THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RN BREAKFAST
FRIDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: The Voice to Parliament; Senate inquiry into consent laws.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: With just one month to go until Australians vote in the referendum to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament the last week has taken an ugly turn. Each side has accused the other of peddling misinformation about the Voice and a debate about racism has dominated the parliamentary debate. The opposition's Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price yesterday delivered her National Press Club address and controversially said colonisation had been good for Indigenous Australians. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is our guest this morning. Attorney-General welcome.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning, Patricia. Good to be with you.
KARVELAS: Yesterday, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price said colonisation had improved the lives of Aboriginal people who now had access to running water and food instead of having to live off the land. Is that how you see it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: What I see is that we've got a referendum coming in four weeks. Australians will have a choice, a choice between recognition and listening, or leaving it up to the politicians to decide. The choice between a better future or more of the same old failures. This referendum is about the future Patricia and I'm really looking forward to the next four weeks of talking to Australians about what's on the ballot paper and joining the thousands and thousands of volunteers who are going to be talking to their friends, talking to their family, talking to workmates talking to people on the street about why we need to make this change.
KARVELAS: Okay, the future, of course, is always framed by the past. And the question I asked you, which you very much did not address with respect, is in relation to this idea of whether colonisation had improved the lives of Aboriginal people. Your colleague, Linda Burney, has called out the comments, do you agree with her?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The No campaign strategy, Patricia, has been to ignore the proposal that's on the ballot paper, to sow fear and division across our wonderful country and talk about anything other than what's on the ballot paper. That's what the No campaign - the official directions they're giving to their volunteers, ignore the facts. hide who you are, cause fear, cause alarm, never actually discuss the actual issue on the ballot paper and we need to get back to what we've got to do in four weeks’ time. Early voting starts on the second of October. There'll be Australians voting on this really, really important referendum, this really important question for our country, in two weeks’ time. And all 17 million Australians will have voted by the end of the 14th of October in four weeks. So, I'm going to be talking about the issue on the ballot paper which is a simple, straightforward proposal that will change our country for the better to give us a better future for all Australians.
KARVELAS: I understand what you're saying, but are you suggesting that for instance, even Jacinta Price's comments about colonisation are about distracting from the referendum.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: She is doing what the No campaign has done for many, many months, which is to talk about anything other than this referendum. The simple and straightforward proposal to recognise Aboriginal people in our Constitution, something that the Liberal Party has said for many years it is committed to, and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Because we know that when governments listen to people about issues that affect them we get better decisions, we get better results and we spend money better. That's what we should be talking about.
KARVELAS: And we will, absolutely, that's what I do here. But she did say some other things which are worth interrogating. One of them is that family violence and interpersonal violence is experienced not because of the effects of colonisation, but because it is expected that young girls are married off to older husbands and arranged marriages. Is that the case?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm going to talk about the issue that's on the ballot paper.
KARVELAS: But doesn't that deserve to be addressed?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's urgent, Patricia, it's urgent that we have a national conversation about something that's going to change our country for the better, not to play the game that the No campaign is asking us to do. Not to follow the directions that the No campaign is giving its volunteers of ignoring the facts and talking about anything other than what's on the ballot paper and that's apparently what Senator Price did yesterday. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to answer your questions about the referendum that we have on the 14th of October with early voting starting on the second of October. There's no time to waste. I'd encourage everybody to get out and talk to their friends and family and workmates about why they should vote Yes. We're not going to get another chance in our lifetime if No wins. It's really a case of if not now, when. It's urgent that we actually discuss the proposal that's on the ballot.
