Radio interview – ABC Radio Melbourne with Raf Epstein
Subjects: The Voice; Iran.
ABC MELBOURNE DRIVE HOST RAF EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus is the Federal Attorney-General. He's part of the Prime Minister's Cabinet and he's the Labor MP for the seat of Isaacs here in Melbourne. Mark Dreyfus. Good afternoon.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good afternoon Raf. Happy New Year. Welcome back.
EPSTEIN: I think we can keep on saying Happy New Year for a little bit longer.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think so.
EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus how can people vote if they don't know how something's going to work?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There is going to be more information released about the Voice and how it's going to function in the lead up to the referendum. We went to the election Raf with a clear commitment to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart which includes holding a referendum to enshrine a voice to Parliament in our Constitution. That's exactly what we plan to do. And as you said in your intro, we do think that this is going to be a unifying moment for Australia. It's about taking this country forward for everyone. Constitutional recognition is what's needed. It's long overdue. We've been talking about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our founding document for decades, and it's time to take the next step.
EPSTEIN: There's a lot of proposed ideas out there. There's some significant people who've done significant work, people like Marcia Langton, but when you say there's going to be more detail from the Government, will there be draft legislation before the vote?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, because we are voting on a principle. We're voting on a principle of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution and establishing a Voice and there's already a lot of information out there. We've made it clear that the Voice to Parliament is going to be an advisory body made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who give advice to government on the issues that affect their communities so that better policies can be made. The composition, the functions, the powers and procedures of the Voice are going to be determined by Parliament. We've been working with the Referendum Working Group of senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders on key aspects of the Voice. There's already a lot of information because the working group has agreed to key design principles for the Voice and I'll just go through them. It's going to provide independent advice to the Parliament and the Government. It is going to be chosen by First Nations people, based on the wishes of local communities. It's going to be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It's going to be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful, culturally-informed, gender-balanced and include youth. And it's going to be accountable and transparent. And it's going to work alongside existing organisations. We know a lot already.
EPSTEIN: I appreciate it. I'm not saying the detail isn't there. What I'm what I am curious about why do you think it's going to make a difference? Why does it why will it help First Nations people, if it's in the Constitution?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We know that better informed decision making leads to better outcomes. And I'd give you as an example, the Aboriginal-controlled health organisations, we know that they deliver better outcomes and -
EPSTEIN: None of that requires it being in the Constitution. What's your argument for why it makes a difference? If there's a few lines in the Constitution, why does that particular thing that's the question in the referendum not a health service that's well informed? Why does it make a difference if it's in the Constitution?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So that there will be a permanent advisory body that can't simply be swept away on the whim of some future government. It'll be made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who give advice to government and the Parliament on the issues that affect their communities so that better policies will be made. I've heard Mr. Dutton and others talk about the need to address decades of policy failure in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And our Government agrees - more of the same will not work. We are going to address those decades of policy failure by ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will permanently have a say in laws and policies that are made about them. It's about achieving constitutional recognition, significant in itself, but in a form of the Voice. And that's what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 after long years, the longest-ever consultation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia. I'm very confident that this is going to make a substantial difference. And I'm hoping that Mr. Dutton will take the chance to show real leadership and give him principles support to the Voice. He's saying that there's been decades of policy failure well I'm asking: will he listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are simply asking for a say in the matters that affect their communities?
EPSTEIN: I'll get to calls after I've had a chat to Mark Dreyfus, 1300 222 774, tell me what you make of what Mark Dreyfus is saying. As Attorney-General, I don't know if this is the right question for you, Mark Dreyfus, but I'll ask anyway, have you done enough on this? I am always quite surprised when I have to chat to people who aren't journalists or politicians, a lot of people don't even know what the Voice. You have to explain. Have you done enough? Have you spoken enough about this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We are not at the referendum, Raf. It's going to be in the second six months of this year. And before then, we will have had a campaign. We will have had community groups across the country working on this. We will have heard from Aboriginal leaders. We will have heard from all of those community groups, from corporate Australia who are backing this and there will be plenty of information out there. And I'd be guessing that by the time that we get to the referendum in the second half of this year, there won't be many Australians that haven't heard of the Voice. And I'd be very, very hopeful that not only will the referendum succeed, but it'll be succeeding in an informed way. It'll be succeeding because Australians do know enough about the Voice, do think that as a matter of principle we should be putting the Voice in our Constitution. But I agree with you polling has told us that as yet, not every Australian knows about the Voice.
