Doorstop Interview – Parliament House, Canberra – Monday 9 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Voice Referendum; Hamas-Israel conflict; Safety on university campuses

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Australia is the best country in the world. We all know that. And in five days, we get a chance to make Australia an even better and an even fairer place. We get a chance to recognise our history, and to help a group of Australians who are really doing it tough. And for my mind, that’s a really Aussie thing to do. To help a group of Australians who are doing it tough.

Peter Dutton is not interested in that. Peter Dutton is just interested in politics and division. And if you want proof of that, then have a look at the front page of The West Australian today. He’s now saying that after the Referendum is over, they’re thinking about holding a Senate inquiry and hauling companies into this place just for disagreeing with him. Dragging people into this building because they donated to the Yes campaign. Because they disagree. There’s the evidence that Peter Dutton has only ever been about one thing, and that’s him and his own political advantage. About politics, and about division, and now about political payback. That’s not what being a leader is all about. A big part about being a leader is about trying to help Australians that are doing it tough. That’s what this Referendum is all about, and in five days’ time Australia gets a chance to be part of that, to help build a better country and I so hope that Australians do.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to your situation in your electorate, members of the Arab Muslim and Arab Christian communities who feel that Federal Labor Government has failed to provide adequate support in terms of rhetoric for Palestinians who are fighting they say, for their liberation?

CLARE: I would say that in Australia, we celebrate the end of war, not the start of it. All Australians should condemn the attack by Hamas on Israel. And all Australians should come together in wanting to see a protection of civilian lives, be it in Israel, or in Palestine.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about tensions boiling over in Western Sydney and south-western Sydney where we are seeing pro Palestine rallies?

CLARE: No, I’m not. Australians are good, honest, hardworking people. We see what happens on the other side of the world and it worries all Australians. What I’m more worried about are the scenes that we see on television at night, the front pages of newspapers today and what we’ll see in the days to come, and that is more violence, more death. None of us want to see that.

JOURNALIST: Just moments ago, Peter Dutton at his press conference said that the Australian Government should not be urging restraint. What do you say to comments like that?

CLARE: I’ll refer that to Penny Wong. She’s the Foreign Minister and she’s made it very, very clear that we condemn the attack on Israel. No one in Australia and no one around the world wants to see death and destruction. We’ve had enough of that.

JOURNALIST: Should Israel be exercising restraint in its attacks on Gaza?

CLARE: In the points that Penny’s made, no one wants to see innocent civilians killed.

JOURNALIST: Would you support Australia providing support to Israel, including munitions?

CLARE: Let me refer that to Penny. That is in her area of responsibility.

JOURNALIST: On the Voice, Jason, the Prime Minister and other people were talking about in our last big campaign yesterday, you have to have more conversations with people. The polls are going the wrong way, are you concerned people simply aren’t listening to the conversations that have been had?

CLARE: People are just starting to tune in. Not everybody, lots of people have voted last week, lots more people will vote this week. But the vast majority of Aussies will vote this weekend. And for a lot of Australians, I’m pretty sure they still haven’t made up their mind. You’ve touched on the polls in the paper today, there’s a lot of Australians who are still not sure. Australia has got five days to make up our mind on this. As people count down to Saturday, they will give this serious thought. But this is tough. Winning a referendum is tough. Only one in five referenda in our history has got up. A Labor Government has only been successful in getting a referendum up once. In 1946. That gives you an idea just how hard this is. This is the political equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it if what we do here helps to change the lives of people doing it tough.

JOURNALIST: Well, obviously the results still to be had and you’re hoping to win. But you talked about it being a mountain to climb and all these sort of things like surely there is thought being put to in the Government, in the ranks, in your portfolio, maybe about what happens on October 15 if it is a no vote, what does the country look like?

CLARE: I’m focused on Saturday, not Sunday. There are good things and real things that we can do as a Government to help improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. And I’m doing a lot of that now, the legislation in the Parliament, in the area of higher education, we think and hope will double the number of Indigenous people in university within the decade.

The investments we hope to make in school education next year with the next National School Reform Agreement will look to change the situation that exists today where Indigenous kids are three times more like fall behind and three times to stay behind as well.

