Press conference, Perth WA

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

10 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament Referendum; Hamas-Israel Conflict.

PATRICK GORMAN, MEMBER FOR PERTH: I'm Patrick Gorman, Member for Perth, and it's great to be joined here in Perth, Boorloo, today by my colleague, Minister Anne Aly, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles. We've just been down at early voting and we've walked over here to the gardens, and I noticed that the building behind me, the City of Perth Council offices was proudly and rightly lit up to show this community’s support for the people of Israel, and indeed to show, like many of the state's buildings, lit up to show strong support for the Jewish community here in Western Australia, in the face of awful attacks and a very difficult time for not just the community here in Perth, but of course, communities across the world.

But to talk about Australia's democracy – today, we are here because it is just four days until the referendum, where Australians will get the chance to decide on a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament. To finally answer that statement, that call, that Statement from the Heart that has been on the table for some six years. And I just want to remind everyone, here in Western Australia, the proud role that we have paid over many decades. It was the West Australian Parliament under Liberal Premier Richard Court that acknowledged– saying sorry to those who would had experienced forced separation. It was the WA Parliament under Liberal Premier Colin Barnett who put constitutional recognition in the state Constitution. It was the Liberal Party here in Western Australia that gave us Ken Wyatt, the first Aboriginal man to be in the House of Representatives, the first Aboriginal Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Western Australia has a proud history when it comes to that long walk for reconciliation. And that proud history is what gives me great confidence that when West Australians walk in on Saturday to have their say, they will say Yes. Because they’ve seen the benefits of walking together, they've seen the benefits of listening, and they've seen how you get better results when we work together, we walk together, and we listen to the Aboriginal people here in Western Australia, the First Nations of Australia to make sure we do get those better results, better value for money and we really do bring people together. And that's what this referendum is all about. To say a little bit more about the important choice in front of Western Australians, I’ll pass over to my colleague Anne Aly.

DR ANNE ALY, MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: Thanks Patrick. Well good morning, everyone. We have just four days before Australians will have an opportunity to write history. As a migrant to this country, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had opportunities put in front of me. Opportunities that I would not have had, had I not migrated to this country, with my family at the age of two. And I look at the next generation of my family in Australia, the third generation of the Aly family in Australia. And I want the children of that generation to have the same opportunities that I had, the same opportunities that everyone who comes to this country, all migrants know are opportunities that are unique in this country. Where even the daughter of a bus driver can become a minister in the federal government. Now I realise that's an intensely personal reason for me to vote Yes, but there are practical and pragmatic reasons too. And the practical reason is simply that when we listen to people, when we work with people, when we ask them about how policies affect them, when we ask them for their input and co-design on those policies, we get better results. And everybody, I think, in this country agrees that we need to do better. We need better results for our First Nations. Now ttoday we've been at the pre-poll here in the beautiful electorate of Perth, my dear friend Patrick's electorate. Yesterday, I was at the pre-poll in my electorate of Cowan. And I have to say, the Yes volunteers there, like these Yes volunteers that we have behind us here, were incredibly buoyed by the positive response of people attending that pre-poll. We can do this. We can do this WA and we can do this Australia. We can write a better history for our First Nations people going forward. I'll hand over now to the Deputy Prime Minister.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Anne. It's great to be here with Anne and Patrick in Perth today and can I echo Anne’s comments. We've just been at the Perth CBD pre-poll with the great volunteers behind us and there was a fantastic reception for the case that we were putting forward. And as both Patrick and Anne have said, there are four days to go until the referendum this Saturday. And this is an opportunity for Australians to come out and take a great step forward for our country. Indeed, Australians are already doing that, in the numbers in which they are voting at pre-polls around the country. And what's clear is that there are still a lot of undecided voters out there, which is why we will be campaigning each and every moment through until six o'clock on Saturday night. Because we passionately believe that the passage of this referendum, recognising Indigenous Australians in our Constitution through a Voice to Parliament will make a difference in closing the gap of social disadvantage which affects Indigenous Australians in this country today. And be it here in Perth, or at the Yule River bush meeting in the Pilbara, the message from Indigenous Australians is the same, which is that when they are listened to about programs which particularly affect them, that's the way in which we get the best outcomes and the best chance of making a difference in terms of life expectancy, in terms of health, and in terms of education. And that's why the vast majority of Indigenous Australians around this country are supporting the Yes case in this referendum. Saturday is a huge opportunity for the country to take a big step forward. And so I really encourage people who are unsure to go out and ask questions, to find answers, and to go out and vote. Vote between now and Saturday, vote on Saturday, and vote Yes to make an enormous difference for this country.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the polls are wrong and the Yes vote can win?

MARLES: I think the Yes vote can win. And what's really clear to me and I think all of us who've been involved in campaigning, is that when you're out there explaining what we're trying to do in terms of recognition of First Nations people in the Constitution, but then through a Voice to Parliament, so we can make a difference in closing the gap. This is a message that Australians, I believe, are really receptive to. So I remain optimistic about the passage of this referendum this Saturday. But we're really clear, there's still a lot of undecided voters out there so we're going to keep campaigning each and every moment through until six o'clock Saturday.

JOURNALIST: So what more can be done to convince people to vote Yes? Because it seems like the same arguments have been put since the beginning of the campaign.

MARLES: Well again, I think the experience of all of us is that as we have had the opportunity to meet more and more people, and to explain what this is about – its simplicity, simply recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution as the custodians of this continent for 65,000 years and doing so in a practical way where we listen to them about issues which particularly affect them – that that is a message which resonates with Australians around the country. And so we'll continue to make those arguments, to speak to as many people as possible and yes, I remain very hopeful about the passage of this referendum.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's fair to say people are voting No because they don't want racial separation in the Constitution?