KARVELAS: It's interesting you say that because last night on 730, Senator Kerrynne Liddle actually called out that the idea that reconciliation isn't dealt with in our lifetime if people vote No and said that's not the case. That even Reconciliation Australia says, you know, reconciliation continues. Why do you say it's dead?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm saying that we won't get another chance to change our Constitution. Mr Dutton says he wants to have a second referendum. Now, I'd invite Australians to consider how likely that is when the Liberal and National Parties were in power for nine years. They said that they were committed to recognition. We had a Liberal Prime Minister and a Labor Opposition Leader ask Aboriginal people in a process that started in 2015 how recognition was to take place. We got the answer in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a magnificent statement that said that recognition should take the form of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Having got the answer the Liberal Party turned its back on the answer and the Liberal Party is still turning its back on the answer with Mr. Dutton saying we're going to have a second referendum. Now, that's not what Australians want. I'm predicting that if No wins on the 14th of October we won't be having a referendum anytime soon about recognition of Aboriginal people in our Constitution. We won't be righting that historic wrong. Instead, we will be doing more of the same because that's the No campaign's answer. They just want more of the same. No leads nowhere, Patricia. What we want is a better future which is provided by voting Yes, by putting recognition in our Constitution, by listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
KARVELAS: You want to call out misinformation but if it is indeed thriving on the internet isn't calling it out kind of useless? It's still spreading like wildfire.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is the world that all political activity is now taking place in, where there's social media, where everyone's got a platform. But we have to try. We have to say to people, use your critical faculties. Think hard about who's talking, think hard about why they might be talking and think hard about what they're saying. Think about whether there's an actual fact behind what they're saying. Think about whether there's prejudice and racism behind what they might be saying. And think about the issue that's before our country, which is this magnificent opportunity, making a generous request that was made of us in the Uluru Statement from the Heart saying to all Australians, please recognise us in the Constitution by putting a Voice in the Constitution. And that's now what is on the ballot paper at this referendum, the first referendum which we have had since 1999. Many Australians, 7 million Australians, have never voted in a referendum. A lot of Australians don't even know we've got a constitution and that's what we're sort of up against here. But that's why we've got to focus and talk about what's the proposal before the Australian people, what's on the ballot paper on the 14th of October. Let's talk about that. Let's not get distracted with talking about a whole lot of matters that sure, might be important. We can talk about them at another time, talk about them later. But, right now, it's the first step that the Uluru Statement from the Heart asks for. That's the first step in providing the answer that was asked for in 2015 by Liberal Prime Minister. We're now at it. We're there in four week's time Patricia.
KARVELAS: Let me get in, you say ask yourself whether prejudice and racism is behind what they're saying.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I didn't say what they're saying. I'm saying generally. I was just offering a little primer, I suppose on how to participate in Australian politics in 2023. Misinformation is a really big problem. Social media and the proliferation of platforms and the ability of everybody to be a publisher makes this difficult. So it's all the more reason why we, as educators, an educated community, and we are in educated community, can apply our critical faculties.
KARVELAS: So does that mean that this is harder than you anticipated?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Politics is hard.
KARVELAS: This particular campaign is harder than you anticipated?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It was clear, as soon as the Federal Opposition made a decision that they were going to oppose this referendum, a decision which they announced before we had even finalised the words, that this was going to be very difficult. Not all Liberal voters and not all Liberal Party Members of Parliament agree with that decision that's been taken by the Federal Opposition and that's a very good thing. We have a Liberal Premier of Tasmania and a Liberal Government in Tasmania that is supporting this referendum. We have Liberals For Yes. We have the former spokesman and former Shadow on Aboriginal Affairs, and the former Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser, very loudly, saying 'I'm a Liberal and I'm for this referendum'. So it's not like everybody in the Liberal Party has decided to oppose. But, in answering your question, as soon as the Federal Opposition led by Peter Dutton formally opposed this referendum it got harder. And it is hard, and we are up against it. But I am looking forward to the next four weeks where I'll be talking every day, right across Australia, and joining thousands of volunteers who can see the better future for all Australian.
KARVELAS: So what happens the day after the referendum? If there is, and you say you're up against it, so you're conceding it could happen, if there is a No vote will your government outline what the future looks like for Indigenous Australians?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not contemplating failure. This is going to succeed, Patricia, I am confident that Australians will...
KARVELAS: What metrics are you basing that on?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: My faith in Australians, my faith in the goodness of Australians, my faith in the optimism of Australians who want to achieve a reconciled future for our country, who want a better future for all Australians. I'm relying not just on the goodness, but the commonsense of Australians. Because people know that if you listen to people about the issues that affect them you're going to make better decisions, you're going to get better results, you're going to spend money better. These are practical outcomes that will be delivered by this referendum.
KARVELAS: But I do think that you will need to provide an outline about whether, for instance, you'll do the other things in the Uluru Statement, if there's a No vote, there's treaty and truth.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We'll get to them after we've done the first step. The Uluru Statement ...
KARVELAS: If the first step fails what happens?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not contemplating failure, we are going to succeed.
KARVELAS: All right, I'm not going to get an answer from you on that I can see but I will ask you another question. On to another very important issue, which is not on this, another issue, a landmark Senate inquiry into sexual consent laws has recommended the Federal Government immediately establish an independent task force to hold universities and colleges to account on sexual violence. Will your government do this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is a really significant report. We got it yesterday about the current state of sexual consent laws around Australia and I'd really I want to thank the Senate committee and its Deputy Chair Nita Green, who initiated this inquiry. This is really considered work on this topic and it's a report, I'll describe it as one which outlines the gaps in laws across states and territories. It looks at the experiences of victim survivors of sexual assault in the justice system, and it's really clear we've got a lot of work to do. This is work that is already underway through the Standing Council of Attorneys-General which I chair, and there's a lot more work to do.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you Patricia.
KARVELAS: That's the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and you're listening to ABC RN breakfast