Topics: Voice campaign; Select Committee Air Services Inquiry; 

07:10AM AEST
19 September 2023


Pete Stefanovic:  Joining us live now from Adelaide is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon, what’s going on in Adelaide? A bit of heckling about for the No campaigners last night. What did you make of it?


Simon Birmingham: Good day, Pete. Look, there is absolutely no place for abuse. There’s no place for personal attacks. There’s no place for denigration of individuals or of groups of people in this Voice campaign. And anybody who’s engaged in these sorts of tactics needs to cease. What we ought to be seeing over these next few weeks is as respectful a debate as possible. Now, it’s well known I wish we weren’t in this position. I wish that a unifying proposal for constitutional recognition had been put forward that didn’t divide the country like this is doing so. But we are now having this vote in this ballot, and I would encourage anybody to make sure that if they’re out campaigning, do so on the basis of the facts and the arguments for your yes case or your no case, don’t engage in the type of divisive, abusive personal attacks that that we’ve seen emerging. It’s unacceptable.


Pete Stefanovic: Is there any side at fault last night, Simon. Anyone antagonising the other that you could see?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, again, I would say that if the No campaign is having a rally, frankly, there’s little point Yes protesters turning up and hurling abuse at them as they’re arriving and it’s a disgrace for them to do so. And I’d say the same if the Yes campaign is having a rally to those on the No side, that if you’re going to have your campaign rallies, have your campaign rallies, but you’re not going to convert those turning up to the rally of the other side. It’s abusive, it’s unacceptable and it’s also, frankly, a waste of your time.


Pete Stefanovic: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think what this shows, though, is this this whole thing is anything but a unifying experience. Right. Which was the original pitch by the Prime Minister.


Simon Birmingham: That is the real fundamental concern that the nation is being unnecessarily divided, when what we should have had was a process that built to a unifying moment, a change in terms of constitutional recognition that could actually bring people together and get widespread support rather than this deep division that is occurring. And so, in three weeks’ time, whether it is successful or not, there is still going to be fundamental problems in Indigenous communities around Australia. The Government’s got to practically get on and address problems in terms of drug and alcohol abuse. Problems in terms of employment challenges. We need to make sure we have a positive narrative for the future about how we recognise and protect Indigenous languages and culture. There are many things that will have to be done in a few weeks’ time. Whatever the outcome of this referendum and this divisiveness needs to stop, but it will also have to be put behind us to get on with those issues as well as the mountain of other priorities that the Government should be focusing on and addressing in terms of the cost-of-living pressures Australians are facing, the challenges we have in a more contested global environment. Big, big issues that the country faces.


Pete Stefanovic: Got the Qatar inquiry, which begins today, Simon. Who appears today?


Simon Birmingham: So today we’ll hear from a number of different airline industry representatives, particularly some of the airports. And understandably, those airports want to see as much competition as possible, to see as many planes going through them as possible and as many passengers going through them as possible. And this inquiry is going to be a real opportunity to understand the impact of the Government’s decision to say it wants less competition and it isn’t supporting our tourism industry or lower fares for Australians and ultimately it’s Australians who are paying the price of the Government’s decision to reject Qatar’s application for more flights. And it’s our tourism industry who will be suffering from having fewer seats available, not having the type of low fares available and that’s just unacceptable. But we’re going to flush out the evidence here behind the impacts of it, as well as if the government is transparent through these hearings, the decision making.


Pete Stefanovic: Are you disappointed that Qatar isn’t turning up today?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope Qatar will participate. I understand a submission has been made by their authorities. Now, that’s a welcome step that they have made a written submission. I can understand there may be some hesitancy given the same government and the same minister will hold the pen over future decisions or applications. But I would encourage Qatar or any other industry player to simply come forward and be willing in coming forward to actually tell the facts and present the evidence around why it is that Australians would all be better off if we had more competition and more seats.


Pete Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham live from Adelaide, thanks so much for your time.