MARLES: No, I think, as I said, when we are out there making this argument, I think the vast bulk of Australians believe that a situation where a group of our fellow citizens, by virtue of their birth, live shorter lives and less healthy lives is fundamentally unfair, and this is an opportunity to change that. And when we talk to Australians about what this can mean, we get a really good reception. So I remain hopeful.

JOURNALIST: The Attorney-General, when he was in WA, said that the Voice could be ignored. But recent commentary in WA suggests people are being encouraged to vote Yes because they’re led to believe that the Government will have to listen to the Voice. So, which one is it?

MARLES: This is a simple matter of consulting and listening to Indigenous Australians about issues which particularly affect them. I mean, that's what the Voice is. It's not a decision making body and that's been clear. But it is a body which will give advice and that advice will be important. Because what is really clear is that when you listen to people who are particularly affected by the programs that impact them, that's when you get the best results. It's not a difficult proposition. It really is not a difficult proposition. When you listen to people who are affected by policy, that's when you will get the best policy outcomes and that's what the Voice is about.

JOURNALIST: But do you think people are voting Yes believing that the Voice can be ignored?

MARLES: I think people are voting Yes because they want to see a difference in social outcomes. I think they want a difference in closing the gap, so that we can meaningfully close a gap which has been persistent and which has been stubborn over decades and decades. We really need to change the way that we do business and listening is the first step in that.

JOURNALIST: The government has had advisory bodies at the state and federal level for decades. If those advisories haven't worked, doesn't it follow that to establish one in the Constitution is throwing good money (inaudible)?

MARLES: I think this is listening in a very different way. But I think this is also keeping faith with a process that began under liberal governments. It was the Howard Government which first thought that recognition of Indigenous Australians should happen in the Constitution. That was a good thing. It was the Abbott Government which first suggested that the process of that should be done by asking Indigenous Australians how they want to be recognised. Again, an important step forward. And that's really what led to, ultimately, the meeting at Uluru, which gave us the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which sought recognition, but in a practical way where we've listened to Indigenous Australians about issues which affect them. So this is a process which has been underway for a long time. And actually, you know, what we're doing as a Government is simply the final step in that, which is taking this to the Australian people, as we said we would do at the last election, and we're keeping faith with that. And I genuinely believe this can make a huge difference in closing the gap.

JOURNALIST: Just on Tony Abbott, is the argument there that because Tony Abbott established that processes, he should have accepted what the outcome was, meaning the Voice?

MARLES: Well, what the Abbott Government said was that we should listen to Indigenous Australians about how they want to see recognition in the Constitution. That's what he said. And that was a good thing to do. And what came from that is literally thousands of meetings around the country of Indigenous Australians, which led up to the 2017 meeting at Uluru, which issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Now, I can only speak for our Government and that is we intend to listen to that Statement. And that's what we said we would do and we would take the proposition of that, which is to establish– to do recognition through the establishment of a Voice to Parliament, we would take that proposition to the people in a referendum and that's what we're doing.

JOURNALIST: To some questions about Israel, if that’s ok? Has Israel asked for any military aid, or any other types of aid from Australia?

MARLES: No, they haven't and there’s really not been any talk of that.

JOURNALIST: Is the Australian Government aware of any Australians yet to be accounted for?

MARLES: I'm not going go into individual cases and I think you'll understand our reticence in talking about individuals. There are about 10,000 Australians who live in Israel and there are other Australians who are there from time to time as tourists, and clearly they are very much the focus of the Government's thoughts and decision making at this moment. We do not have any reports of Australians who have been killed or who have been hospitalised as a result of the attacks that we've seen over the last few days. We continue, though, to work very closely with our Embassy in Israel and with the communities, I might say, across Australia, to account for Australians who are in Israel.

JOURNALIST: Is it clear that Jewish were asked to stay home in Sydney last night? (Inaudible) protests at the Opera House?

MARLES: I think the protest last night in Sydney was regrettable. I mean, I obviously understand there is a broader context to what is happening in the Middle East. But what we have seen over the last few days is an act of terror. An act of terror which has been brought upon innocent people. And as a result of that, more than 900 people– 900 Israelis have lost their lives. And right now our focus is on them. And our focus is on showing solidarity with the people of Israel.

JOURNALIST: Is cutting off power to the Gaza Strip, which Israel has done, should that be considered a war crime (inaudible)?

MARLES: Right now, our focus is on showing solidarity with the people of Israel in the face of this terrorist attack. We acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself ad we very much acknowledge Israel's right to seek the protection, and indeed the liberation of citizens and to act against Hamas.

JOURNALIST: Does the excessive violence that we've seen on the part of Hamas make federal Labor's position more challenging when it comes to referring to the Gaza Strip as an occupied territory?

MARLES: Again, I'll just come back to what I've said. This is a tragic moment. It's a tragic moment in the Middle East, it's really a tragic moment for the world. It is a tragic moment because we have seen an appalling act of terror wrought upon innocent people, with the loss of more than 900 lives and that that number is rising. Our focus is on expressing our solidarity with the people of Israel in this moment.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles, what would you say to any Australians who are considering heading overseas to join in the fighting?

MARLES: Again, our focus is on showing solidarity for the people of Israel in this moment. We do not encourage our citizens to take that step. It is a tragic incident and set of events that has occurred in Israel right now. We're obviously focused on the safety of Australians who are in the region and beyond that, we are focused on expressing our solidarity and support for the people of Israel in this most tragic moment.


Other related releases