Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Canberra

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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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16 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament; Hamas-Israel conflict; Cost of living.

JOURNALIST: Where do we go with reconciliation from here?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Obviously the result on the weekend is not what I'd hoped for. But the referendum was not a vote against reconciliation, the referendum was not a vote against closing the gap. In fact, I think if you look at the way in which both the yes and no cases were argued, we can take from the referendum an increased resolve to act on closing the gap and to act on reconciliation. And that's really what we need to take forward now, and in a sense of unity across the country. I think it's also important in the face of the result that we are embracing Indigenous Australians. Obviously, it was a particularly difficult result for Indigenous Australians. And so as we move forward thinking about closing the gap and thinking about reconciliation, it's really important that we are embracing Indigenous Australians in this moment.

JOURNALIST: The PM said on Saturday night, and your colleagues have said so afterwards as well, that one of the main reasons for Australia voting no was because the Coalition didn't support a Voice. So we knew that many, many weeks before we went to a vote, so why go ahead with it?

MARLES: We committed at the last election, to holding a referendum to putting a Voice to Parliament as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people. We did not go to the last election saying we will do all of that provided that Peter Dutton agrees. There was never a right of veto that was allocated to the Leader of the Opposition in this moment. And yes, there's no doubt that when this stopped being bipartisan, it became a lot more difficult. But that doesn't mean you don't keep going forward. Sometimes difficult things are achieved. It's not what occurred on the weekend. And we very much respect the voice and the decision of the Australian people. Constitutional reform is not now the pathway forward, but we will look at closing the gap and other ways, which is what we take as the message from the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Are you and the PM now under pressure to refocus attention on to priority issues for households and businesses?

MARLES: We have always been focused on the issues of cost of living. I mean, during the last couple of months we've seen increases in the single parent payment, we have seen 60 day prescriptions come into effect which save money for those people with chronic illnesses who use medicines frequently. We've seen the employment white paper, we have been utterly focused throughout this process on cost of living issues, which have really been at the heart of government action from the moment that we were elected in May of last year. It is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. This was an important step to take in terms of having this referendum, it was a commitment that we made to the Australian people. And we've honoured that commitment. But all the while we have been focused on questions of cost of living and we remain so.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think three quarters of Labor seats including your own voted no?

MARLES: Well, I think it is difficult to achieve constitutional reform, full stop. And it's difficult to do that when there is not bipartisanship – in the history of the country, there has never been a referendum that has succeeded when there is no bipartisanship. And so I think this required a lot of explaining, it is a difficult process to go through. And if you look at this result relative to other attempts at constitutional reform, they're pretty similar. But, you know, we made the commitment to do this. And we honour the commitments that we make, and it was important. I mean, we'd hoped that there would be bipartisanship in relation to this. But even when there wasn't it was important that we take this to the Australian people and give them their choice.

JOURNALIST: On Defence flights, Penny Wong said before today might be the last day we can get Australians out of Israel. Do you still have contingency plans beyond that for RAAF flights out of the country?

MARLES: Well, what we would urge all Australians in Israel who want to leave to do is to take the flights that are available to them. There were empty seats on the flights that left Israel last night, and we are planning to do another flight today. We do have Defence assets in the region, but this is a really movable situation. We don't know when airspace will remain open, we don't know when we will be able to get slots into a Ben Gurion Airport. So if there is an option to leave and there are Australians who want to take that option, they should. Thank you.


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