ABC Afternoon Briefing

23 October 2023


Matthew Doran (Host): Time now for our political panel and joining me in the studio is the Assistant Trade Minister and Labor Senator Tim Ayres and the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Nationals MP Michael McCormack, who is in his neck of the woods in Wagga Wagga today. Welcome to both of you. Let's pick up on the discussion around the Voice. And this statement that's been released today is pretty strongly worded. And you can understand why many Indigenous Australians would be feeling pretty raw after the referendum campaign. And the result itself does make it harder to rebuild from here knowing that there is that that sense of disbelief and I think fair to say anger in the Indigenous community when you are trying to figure out where to next for reconciliation.


Tim Ayres: G’day Michael, I have had an opportunity to read that. We know that there is hurt in Aboriginal communities, right across Australia. It is I think, not to be unexpected that that's going to be fleshed out over the course of the next few weeks. There was a week of reflection last week. On the government's part we accept, of course, unequivocally the result of the referendum. But there is now work to do over the coming months to listen carefully to consult and to engage. And, and the Prime Minister will be leading that effort alongside Linda Burney and others working carefully through these issues. You know, we've got an enormous national challenge here, too, due to having a request from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia for constitutional change has been rejected in the referendum. Now it is a matter really, for government, led by Anthony Albanese to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to make sure we're dealing with the big practical issues and charting the way forward in reconciliation terms.


Matthew Doran: Michael McCormack the statement from these indigenous leaders is pretty scathing of the No campaigns role here, saying that the No campaign was built on lies that the referendum collapsed, the moment that Peter Dutton and your party leader David Littleproud, said that they were not going to support it. How difficult is it to will it be for those who campaigned No on this to engage with that, that group in the community who are very aggrieved by this and feel really let down by the actions of No campaigners like those in your party?


Michael McCormack: Well, I understand that people are upset, some people are upset with the choice taken by the majority of Australian voters. And Tim just said that the Prime Minister will lead this process now I hope he leads it much better than he led the process that led up to the referendum. People were concerned that they weren't given the information. I note too, that there was a week of silence a week of mourning. That stopped for some of them, after just a couple of days when Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, who has that lived experience, came out and made some comments in relation to the result of the referendum. And they weren't too many who were then silent because they came out and criticized her. She, as I say she's had that lived experience what we now need to do, hopefully, united, hopefully together is put in place A Royal Commission looking into child sexual assault in some of those vulnerable communities. Put a terms of reference that endorses and includes where our money is being spent in Indigenous Affairs, there's $33 billion, it needs to get where the most help is required. And let's put back in place the Cashless Welfare Debit Card, because the women in those communities, many of whom are elders, many of whom are leaders of those Indigenous Communities are telling me that when that welfare debit card was in place, the amount of money being spent on Grog and pornography was rapidly reduced. The domestic violence went down, and children were getting much better outcomes in their lives.


Matthew Doran: On two points. I want to pick up on the Royal Commission. There were statements put out last week from Indigenous communities, I think was the Indigenous Health Service, particularly those in the Northern Territory, which said that that is not well, that should not be a priority and that it is an issue that is being used to sort of cover over the sins of the no campaign here and being used as a front for pushing a different agenda. I know that you point to your Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians lived experience here, but there are many Indigenous Australians out there who don't agree that that is the right course of action. Why ignore what they're trying to say?


Michael McCormack: Well, I was a journalist, as always it pretty easy to find somebody who would be against something. But when you have children in those vulnerable communities who are far more, far more susceptible to having sexual assault against them, by members of their own community, then surely as Australians, we owe it to those kids, those vulnerable citizens to make sure that we give them the appropriate measures and the appropriate inquiry, to enable them to have a better life. If this were happening in a capital city in Australia, particularly on the East Coast, there would be front page stories every day of the week as Peter Dutton said last week it is just not acceptable. Some of the child sexual assault cases that are happening every day, and every night in some of those communities, and something needs to be done about it. Now, the government has a has an opportunity to do that, to look where they're spending the money into Indigenous Affairs. I'm not saying that $33 billion isn't appropriate, but where it is being spent needs to be investigated, so that the money can get to the communities which need it most.