EPSTEIN: Tons don't.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And that tells us that there's a campaign ahead, that we do need to campaign. There will be a campaign, we've always intended that there'll be a campaign, but it's going to be a community-led campaign and groups are gathering across Australia. The campaign is gathering strength across Australia. And that's what will be happening starting around the end of February and going forward for the rest of the year.
EPSTEIN: Is Lidia Thorpe damaging the yes case?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Lidia Thorpe's got her own views. And no one is saying that there needs to be unanimity across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. But some of the things that Lidia Thorpe has asked for such as treaty first, doesn't accord with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Our commitment to the Australian people at the May 2022 election was to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart and that includes holding a referendum to enshrine a Voice to Parliament. Treaty comes next.
EPSTEIN: So if what Lidia Thorpe is saying doesn't accord with the Statement from the Heart, which is the reason for the referendum. Is she damaging the yes case?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, she's free to express her views but we always anticipated that there might be people in the community who would not be fully in favour. Her party has indicated that it is very likely to support the referendum campaign and I'm hoping that that's where we end up.
EPSTEIN: And does Jacinta Price and her advocacy for the no case, she's the most significant voice on this issue, perhaps, in the National party, is she damaging the yes case?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: As I've said, we've always anticipated that there might be some people in the Australian community that will be advocating against this referendum. But the fact that the announcing of a position by the Federal Nationals was immediately met by descent from their own, from within their own ranks. And the descent from state Nationals, particularly the leader of the Nationals in WA, tells me that quite probably the decision taken by the Federal Nationals late last year was premature and I'm going to be continuing to work with them as I'm going to continue to work with every member of the Australian Parliament to make sure that when we get to the referendum. It's really the Australian people that are going to decide it's not going to be politicians. But I'd be, I'm going to continue to work with everyone in the Parliament including the Nationals. To see if I can convince them that the right course here is to get this done, to get constitutional recognition.
EPSTEIN: I'll see if people feel convinced on 1300 22 774. Before you go Mark Dreyfus the demonstrations and protests in Iran are probably the most significant event in Iran since the 1979 revolution. There's a very significant sort of military and economic force actually called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. A number of our closest allies have declared them a terrorist organisation, the US and Canada. Britain plans to. A lot of people who support those protesters would like the Australian government to say: Yep, the Revolutionary Guard are a terrorist organisation. That means governments can impose a lot more sanctions effectively on Iran. Is the Government here going to say that the Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organisation?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'll say directly Raf that the listing of prescribed terror organisations is a very serious legal step on which the Government takes advice on from relevant agencies. But I can say that our Government has strongly condemned the execution of protesters in Iran, we call on Iran and will continue to do so to immediately halt those executions. Australia supports the people of Iran and their right to freedom of expression and equality, particularly for women and girls. And we have already imposed some sanctions on individual officers so -
EPSTEIN: There's a lot of politicians, Greens, Nationals, Liberal, saying you should consider it. Is it under consideration?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Listing of prescribed terror organisations is an ongoing process. And I'm not going to say more than that. It is a very serious legal step. The Government takes advice from relevant agencies. It's an ongoing process. Well, generally, the listing of prescribed terror organisations takes place, for the 28 or 29 terror organisations that are currently listed by Australia, they have to be reviewed every three years. And new organisations are from time to time listed. But we act on advice from relevant agencies.
EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time today. Thank you.