he would have stepped in and encouraged that man to maybe take a breath and step back. And that's all I'm asking of the chamber at the moment, take a breath and step back. And then let's step forward and conduct our debate in a way that is constructive and brings our nation to (inaudible).


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