Television interview, Today Show

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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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15 September 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice referendum; Qatar flights into Australia; Special Purpose Aircraft schedules.

SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, with less than a month to go before the Voice referendum, both camps are heating up their fight. It comes as No campaigner Senator Jacinta Price refuses to back the Opposition Leader's proposal of a second referendum. Joining us now is Deputy PM Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Thank you both for your time this morning. Peter, I want to start with you. You weren't at Senator Price's address yesterday when she said this

SENATOR JACINTA PRICE (clip): there's no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation. I guess that would mean that those of us whose ancestors were dispossessed of their own country and brought here in chains as convicts, are also suffering from intergenerational trauma. So, I should be doubly suffering from intergenerational trauma.

ABO: Peter, do you agree with those comments?

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, Sarah, I wasn't there at the lunch, but I did have the good fortune to watch it on TV. If you look at what Jacinta had to say in context, firstly, she's a brave Indigenous woman, and we either accept that people have views, broad range of views, or we don't. The left just say, well, we can only listen to people like Marcia Langton, but Indigenous people on the right, like Jacinta Price, we can't listen to. Jacinta made the point that her mother was promised into marriage at the age of 14. She spoke about the violence, the acceptance within some of the Indigenous elite community about the reality of sexual abuse on the ground against children. And she spoke in that context. And I think if you look at, in fact I'd recommend you to go and have a look at the full speech and question and answer session that she had yesterday, because you've got somebody on display who is brave, prepared to stand up for what she believes in and believes passionately about making a better society for Indigenous Australians.

ABO: I think this is all about listening and that's what's happening here. I guess the challenge becomes when you look at the facts, I mean, Peter, we're talking about life expectancy, ten years less than non-Indigenous Australians. I mean, these are coming from government's own figures. And then you've got Indigenous Australians who disagree with her, like Linda Burney calling this a betrayal. Do you not see it that way?

DUTTON: Well, Sarah, all I'd say is that Jacinta Price grew up in Alice Springs. She still lives in Alice Springs. Her mother is a teacher there, her father is a teacher there. So, what, do we just say that her view doesn't count? That she doesn't know what she's talking about? She's still got kids who live in Alice Springs, her husband lives in Alice Springs, she's immersed in the community there, she knows the reality of life and she's saying we shouldn't sugarcoat what's going on. And her deep desire, as it is for me and millions of Australians, is to see a better outcome for those kids. She's advocated for a boarding house at the local school for years because they could be fed, they could be housed and they could live in safety there during the times that they're not at home. It would increase life expectancy, it would increase literacy rates, it would increase the prospects of employment. And the left, including Linda Burney, have got this capital city view of what should happen. And frankly, we've been listening to people like Marcia Langton and others for 30 years, and here we are today with a worse situation for Indigenous Australians than we've ever had. So, I'd start listening to people like Jacinta Price so that we can get practical support and assistance to Indigenous people on the ground.

ABO: Yeah, because the stats do exist out there. Richard, what did you make of her comments?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what comes out of this is the need to listen, fundamentally. And when I'm thinking about this, it is the fact that no one is denying there is a social disadvantage. Indeed, as Peter's just made his comments there, I think there is an acceptance in what he's saying that there is a gap in social disadvantage. We now report on that gap each and every year and it has been stubbornly persistent. I think there's actually been goodwill across governments of both persuasions and a willingness to spend money to try and close the gap. But the sad fact is we've been unable to do that and we need to change the way we do business around this. And the fundamental way in which we need to change the way we do business is to listen. And that's the whole idea of a Voice to Parliament. That's why Indigenous leaders across the country back in 2017 said we want recognition in the Constitution, but the way we want it is to establish a mechanism by which Indigenous Australians are listened to so we can change the way we do business and actually start to close this gap.

ABO: Yeah, and, I mean, look, there's no doubt those comments about colonisation are controversial. I mean, Peter, you're backing the Senator this morning, but she's not backing your proposal for a second referendum if the first one fails. I mean, should you just park it?

DUTTON: Well, look, Sarah, nobody wants a second referendum. We want this referendum to be a unifying not a dividing moment and what we’ve said to the Prime Minister is –

ABO: You want a second referendum.

DUTTON: Well, no, what we've said is that we want reconciliation. I don't believe people, if they vote No on October 14, are voting against helping Indigenous Australians. I don't believe they're voting against recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. But they are voting against the Voice. And what the Prime Minister's done here is tried to use the moral cover of recognition in the Constitution to try and apply some sort of blanket to the Voice so that people don't look at what the Voice is. Because people don't understand it, they won't vote for it. So, our argument is, let's have a unifying moment instead of the dividing moment. The question should just be recognition. I think you'd get 80 per cent support, and that's the policy that we took to the last election, and it's a policy that we'll take to the next election.

ABO: All right, maybe you will wind back that policy of a second referendum if the first one fails. But let's move on now, and the Transport Minister is refusing to release documents explaining her decision to block extra flights from Qatar Airways. There's a fair stink around Qantas at the moment. Richard, what has Catherine King got to hide?

MARLES: There's nothing to hide. A decision was made by the Transport Minister in the ordinary course of her work, as Transport Ministers have made over an extensive period of time, around how to apply the national interest in respect of this. And that's all that she's done.

ABO: Why is she delaying the release of those documents though Richard? That's all.

MARLES: Well, it's not about withholding information. I mean, this whole thing has been really as much kind of heat and light as the Opposition possibly throw on what is the most ordinary decision of government, which, in fact, is to keep the status quo. It's consistent with the decisions that were being made by the former government. At a policy level, at the macro level, we want to see more access into Australia, and that's why we have seen more access provided to Singapore, to Cathay, to China Southern. We want to see more competition applied to Qantas. That's why we have a white paper process in train, so that we do get greater competition in our skies. And Qantas, frankly, does need to be providing the best possible service that it can at the lowest possible price and competition is what will drive that. But this is a very ordinary decision in the ordinary course of government.

DUTTON: It sure is.

ABO: All right, Richard, just very quickly, we're still waiting for you to release those promised documents that you said surrounding your VIP flights. Are they going to be released soon?

MARLES: Well, I mean, the hypocrisy of the Opposition here is rife. We have been providing information and we've been providing information subject to the security advice that we've been given. The person who stopped providing information around the use of the Special Purpose Aircraft is Peter. I mean, that is a matter of fact. And the reason we are talking about this is because we have put information in the public domain.

ABO: All right, so it's not all coming out. Guys, big weekend of footy ahead. No doubt you'll be riding both codes. Really appreciate your time this morning.


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