Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 25 August 2023






SUBJECTS: The Voice Referendum

NATALIE BARR: Well, there are fresh calls this morning for a last-minute change to how referendum votes are counted. Peter Dutton says it is completely outrageous that a cross won’t be accepted as a no vote against the Voice to Parliament, but a tick will be accepted as a yes.

The opposition leader has written to the Australian Electoral Commission arguing the approach is fundamentally lop‑sided and risks distorting the vote.

Let’s bring in Education Minister, Jason Clare, and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you. Jason, should a cross be accepted as a no vote if the Electoral Commission is going to accept a tick for a yes?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day Nat. These are the same rules that we had for the last referendum back in 1999, and it didn’t cause any confusion then.

I think part of the argument they’re making is this is going to cause a heap of confusion. When John Howard held a referendum into the republic, same rules, worked fine, and I think there were less than 1 per cent of votes were informal. So, I think that pricks the bubble of this argument that this is going to cause some sort of confusion.

BARR: Yeah. So, there’s the ballot paper on our screen. Some of us may not remember the last election, we’ll just lose that strap so people can see the whole ballot paper, so it says, “Do you approve the proposed alteration?  Write ‘yes’ or write ‘no’.” 

So Sussan, you can ‑ a tick will be accepted, or the word “yes” or the word “no”, but if you write a cross and you’re meaning no, that won’t be accepted. Are the rules according to the Electoral Commission, Sussan? So do we stick with them?

SUSSAN LEY: No, we ask really serious questions, Nat. If a tick is yes, then a cross should be no. It’s really that simple, and this excuse from Jason that we can go back to 1999 and use those rules, well, we had Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday in 1999, I don’t think my mobile phone worked properly, if at all, in that era. This is the modern era, and we have a lot more Australians who don’t speak English, and we want everyone to vote at this referendum.

So quite simply, what will people think? A tick is yes, a cross is no. I actually would expect Jason and his team to be writing similarly to the AEC, to actually ask for the rules to be fair, and everybody ‑ if I walk up and down the street of Griffith in the Riverina where I am and I ask that question, people would simply say, “Yeah, a tick is ‘yes’, a cross is ‘no’.” So I think there’s time to get it right, but we do have to get it right.

BARR: Jason, should we get rid of the tick, is that the problem? Should you have to write “yes”, or you have to write “no”?

CLARE: They’re the same rules we’ve had for 30 years, and if Sussan and Peter are so worried about this, why didn’t they move an amendment to the legislation a couple of weeks ago when this was going through the Parliament. The bottom line is, Sussan’s trying to make the argument that what a tick and a cross means now is different to what it meant in the 1990s or the 1980s, that’s just the weakest, laziest argument I’ve ever heard.

BARR: What about the intention though, Jason, because the legislation states “The AEC must count a ballot paper if the voter’s intention is clear.” If someone walks up and they put a cross, is that reasonable that they would think “no”?

CLARE: I think the point people are making is a cross can mean different things, and you had guests on a moment ago that made that point. The bottom line is the rules haven’t changed. Same rules that John Howard set up, and for those of us that are over 40, we can remember John Howard set in place a referendum about whether we should become a republic.

Now, John Howard didn’t want us to become a republic. He was urging people to vote no. And these are the rules he put in place.

LEY: Jason’s chasing a republican ‑ a republic rabbit down a burrow here. This is not about any of that. This is really about what makes sense to the Australian population today, not 30 years ago.

CLARE: Why didn’t you raise this in the Parliament a couple of weeks ago, Sussan? 

LEY: And we do have a lot less people ‑ we do have a lot less people who actually don’t speak English. 

BARR: Sussan, why haven’t you raised this before now, we’ve been talking about it for a while.

LEY: Well, we’re raising it now, and the AEC ‑‑

BARR: And why not before now?

LEY: ‑‑ has the matter to deal with. Well, it’s actually an issue for the AEC, which is why I think Jason should be talking to them and be absolutely firm on having a fair referendum. That’s what we want. The rules have to be fair.

BARR: So, Jason, will you look into it? Should the AEC look into it because we’re in modern times; it’s been 30 years or 24 years?

CLARE: If Peter’s written to the AEC, they’ll respond. If they were serious about this, they would have changed the law, or attempted to change the law a couple of weeks ago. I think the fact that we’re using the same rules as has been in place for 30 years, and at the last referendum there was an informal vote of less than 1 per cent tells you that this is all politics.

BARR: Okay. Sussan, that’s pretty low informal vote, isn’t it, so that might say something. Okay, stay tuned. We’ll wait till the AEC actually give us a response. Thank you. See you next week. Here’s Shirvo.