By Tanya Plibersek

14 September 2023



PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go back to Canberra now. Joining us live is the Environment and Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Minister, I want to try and squeeze you in before the Prime Minister emerges, so if he does emerge, then I'm going to apologise in advance here. But I just – let's talk about the Michael Long walk this morning. How would you describe the atmosphere in the walk?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Oh, look, it's a fantastic atmosphere here. It's a real reminder that this fight for a voice, for recognition in the constitution for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be listened to, has been going for a long time. Michael Long walked for the first time almost 20 years ago, but today, I also met the great-grandson of William Cooper, who in the 1930s was petitioning the King for a voice. This is a long struggle in Australia and in the final four weeks, it's the opportunity to remind Australians that this constitutional question is about two simple things. It's about changing our constitution to recognise First Nations Australians. And it's about listening because when we listen to people, we get better results. We get better results when we work with people instead of doing things to them.

STEFANOVIC: So, today, Parliament sits for the final time. It's the last set of arguments you'll have in Canberra, at least, anyway, before people go to the polls on October 14. So, is that the message? Is that your lasting message that you want to pitch to the voters today?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: The lasting message is the birth certificate of our nation should recognise our firstborn. And that setting up a voice is about a very simple thing, giving advice to the Parliament and to the government so that we make better decisions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We spend our money more wisely; we get better outcomes. It's very simple.

STEFANOVIC: There is never too much controversy away, though, at the moment. New comments have surfaced this morning again related to Marcia Langton, where she described Jacinta Price this time, as well as her mother Bess, as "the coloured help in rescuing the racist image of conservative outfits". How would you respond to that?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's important that people speak respectfully in this debate. I think it's important that everyone does that. I have to say, there's been a lot of negative campaigning from the No Campaign. We saw some of the deliberate misinformation and disinformation instruction to No Campaign workers not to identify themselves, not to speak about the facts, just to speak about things that would engender fear or uncertainty in the people they were calling. So, I would say to all sides, let's stick to what this is about. This is a decades-long struggle by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Australians to be heard, to have their voices heard in their own country.

STEFANOVIC: I mean, yeah, you talk about the negative tactics of the No Campaign, though, but those comments by Marcia Langton, I mean, is that not negative of the Yes Campaign?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I wouldn't use that sort of language ever, but I'm saying this is a highly emotional debate at the moment and I'm urging people to stick to what is actually the question now. The question is, should our founding document, the document that determines all of our laws and the relationships between the Commonwealth and the States and the people, should our founding document acknowledge that Australia's history is longer than a couple of hundred years? Longer than, you know, it's not just since Federation, it's not just since Arthur Phillip planted a flag in Port Jackson, it goes back thousands of years. That is a source of national pride and national wealth for us. And we know that what we've been doing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies and programmes hasn't been working. We need to change what we're doing. We can't afford more of the same.

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, we've timed this out quite well. Appreciate your time. Thank you. We'll talk to you again soon.