By Tanya Plibersek

25 September 2023



NATALIE BARR: National support for The Voice to Parliament is continuing to slide, failing to gather any momentum heading into the final weeks of the referendum campaign. In the latest Newspoll out this morning just 36 per cent of voters are in favour, a fall of 2 percentage points from earlier this month. And some bad news for the Coalition with Peter Dutton’s satisfaction rating dropping by 6 points to 32 per cent, his lowest level since he took the top job.

Let's bring in Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and National Party Senator Matt Canavan today. Good morning to both of you. Tanya, we're just under three weeks away from the referendum, how concerned are you at the lack of momentum for the yes camp?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Look, obviously we'd love the numbers to be stronger, but I'm focused on the next three weeks of the campaign, and I'll be out every day talking to people about why I'm voting yes. I'm voting yes to reconciliation, voting yes to recognition, voting yes to listening, and most importantly voting yes to better results. We know we get better results when we make decisions with the people who are affected. Our democracy works better when we're listening.

BARR: Tanya, do you accept you have a problem? Because people are saying to me that questions aren't being answered, there are these great big motherhood statements, but people are saying to me, “will this have the availability to shut down mines in WA? Can you guarantee The Voice to Parliament won't slow down the actions of government? Will a decision time after time be taken to court? Can you guarantee that decisions that are made by ministers and by the government won't get bogged down in the court?" That's what everyday Australians are saying to me. Do you think your campaign is answering those questions?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I can answer those questions really clearly. The Voice does not have a veto over Parliament. Parliament will always be the ultimate decision maker. That's very clear. This is about listening to advice. The Parliament doesn't have to take that advice.

MATT CANAVAN: That's not true. That's not true.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well it is true, Matt, and part of the ‑

CANAVAN: No, no, because the High Court will decide. You won't decide.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: ‑‑ problem with this campaign is the misinformation ‑‑

CANAVAN: You won't decide. You can't give those guarantees.


CANAVAN: The High Court will decide about our constitution, not us. Not us politicians. This is the problem.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: This is exactly the sort of scare campaign that is the problem.

BARR: Okay. So let's have ‑ Matt, you have your say and then we'll get Tanya to respond. Matt, what do you see the problem as?

CANAVAN: Well the problem here is exactly as you've outlined, Natalie, that we can't answer those questions because it'll be the unelected judges of the High Court that will decide whether or not The Voice has actual traction on these issues.

We're very proud of our constitution as Australians. It's the tenth oldest constitution in the world. It's been changed just eight times in our history. There's a very high, rightly a very high bar for change and I just don't think the government's met that because they haven't been able to explain these issues. They haven't provided the detail. It seems like Australians, as usual with constitutional changes, are rightly cynical about the government pushing changes like this.

BARR: So, Tanya, what happens if The Voice recommends something in a certain department and then that voice is ignored and they're really sure that they want that to go through, can they take it further?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It's really clear, Nat, that the Parliament is the ultimate decision maker here. Matt is right that we are absolutely proud of our constitution and proud of our democracy. But there's one area where things just aren't working and if you look at things like life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, children's health, employment outcomes, education outcomes, there's a whole range of areas where despite the best intentions in the world we have not been getting the results that we should be getting for the investment of public money we're making.

So isn't it time to try something new that will work, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have asked for? They've asked for constitutional recognition, and they've asked for a Voice that would give advice to Parliament so that we can listen to their experiences, so we make better decisions, use public money more wisely, get better results. That's what this is all about, about getting better results.

BARR: Matt Canavan, the flip side of this is we are living in the no. We're here with the no and it's not working, is it, because clearly those figures are right? No one will argue with the figures of what's happening in indigenous societies, and clearly voters are not happy with what Peter Dutton is selling either, his satisfaction is way down. So that side's not working either.

CANAVAN: Yeah, look, I mean being Opposition Leader in this country is probably one of the most thankless jobs around, and their ratings typically aren't great. Albo's weren't great back in the day. That can change over time. There's another poll today which is much more positive for the Coalition too so, you know, polls are obviously just one poll.

As you say though, you know, there's been a number of polls now showing Australians, as I say, typically cynical about government's pushing constitutional change and, you know, I think they're rightly so here. We could have a voice without changing the constitution. The government could have just put legislation here through. I don't know why we have to change our nation's constitution to put in something so controversial, so partisan. Our constitution's not an element of political debate, which is a good thing and hopefully it stays that way.

BARR: Okay. Just a last word on the Northern Territory Chief Minister being assaulted by a member of the public with that cream pancake in the face. Tanya, should there be more security around people like the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well look obviously we need to let the police do their work, but this just looks shocking. It just looks so terrible.

I get some of the best feedback when I'm out doing the grocery shopping or I'm on the sidelines of the kids' sport on the weekend or I'm having coffee with my mates down at the coffee shop before work, before they go off to, you know, do their painting and tiling and building and so on, you know, that's how politicians should be interacting with the Australian public. Incidents like this really impact our democracy.

Natasha's tough, she'll be fine. This is bad not for her, this is bad for our democracy because it makes politicians think twice about doing things that ordinary people love to do and it's where we get our best feedback and our best information.

BARR: Yeah. Matt, what do you think?

CANAVAN: Totally agree with Tanya, completely agree. We're very lucky in this country that we don't have a history of violence like this and hopefully it stays that way. So yeah, hopefully the police respond appropriately.

BARR: Yeah, okay. Thank you both very much for your time.