Doorstop Interview with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – Bankstown – Friday 21 April 2023


SUBJECTS: Cheaper child care; Reserve Bank of Australia; Voice to Parliament; Lidia Thorpe; John Sattler.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well, thanks for coming along to Bankstown, boss. Great to have you in my neck of the woods on a beautiful Friday morning here at Uniting Care. And I want to thank the Uniting team for welcoming us here again, I was here only just last week talking about child care, talking about something which is so important for mums and dads all across the country, including about 100,000 families right here in Western Sydney. And if you’re in a family on a combined income of about 120 grand, these changes will cut the cost of child care for you by about $1,700 a year. And for families here in Western Sydney that are doing it tough, where money’s tight, that’ll make a real difference. That’s real money that will help with the cost of living pressures in our community. And this is the triple whammy: it’s good for kids, it’s good for mums and dads and it’s good for the whole country. It’s good for our children, because the more time in care, the better prepared you are for school. It’s good for mums and dads, because if you can cut the cost of child care, then it’s more money in their pocket and helps them to go back to work and get more paid hours or more paid days at work if they want to. And it’s good for our country because because employers right across Australia are screaming out for skilled workers and this helps people to get back to paid work. This time last year we were in the middle of the election campaign, and this was one of the big commitments we made to the Australian people. The Australian people voted for it, we passed laws to make it happen, and in 71 days, it’s going to become a reality for more than a million Aussies right across the country.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: It’s great to be back here in Bankstown in the wonderful electorate of Blaxland, so ably represented by Jason Clare, who’s not just a great local member, but proving to be a great Education Minister, from early childhood learning right through to schools, through to universities, and of course, TAFE as well. The truth is that the young ones who we’re with this morning, over 90 per cent of the human brain development occurs in the first five years. So what it makes sense to do is to invest in those early years, to invest in our young Australians. And what we see today in this multicultural heartland of Western Sydney is young children learning from each other as well as learning from their educators. This is an investment in the future of Australia, which is why it’s the largest on-Budget commitment that I made during the election campaign, which was taking place at this time just one year ago. But it’s also fantastic for the economy, because what it will do is add to the equivalent of up to 37,000 additional people into the workforce because early childhood learning is, of course, good for workforce participation. The three P’s of growth: participation, productivity and population – this helps with all three of them. So, it is a very important investment that we’re making. I pay tribute to the early learning educators that we’ve met here today, but right around Australia, who make an enormous difference for our youngest Australians. This is also a part of the Government’s commitment to gender equity and you’ll see measures in the lead up to the Budget aimed at gender equity, just as you have throughout our first year in office. It is a priority for Labor, making sure that in government we are making a difference. Which is why we’ve made gender equity an objective of the Fair Work Act. Which is why we’ve implemented the recommendations of the Jenkins Review, and why this child care policy is front and centre of our commitment to improve productivity, to improve workforce participation, to take pressure off working families as well, part of our measures to deal with cost of living, but to do so in a way that boosts productivity, lifts the economy and is good for growth as well. 

JOURNALIST: Just on cost of living, Philip Lowe came out and said he’d be happy to get another term if the Government was happy for him to do so. Do you think he should stay on?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we’ll give consideration to that at the appropriate time. The RBA review is very important and we respect the independence of the Reserve Bank of Australia. What we’re doing with this review and supporting the recommendations that have been forwarded to the Government, is to strengthen its independence and strengthen the way that it operates as well by having the two boards operating, one looking after the Reserve Bank and its functions, but secondly, another concentrating on monetary policy going forward. So we will make all of those decisions in the fullness of time. What we’ve been doing on is concentrating on the policy framework, getting that right as well.

JOURNALIST: The Solicitor-General’s advice has been released, but it’s been dated April 19. Why don’t you release the previous or original advice?

PRIME MINISTER: We don’t release, nor do any government ever release advice to Cabinet. People have said and there’s been speculation, unfounded, by the Coalition, who of course, should be renamed the ‘Noalition’. They said no to all the cost of living measures that we’ve put in place, including energy price relief, they said no to jobs in manufacturing through our National Reconstruction Fund. They’ve said no to increased investment in housing through our Housing Australia Future Fund. And, of course, they’ve said no to a Voice to Parliament, even before the committee process has been undertaken. The Solicitor-General’s advice that we asked for, that has been forwarded to the Committee by the Attorney-General as I said it would be, is very clear and it’s unequivocal. It’s really important to just read perhaps some key elements of that Solicitor-General’s opinion. He said this: “The proposed amendment is not only compatible with the system of representative and responsible government established under the Constitution, but it enhances the system.” It goes on to say the Voice would not: “form part of either the Parliament or the Executive Government, instead operating only as an advisory body to those two branches of government. The Voice clearly has no power of veto.” That’s at paragraph 17. Paragraph 19: “The Voice’s function of making representations will not fetter or impede the exercise of existing powers of the Executive Government.” And in paragraph 18(a) the Solicitor General said: “The text of proposed section 129 imposes no obligations of any kind upon the Voice, the Parliament or the Executive Government.” This puts to bed the absolute nonsense of Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce and all the nonsense that they’ve carried on with, saying that somehow recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution will lead to Anzac Day being abolished. It is complete nonsense. They are just determined to play politics with this. And the tragedy of this is that Australians, from the littlest Australians who we just saw there today, this morning once again paying respect to Indigenous Australians by having an Acknowledgement of Country. It happens in early learning centres, it happens in schools, it happens in churches, it happened before football games, it happens before the Parliament each and every day. This is simply a matter of recognising Indigenous Australians in our Constitution and allowing for them to make representations on matters that affect them in order to close the gap on education, health, housing, incarceration rates, life expectancy, on all the issues in which there is a gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. So this exposes for the complete falsehood that it is, that there is any suggestion from serious people. That’s consistent, of course, with the comments of former Chief Justice French, former Justice Hayne, Anne Twomey, Bret Walker, people who have examined this and looked at the words that have been put forward in the legislation that before the Parliament conclude that it is legally sound. And that is what the Solicitor-General’s advice, that is clear before the Committee, has submitted.

