Thu, 14 Sep 2023 - 16:39



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House






GREG JENNETT: Without any further ado, joining us right now opposition frontbencher, Paul Fletcher  is back with us. Appreciate it as ever. We didn't a chance  to comment on it there Paul. An update to the house sitting schedule for the remainder of this week. I don't want to spend too much time on it but a week has been lost. Are you ok with that?

PAUL FLETCHER: Not really, no. Week's been taken out, so that's a week that would normally be available for scrutiny for question time. It's been replaced by one day at the end of the year. And very importantly, a subtlety here. It's a week that's been taken out and a week that's also a Senate estimates week. So what that means is the government is trying to protect itself against further scrutiny in the House of things that come up in Senate estimates that typically will get followed up on in Question Time.

GREG JENNETT: Okay. The prime minister was also going to be and always going to be absent for at least a part of that week, wasn't he? That might have factored into their thinking,

PAUL FLETCHER: But it's perfectly orthodox to have an acting Prime Minister. Indeed, Richard Marles has been Acting Prime Minister before. It's unclear why that can't happen now.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Through the use of tactics, especially questions, has the final parliamentary sitting period before the referendum served the interests of the no campaign? Was that the objective?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, our objective was to gather more information for the Australian people to help them make their choice. A 17.5 million people on the electoral roll, they will have the chance to vote on October 14th in relation to the Voice. So we've been asking again a series of questions this week How will people be appointed to the voice? How will gender parity be achieved? But also asking questions about. So we've heard statements from Minister Burney about wanting a respectful engagement, but then asking questions about some of the things that have been said, for example, by Professor Marcia Langton for example, about the no campaign being motivated by racism or stupidity.

GREG JENNETT: So Well, exactly. I mean, that's, I suppose the point of my question. I note that Peter Dutton, speaking of Professor Langton's quotes, which I won't reread, it's certainly bitter and vitriolic and deserves further examination because Marcia Langton is likely to be one of the people who will form the body of the Voice, he said on Sydney Radio 2GB today. But there's a fine line here, isn't there, between targeting an individual and questioning the government on the design principles for The Voice? And was that crossed?

PAUL FLETCHER: I think the Opposition has been pursuing an entirely appropriate line of questioning. The Australian people have a decision to make and the Government has had a very clear strategy of not sharing information. I remind you that it was their original proposal that there would not be a pamphlet prepared and distributed to all homes setting out the case and the no case that's been a requirement under the legislation for referendums for many years. It was only because the Opposition insisted that the Government agreed to maintain that arrangement. And that's unfortunately been a pattern. They've been the Prime Minister has been very cagey with information. It's been a deliberate strategy to get people to vote on these very high level statements of principle. But all the detail the Prime Minister has been reluctant to share. So we have been very specifically using Question Time to seek to get as much information as we can from the Prime Minister, from the Minister for Indigenous Australians. What we've seen this week is the Minister for Indigenous Australians again reading pre-prepared statements, not engaging with the details of the questions she's being asked.

GREG JENNETT: Look, final one and there's much more we can talk about, I'm sure we'll do it again in the course of the campaign or what's left of it. I don't know if you caught up with Niki Savva column in nine newspapers today reflecting on a dinner attended after Maria Kovacic's first speech to parliament. She's quoting one unnamed MP present as saying Peter Dutton will be seen as a wrecker. There are no rewards to be reaped if the referendum fails. What are the rewards for the Coalition if the referendum fails?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I think you saw from Senator Jacinta Price today a very clear statement of what we're wanting to achieve. It is very important that we maintain the progression towards improving the situation of Indigenous Australians who are disadvantaged. And of course many Indigenous Australians are disadvantaged, they're closing the gap. Statistics are very clear. On the other hand, we should recognise that there are plenty of Indigenous Australians who are doing well and we should celebrate that fact. But there is much more work to do and we certainly are very committed to Indigenous Australians having the same opportunities as every other Australian. There's a big policy agenda that needs to be pursued and we have been consistently trying to focus on what are the specific benefits the voice will deliver, how will it address issues of infant mortality or education or other issues? And again, the Australian people will have the chance to make their decision on that on October 14th.

GREG JENNETT: They will and we'll be talking about it probably before and then after that. Paul Fletcher, appreciate it as always. Thanks for joining us.