Topics: The Voice;

07:05AM AEDT
Wednesday, 5 April 2023


Madeleine Morris:  Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Parliament House to talk through this. Senator Birmingham, thanks so much for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Madeleine.


Madeleine Morris: Good morning. I’ll just run you through who supports the Voice. According to Newspoll yesterday, 54% of Australians, a majority of states, millennials, wealthy Australians, NAB, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, BHP, Rio Tinto, Wesfarmers, Woolworths. Jeremy Rockliff, the Premier of Tasmania. The Nationals in WA. Your Liberal opposition counterparts in the States aren’t opposed. So in opposing this exactly who are the Federal Liberals representing?


Simon Birmingham: Madeleine, yesterday was a meeting that brought together Liberals from all around the country and many of those rural and regional members of Parliament in particular who often represent communities that have large numbers of indigenous communities within them. And so we heard from all of those members of Parliament yesterday bringing their perspectives and many of them expressing concerns about the views on the ground from their indigenous communities and perspectives, where they were suggesting that those communities would rather see stronger local voices built up that were able to reflect the local concerns.

Yesterday’s decision is one that does offer the potential for bipartisanship. There was a strong commitment out of yesterday for bipartisan support for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. There is still the parliamentary committee process that you spoke about in your intro and that I know you discussed with Senator Malarndirri McCarthy earlier, and I hope that through that process perhaps there can still be a means of salvaging something that can provide for the country a unifying and bipartisan moment, but also something that is achieved without the type of risks or concerns to constitution and operation of government that have increasingly been discussed through the course of this debate.


Madeleine Morris: What did you say yesterday in the party room, Senator Birmingham?


Simon Birmingham: Well, convention is that Shadow Cabinet ministers express their views in Shadow Cabinet. And so that’s where I expressed my views.


Madeleine Morris: Hand on heart, though, can you actually come out and say you’re going to campaign against it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m going to respect the views of the Australian people and that’s the approach I will take. So as the decision was yesterday, I will be voting for the Constitution alteration bill so that it passes through the Parliament and that the Australian people get their say. And that’s what I’ll be respecting ultimately.


Madeleine Morris: That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for your party’s position.


Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s say there’s a journey to go on still. And on that journey I hope that there is scope to find a means for a positive outcome in relation to something that can be achieved in a unifying way and constitutional recognition can achieve that. That was what was first put on the table quite some time ago. And frankly, it’s a challenge where it’s only gotten harder as the can was kicked down the road. It should have probably been done a long time back. But constitutional recognition does have the potential to have support from all parties and all sides and achieve an outcome where we can still have a legislated voice operating in local communities around the country and with that, providing input for those communities. But also avoiding the constitutional risks that have been discussed.


Madeleine Morris: Our time is short. The Uluru Statement for the Heart and the consultation for that was done well within your term of government. Your government failed to act on that. And now you have come with another proposal reiterating the proposal that you took to the last election for local and regional representation, as Bridget Archer said yesterday. How can you argue for that when you didn’t do it in government? You had the opportunity to and you didn’t do it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, in the last couple of years of that government, I was the finance minister and we did actually put the funding through the budget to be able to provide for that to be built up…


Madeleine Morris: But it didn’t happen. I mean and you just conceded that it should have happened a long time ago. You were in power for ten years…


Simon Birmingham: I said recognition, to be clear.


Madeleine Morris: Yeah, exactly. Recognition.


Simon Birmingham: Recognition should have happened a long time ago. And that as this can has been kicked down the road, this issue has gotten more challenging as additional things have been added to it. And even during the course of the last year or so, the addition of executive government as part of the process, we have seen has complicated the debate and led to more doubts about what the constitutional implications, the legal implications and the implications for government of the proposal will be. So that’s why constitutional recognition stands out as something that can have bipartisan support because it comes with fewer of those concerns and risks.


Madeleine Morris: Would the removal of executive government from the wording. Do you think from what you’ve seen in the Liberal Party room now, if that was removed, would that get enough support within your party?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I wouldn’t want to predict those things, but I think it would be a significant change and alteration and a significant change in alteration always warrants people having a discussion and a look at the implications of such elements. And we have seen a very strong advocates for a voice such as Father Frank Brennan or Professor Greg Craven who’ve expressed their concerns over the last 12 months about the way in which this wording has been brought together and with that the risks that have been attached to it. And that has certainly had a profound impact on many who have been looking at this issue.


Madeleine Morris: Peter Dutton famously walked out of Kevin Rudd’s apology. He later said that he regretted that. Do you think that this is something that the Liberal Party will regret taking this position? Are you on the wrong side of history?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think this is a matter that ultimately if the Government pushes ahead with a referendum, will be decided by the people of Australia. And so they’re going to get to have their say. What it means for politics thereafter, we’ll know once they’ve had their say. It’s always been pretty clear that it’s a fraught business in Australia to try to predict electoral outcomes, to try to look forward there. I’ve been clear in what I’ve written in the last couple of days that I think out of recent electoral outcomes there are some clear lessons for the Liberal Party and that we do need to make sure we look at how we apply Liberal values in a modern context to connect with communities as they sit in the 21st century and beyond, and making sure that…


Madeleine Morris: Most of whom, including millennials, are for the Voice. It just has to be pointed out. Before I let you go.


Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s see how people vote later this year. But there are many other policy issues that we should absolutely be leading on and driving forward on in areas of housing and how we make sure that for millennials, for example, that they know that they have in the Liberal Party someone who will drive job security for them, housing opportunities for them, the opportunity for them to enjoy the type of economic security that they would aspire to and that we ought to be consistent with our values providing for them into the future.


Madeleine Morris: All right. Thank you very much for your time this morning, Senator Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.