JOURNALIST: In regards to the Solicitor-General’s opinion on the Voice, how greatly does it differ from the original advice that was tended to Cabinet? And are there any concerns from the Solicitor-General that haven’t made it into this opinion document?

PRIME MINISTER: No. And he makes it very clear. The Solicitor-General is someone of integrity. And so the nonsense and falsehoods that have been put around, of course, are just absurd, some of the arguments. And they’re desperate arguments, because this is a modest change. This is a generous and gracious offer of First Nations people to advance reconciliation in this country. And the Solicitor-General’s advice makes it very clear that it’s legally sound, as well as, of course, former Justices of the High Court, the leading legal academics in this country and others as well have all concluded the same, consistent with the Solicitor-General’s advice, which is very comprehensive.

JOURNALIST: Does this morning’s poll make you concerned that the referendum might be on track to fail?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m very confident that Australians will take up the generous offer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to walk the journey of reconciliation. We know it’s very difficult to get Constitutional change in this country. But we’ll continue to argue the case. There’ll continue to be falsehoods put about by the opponents. I say this to Australians as well, as I said at Garma almost a year ago now: If not now, when? When will we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I just wanted to ask about Lidia Thorpe as well. She released quite a lengthy statement yesterday hitting out at your comments about her getting the support that she needs. Do you regret referring to her mental health at all?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I didn’t. That’s the point. So they should actually comment on what I said, which is that I hope that if she needs help that she gets help. I’ve got to say that if a mate of mine had been the subject of multiple public events, as has occurred with Senator Thorpe, my concern was just a human one. That if someone had laid down in front of a truck for Twenty10, a youth service in my electorate, during Mardi Gras, if then there had been the footage which has been shown the other night, then I would reach out. I’ve provided whatever support to Lidia Thorpe, I’ve had conversations with her. When I met with her she asked for additional staff when she moved to the crossbench and I gave that. There was another request made by Lidia Thorpe as well, that I agreed to on a personal level. And I wish her well. I hope that these incidents stop. They are not appropriate for any member of the public, let alone a member of the Senate.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the Voice, if support for the Voice continues to fall, will you have no choice but to remove executive government from the second clause if it could get bipartisan support?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, quite clearly, Peter Dutton isn’t interested in bipartisanship support. I met with him on seven occasions. A whole lot of nonsense arguments have been put up, including on the Solicitor-General’s argument. There’ll be another one when the Coalition have a look at the Solicitor-General’s advice. My prediction, my bold prediction, is that they will say ‘Now there’s another test that has to be made’. So they still won’t support it. They’ve made that clear. The National Party didn’t even wait to see what the question was before they rejected it as well. And that’s why Australians are, I believe, tiring of the negativity of the Opposition. Just because Peter Dutton has the title of Opposition Leader shouldn’t mean he opposes everything. But he’s taken his title literally. And he just says no to everything. And that’s why he’s the leader of the ‘Noalition’. And that’s why Australians deserve better. Australians will look at this modest change on its merits and they’ll know that all it is about is constitutional recognition and that Aboriginal people should be consulted on matters that affect them, and will make representations. The Solicitor-General’s advice is consistent with every every common sense reading, let alone interpretation and reading, in legal terms, by Justice French and Justice Hayne and others. It indicates very clearly that the Parliament retains its primacy. There’s no right of veto. There’s no right of funding. This is a very modest request. And I sincerely hope that Australians vote Yes in the last quarter of the year.

JOURNALIST: Souths legend John Sattler is being farewelled today. What are your reflections on his legacy?

PRIME MINISTER: John Sattler was not only a great footballer and legend on the field, he was a great man off the field. He was someone of great dignity. He was very gentle off the field. He wasn’t always gentle on the field. He was a fearsome warrior for South Sydney, and some of my fondest memories are sitting on the hill at Redfern Oval with my mum as a very young boy and watching John Sattler lead South Sydney out. It’s quite extraordinary that his record of playing for Australia, of playing for New South Wales, of leading South Sydney to no less than four Premierships is an extraordinary record. And I was there in 1971, which is the second-last time that South Sydney won the comp, it was 43 years until we won again in 2014. South Sydney requires loyalty to back in for 43 years between drinks. But I also fondly remember John Sattler during the period in which I was director of South Sydney, a board member, when we were removed from the competition and fought our way back with people power. John Sattler was inspirational during that period as well. He’ll be sadly missed by all those who met him, whether they be rugby league people or not, because he was a true gentleman off the field.