Topics:  NSW Liberal Leader; Solicitor-General advice released on the Voice;

10:45AM AEST
Friday, 21 April 2023


Laura Jayes:  Mark Speakman, who you will know if you live in New South Wales, has been elected the new leader of the Liberal Party in New South Wales and will lead that party in Opposition. He is a moderate. Joining me now is a fellow moderate and the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. That news just through Simon Birmingham. Is he the right guy?


Simon Birmingham: Hello, LJ. Well, I know Mark Speakman is well regarded by many of his colleagues across New South Wales and I think by many others outside of the Liberal Party in New South Wales who have engaged with him. It’s always a tough job leading a new opposition after a number of years in government, but I’m confident that Mark Speakman, from all I know of him, will bring a thoughtful, considered approach to ensuring that the New South Wales Liberal Party is an effective opposition but even more importantly, a viable, credible, strong alternative government at the next New South Wales election.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, we are standing by to hear from him. We’ll take you live there to New South Wales Parliament when we do. Simon Birmingham, we’ve seen the Solicitor-General’s advice released in the last hour or so. What do you make of it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it has only just been released, so I haven’t had a chance to read and digest the advice myself. But there’s a couple of observations I’d make at a higher level. The first is that it’s concerning that this is advice prepared specifically, it seems to be released at this point only in the last couple of days. The Government has faced calls to release the full advice of the solicitor general for some time. And rather than doing that, they’ve instead gone down this path of preparing an alternate model, asking the SG to consider obviously specific terms that the Government was happy to have released rather than actually releasing the advice to government and its working groups about whether there was a better way for the Voice to be structured and the proposal to amend our Constitution to be put forward. And I’d ask the Government to reconsider their approach there. It would give far greater weight and credibility for the Government to provide all of the advice. And if all of the advice backs their case, then that of course, would be a stronger position for the Government to stand on.


Laura Jayes: Are you suggesting that the Solicitor-General’s advice can be manipulated? Is this advice not not correct at this time? Should we not put too much stock in it?


Simon Birmingham: Certainly not suggesting that, LJ. The Solicitor-General, will provide a brief and advice that is in accordance with their views and in accordance with what they are asked to provide in terms of the scope of advice to be provided. Critically, though, before we got to this point in terms of an opinion on these words for constitutional amendment, the SG obviously engaged in processes with the working groups around alternatives. Were there better ways to structure or word things? What were some of the risks attached? And that’s why it would be so helpful for having a fully informed debate to understand whether the SG was ever of the view that there was a better way for this to be approached and not just to get the SG’s views in relation to the proposal as it is being put at present by the government.


Laura Jayes: Well, would it be helpful because the no proponents aren’t going to listen to anything. They’ve made it pretty clear throughout this debate. And then, you know, you could see the risks that that is politicised. We do see this and I take your point on that this is probably not the full advice, full and frank advice that the Government got, the Referendum Working Group got from time to time. But even so, on the the wording that they’ve landed on, it is pretty glowing. He says the proposed amendment not only compatible with the system of representative and responsible government established under the Constitution, but it enhances that system.


Simon Birmingham: So LJ, your question there in terms of, you know, will some people’s minds be changed by this? You know, patently, no. Some won’t. There are clearly two extremes to this debate who are immovable in terms of their positions of yes and no. But I think there is a very large body of the Australian public who don’t know and who are still considering and are still making up their minds. Now, they’re not going to sit down and all read the Solicitor-General’s advice, but they will be informed by how it is reported upon and how it is considered. And I think they would want to know, is this the best possible approach? Is this the best wording that could be put forward in terms of the constitutional amendment? Because we’re not just dealing with a vibe here, we’re dealing with the detail of changing the Australian Constitution. And that’s why it’s important that we don’t just have a form of words. We should have the best form of words.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, truncated today. Good to have you on the program. As we do every Friday. We’ll see you next week.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.