Matthew Doran: Tim has a right of reply on some of that. Do you think that the Royal Commission issue was being used to as a distraction here? And is there any merit in having an audit of where Indigenous funding is going across the country?


Tim Ayres: Well, it's worse than a distraction. It's willfully not listening. You know, there is that there is on that proposition, Mr. Dutton who during the campaign, rather than I mean, it is it is absolutely the right of people to campaign know, to have different views. And I've said this, I think on this program, that there were people on the conservative side of politics who were for yes, and people on the conservative politics, who were no. But there were elements of the no campaign that ran the most extremist set of propositions, disinformation and misinformation. And instead of Mr. Dutton condemning that he embraced it, I mean, here's the most right wing extreme leader of the Liberal Party in its history. He walked out on the Apology to the Stolen Generation, and he hasn't undertaken any development since. The idea that you could go through this whole campaign and see that this difference of opinion over constitutional reform has created hurt in Aboriginal communities, and then announce two days afterwards, on the Monday or the Tuesday of the following the referendum result. A campaign for a Royal Commission, that that is rejected by over 100 organizations in Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Australia who look after the welfare of kids who would deliver primary health care in remote Aboriginal communities who actually know what they're talking about. And then to continue to prosecute that campaign just shows that rather than pause and take stock of the result, and then get out there and listen to Aboriginal communities about the way forward, that the Liberal Party under Peter Dutton and the National Party under Mr. Littleproud will continue to prosecute the kind of this kind of campaign - it's not what Aboriginal communities are looking for now. We will as a government, listen, we are already over half a billion dollars being put into protecting women and children. More than half of that in Aboriginal communities. The government is taking action in a systematic way. There have been more than 33 inquiries into these kinds of issues since 1997, like the Bringing Them Home Report. And Aboriginal communities are saying we don't need another inquiry. We need government to work with us to provide solutions. And I think it is a matter of real regret, that figures on the you know, on the extreme side of Australian politics are prosecuting this argument.


Matthew Doran: I do want to briefly touch on one other subject and I do mean briefly because we are limited with our time with the two of you today. Michael McCormack, The Coalition spent a lot of time over the last week or so suggesting that there are divisions within Labor on the issue of Israel and Gaza, seizing on comments from Ed Husic and an ally in particular, raising concerns about innocent Palestinian lives being caught up in this conflict. I note that all of the criticism from the coalition is on the fact that they have said it not on the actual substance of what an ally and Ed Husic are saying here. Why is it such a bad thing to have to senior ministers speaking out about a humanitarian crisis?


Michael McCormack: Well, it is a humanitarian crisis. And we all need to perhaps take a step back and consider that, yes, there are innocent lives on both sides being lost. But certainly this was started by Hamas. It is a terrorist organization, the Prime Minister, when he finally did come out and say that he spoke very much, the fact that Australia was supporting Israel, and at the end of the day, and Ali, and Ed Husic Cabinet Ministers, they are Ministers, Senior Ministers in the government. And when you are a Senior Minister in the government, whether that's in cabinet, or whether that's in the outer ministry, you can't freelance on any subject. And if you want to do that, well, you go and…


Matthew Doran: You're not exactly criticizing the point of what they're, they're raising there. 30 seconds left on this, though, Tim, is that right of reply briefly?


Tim Ayres: Oh, it's entirely consistent, really, that I mean, that the minister Wong, and Prime Minister Albanese have been very clear on this issue. Israel has a right, absolutely to defend itself. Hamas’ terrorism is an atrocity that we have not seen in the modern world. You know, there are there are atrocities from time to time. But this, this stands out, and it absolutely should be condemned. Of course it is the government's role here overseas to work with like minded governments to make sure as far that that there is not loss of civilian life here. I think that's, that's what unites us all on these on these questions at home. Of course, language matters. Social cohesion is really important and the Government is working, working hard to make sure it's really clear. anti semitism is unacceptable. Islamophobia is unacceptable. And Australia is much stronger when we work together.