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ABC Radio Newcastle – Jenny Marchant

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: The Voice

ABC NEWCASTLE BREAKFAST HOST, JENNY MARCHANT: The Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is speaking at a forum in Newcastle today all about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and he's here now. Good morning, Mr. Dreyfus.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning Jenny. Good morning, Dan. It's great to be with you.

MARCHANT: Thank you. Based on the suggested models of how the Voice could work, how would the views of Indigenous people from the Hunter, for instance, be heard in Parliament?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They're going to be participating in selecting the members of the Voice to Parliament. And it’s through this Voice that the views of First Nations people from the Hunter are going to be heard and we think that it's really important that their voices are heard. We think that policies and programs and laws about the First Nations people of Australia are improved if we hear from those people.

ABC NEWCASTLE BREAKFAST HOST, DAN COX: So, Mr. Dreyfus, the Hunter’s Indigenous people would help select the people who were chosen as the Voice in Parliament. Would then the Voice in Parliament be coming back to those people that voted them in and saying what do you need? What works for you here? What do you want?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course, this is all about listening. This is all about consultation. And as the Prime Minister has been saying over and over again, this is about two things. It's about Recognition. It's about consultation. It's about Recognition of the 65,000 years that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been living in this country. And it's about consultation about hearing their voices. Because, I say again, we know that policies and programs and laws about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are improved when we hear their voices.

MARCHANT: Is this symbolic or practical? Would it lead to practical steps that would close the gap, for instance, can you see that happening as a result of this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I can see that happening because we know – and I'll give you an example - Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations, ACCHOs is the acronym, we know that they work better. We know that we get better health outcomes in communities where there are Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations and you can say the same thing about the justice system. You can say the same thing about education. We have had decades of policies that haven't worked for Aboriginal people. By hearing their voices, we will get better outcomes.

MARCHANT: Does the Government not already consult with Indigenous communities on education, health justice, how would this be different to that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's patchy. Of course, there are -

MARCHANT: You have the power to change that without changing the Constitution though right?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm saying it's patchy across Australia. And because we can point to examples, I just pointed to one but there are others, where you get better outcomes by hearing from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people making this permanent, putting the Voice in the Constitution as a permanent principle that there has to be this Voice to Parliament and the Government, that's going to make a change.

COX: So, we as Australians will be voting on this, about putting a Voice in the Constitution, not the finer detail of who will be on the committee and how it works, that's up to Indigenous people, but it seems that some people are inclined to vote no because they would like to have a say on that finer detail. That if they had more detail now that might make them vote yes. That's been the criticism of the yes campaign to date. Why not put all of the detail in the vote?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Because that's not the way the Constitution works. The Constitution has principles in it. The Constitution has very high-level statements like there shall be a High Court of Australia, leaving it to the Parliament, to work out how many judges there are going to be, where it's going to sit, what the rules are going to be and all of those things. And this is no different. There will be a principle in the Constitution. It's a wonderful opportunity for our country to put a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution. And then Parliament, because Parliament is sovereign, Parliament will decide next year after a successful referendum what the structures, functions of the Voice are going to be. That is an absolutely standard, constitutional and legislative frame.

COX: I understand that. What then can you do in your role, if you're so keen on seeing a yes in this referendum, to make sure that there is the detail people want to know before they have to vote on this statement that changes the Constitution?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've been consulting since we came to government, since the Prime Minister said on election night that this was a commitment of our Government and that there would be a referendum to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution. We've been consulting, we've got a Referendum Working Group that the Government has been hearing from. They have already set down some principles that we've been very happy to say we're going to adopt those principles and those principles and more information about what's intended, that's the kind of thing that you will see as the campaign starts up in earnest, which will be after the end of June. What we're now at the point of is we're about to introduce a Constitution Alteration Bill in the Parliament. That's got the formal change to the Constitution, and it'll have the question that Australians are going to be asked to answer at the referendum. That Constitution Alteration Bill will be in the Parliament by the end of this month, we'll have a Parliamentary process. We're looking to have this bill passed by both Houses of the Australian Parliament by the end of June and the campaign will then be on. There'll be a formal campaign, and it'll run through to the referendum in the last bit of this year.

MARCHANT: Can you understand the point of view of some Australians who aren't sure that they would vote yes, because they're not quite sure? They want to know more about how it would work and what it would be. For instance, the last referendum we voted on same-sex marriage. We all understand the concept of marriage. That's quite familiar to us. But this is an entirely new concept.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: When we voted on same-sex marriage, sorry to correct you Jenny, it wasn't a referendum. It was a bit like a referendum but it was a plebiscite which we didn't think was needed, because it wasn't actually needed. It was a matter that the Parliament in the end was able to simply pass a law to create marriage equality in our country. But putting that to one side, it was a national vote. We haven't had actually a referendum in this country since 1999. So we're a bit out of practice. We haven't had a successful referendum in this country since 1977 so you could say we're really out of practice. And national votes are very uncommon in Australia. That national vote in 2017 on marriage equality was, as you say, it was about a concept that everybody understands, marriage. And it was about whether people of the same sex should be permitted to marry and that's where we've ended. But it was still left to the Parliament to then pass a law which created same-sex marriage in our country and that required quite a lot of detail which was left to the Parliament. I think Australians are very familiar with the concept of a national vote on a matter of principle, and then the Parliament sits and passes laws that fill out the detail.

COX: I don't want to be a pessimist but if this is defeated by the end of the year, what comes next? Is there a chance to vote on a different question in the near future would your Government go again before the end of term?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I am working towards a successful referendum in the last part of this year. It's a really important moment for Australia. I think it will take the whole country forward. And I'm looking forward to this historic moment.

MARCHANT: Mark Dreyfus enjoy your time in Newcastle today, and thanks for being here this morning.