SUBJECT | Voice referendum | 6 April 2023
ANDY PARK: Ken Wyatt was the first Indigenous Australian to hold the portfolio of Indigenous Affairs, and he was a Liberal. Today he's given up his membership in your party, saying he no longer believes in what you've become. That's surely a devastating blow. Do you agree?
TEHAN: Oh, look, I have the utmost respect for Ken and the utmost respect for what he was able to achieve as a Liberal Party member of Parliament. Obviously, he was the first Indigenous Cabinet minister in a Liberal government. He was the first Indigenous Indigenous Affairs Minister in a Liberal government, and he follows on of a fine tradition in the Liberal Party of having Indigenous members who've made a significant impact, including going back to Neville Bonner, who, as a senator, was the first Indigenous person to be elected to either the House of Representatives or the Senate. And I worked constructively with Ken when he was the Aged Care Minister in the Turnbull Government and Indigenous Affairs Minister in the Morrison Government. And I look forward to staying in touch with him.
PARK: I mean, you speak of fine traditions, but Ken Wyatt has just rejected by the Liberal Party. Does this leave the opposition to the Voice without a strong Aboriginal voice from the Liberal side?
TEHAN: Well, no, not at all. Two Indigenous members of our parliamentary ranks both oppose the voice and have been instrumental in the position that we've taken. They think that all Australians should be equal and treated equally in our Constitution, and that's a fundamental, that's a classical liberal, position, one which liberals have held, you know, for a very, very long time. And so I don't think that it does. I think what the Liberal Party has shown throughout its history is it's very respectful for differing views and different approaches to things. And Ken obviously feels very strongly about the voice, and I can understand that. But we have two Indigenous members of our party room, current members, who also feel very strongly about it, and they view it as something that they cannot support and have been very, very vocal about that.
PARK: What about you, Dan Tehan? Why don't you personally support the voice to Parliament?
TEHAN: Mine is that classical Liberal approach? I just believe that every Australian, Indigenous or not, should be equal in our Constitution. And I think that is a fundamental principle we all should hold. I have no issues with the Albanese Labor Government, and they could do it tomorrow, legislating a voice if that's what they want to do. I just can't see why they need to go through this process of adding the most significant change to our constitution in over 100 years, putting a new chapter in, that I think doesn't make Australians equal in our Constitution. And that's that's the point that I fundamentally disagree with.
PARK: Would you support the government legislating a voice to Federal Parliament on a different model?
TEHAN: Well, look, that obviously, we would have to see that model. But what I would implore the government to do, and I don't think it's too late for them to do so, is to adopt the approach that the Liberal Party took in 1967, where we reached out across the table, and there was true bipartisanship in the approach that was taken to the constitutional change that was put through there. 97% of Australians followed suit then. What we have here is not a process that has been bipartisan, and that, I think, is the single biggest failing of the approach that the government's approach. We now will; obviously, there'll be no clarity as to the change's legal ramifications. There'll be no clarity about the scope of the change. And all these questions, I think, need to be answered before anyone can vote for the proposition that the government is putting toward.
PARK: Indigenous Australians are reaching out across the table to say they want a voice, and effectively, you're rejecting them. I mean, this is tantamount to gaslighting to say that, you know, you haven't been asked about how to contribute to the voice debate.
TEHAN: Well, no, you’ve got to remember that there are two different processes, and it's not gas lighting at all. There is the Indigenous Australians reaching out and saying that this is what they would like, now there is not uniformity in Indigenous Australians reaching out, as I've said, to Indigenous representatives that we have in our parliamentary party do not support the voice and there are others who don't as well. But you've had certain sections reach out but what you haven't had as part of the process, and this is equally as important, is the government saying, okay, let's do everything we can to get a bipartisan approach to this. And I'll give you an example of how it's worked in recent history when we had to deal with a real-life terrorist threat in this nation; the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security put forward five national pieces of legislation which ultimately, in the end, had we needed to because they impinged on people's freedoms as we sought to make sure that our nation was secure. Now we locked ourselves in a room and didn't agree on what those changes would be until we had full agreement and knew that they would go through the parliament in a bipartisan way. That process hasn't taken place here, and it's incredibly disappointing that it hasn’t.
PARK: Just lastly, will you join your leader, Peter Dutton, in actively campaigning against The Voice?
TEHAN: I will be out putting my views very respectfully and understanding that there will be other people putting their views. What I won't be doing is what Dan Andrews did today and has been doing, in using language which basically tries and attempts to put down anyone who has a contrary view to his. That to me, is not how this nation should operate. Freedom of expression is fundamental to us as a nation. We are talking about the most significant change to our Constitution in over a hundred years. We have to be able to have a respectful debate about this. Every Australian member of Parliament of the Federal Parliament wants the best outcomes for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders. Without a doubt, it doesn't matter what their political persuasion is. This is a really important point. We all want the best outcomes. Now we differ on what that approach should be, and we should be able to have this debate respectfully. And we shouldn't have to tell you this, if you don't agree with their point of view, you've got a problem.
PARK: Thank you. Thank you, Dan Tehan, Liberal member for Wannon.