The work we need to do in early education as well will look at getting more Indigenous kids into preschool.

But we have to do more than that. We have to do more than just change what we’re doing, we have to change the way we do things. Because if we change the way we do things, and that’s what the Voice is about, then you can make a bigger difference.

And with school education, making a difference isn’t just what happens in the classroom, it’s what happens outside the classroom. It’s whether a child goes to school hungry or not, whether they’re healthy or not, whether they sleep in a room with 10 other kids or whether they’ve got their own bedroom or not, whether mum and dad have a job or not. All of those things have an impact on how a child goes at school, or whether they turn up at all. The Voice is about bringing advice together on all those things, on health and housing and employment, as well as education. That’s how you make a real difference in the lives of children today and children tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: In your portfolio, you hosted Education Ministers last week. You spoke about an independent safety body. Just wondering what that would look like. You talked about legislation that calls for a taskforce to keep university students safer, to provide independent oversight, the department doesn’t trust the sector to do it. Would that be a priority? Would that inform the establishment? Would you put the taskforce up first, before the new student body and provide independent oversight to universities before?

CLARE: We’ve got a Working Group now. It’s made up of officials from every State and Territory. They’re being informed by organisations like STOP, End Rape on Campus and Fair Agenda, who represent students. They’re contemplating what sort of things are necessary to make sure that students are safer at university, and when they’re not, that universities are held accountable for that.

There’s been the idea proposed in the past about a taskforce. When I think taskforce, I think about something that is temporary, rather than permanent. One of the ideas being considered here is something permanent and something that is independent of Government, independent of this place, and independent of the universities. An ombudsman. But not just the current ombudsman, but a standalone, independent student ombudsman that would be responsible for investigating complaints and holding universities to account when something’s gone wrong. There’s a bit of work to do before a proposal like that comes before me and other Education Ministers formally. But it was floated as an idea at the Education Ministers meeting last week on Thursday, and we’ve agreed that Education Ministers will meet again before the end of November to consider an action plan that may include the establishment of a Student Ombudsman.

JOURNALIST: Yeah. Are you looking to urgently respond to that committee inquiry and the recommendations?

CLARE: Yes. I mentioned this, I was asked by PK on Friday morning about this. I said that’s why we’re going to hold a special meeting of Education Ministers in November. Once the plan is ready for us to consider, we’ll consider it, and implement it as quick as possible. Now, you mentioned legislation. We need advice on legislation, and that’ll help determine how quickly we implement the recommendations.

JOURNALIST: So you’re hoping there could be agreement on such a framework or plan at the next meeting? Or is that simply discussion?

CLARE: Yes, that’s what I’m hoping for.

JOURNALIST: Back to Israel and Palestine. Only days ago, the Prime Minister was standing inside the Lakemba mosque urging the Muslim community to back the Voice to Parliament. The LMA has released a statement criticising the Government’s comments about Israel and Palestine and the Australian Government’s unwavering support for Israel a state that’s been accused of committing apartheid? Have you spoken to members of your community, those with whom you’re meeting on Friday?

CLARE: I haven’t spoken to members of the community this morning. But I do know that there is strong support within the Islamic community in Australia for the Voice to Parliament. You see it in the statements that have been issued by the Islamic community. And the bond between the Islamic community and Indigenous Australians goes back longer than the Constitution goes back, before Captain Cook ever arrived at Botany Bay. The trading that happened between Makassans in Indonesia, and Indigenous Australians in East Arnhem Land is proof of that. The Islamic words that are part of the Indigenous language in East Arnhem Land are proof of that. And when I talk to leaders in the Muslim community, in in my local area, they talk about that bond, that friendship, that connection between the Islamic community and the Indigenous community. They also talk about knowing what it’s like to be discriminated against, about being the underdog, about feeling left behind, and about doing it tough. And that’s why I’m very grateful that my community, in particular the Islamic community, in Western Sydney, is so forthright in their support for this.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s appropriate for the Australian Parliament to be lit in the colours of the Israeli flag, and they shouldn’t because they’ve been accused by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of committing apartheid?

CLARE: Ultimately, that’s a matter for the presiding officers.