May 29, 2023

SUBJECT | Hamilton Community and The Voice | 29 May 2023

PETE STEFANOVIC: Good to see. Thanks for your time, as always. This crash happening in your electorate. Have you tried to make sense of it?

DAN TEHAN: Well, the community of Hamilton is hurting. This is the second tragic accident in a matter of weeks. And the community is coming together. It's in shock, but everyone is rallying, and there will be support services available for the community today at 9.30 at the Performing Arts Centre. There will be grief counsellors available. People can go along and have a cup of tea. They can get some counselling if they need to. And I would just ask everyone who feels like they need some help at this time to please do that. The Department of Education and Headspace are providing support at the schools, and once again, for all those young people in the community, please avail yourself of that support and that help. It's just tragic, tragic circumstances. No community across the nation wants to go through what the town is going through at the moment, and everyone is hurting. Everyone knows someone who's connected in one way or another to those who sadly have lost their lives in the accident. It's just tragic circumstances.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. And in that area, Dan, I mean, investigations are continuing into what happened at the moment, but is there anything more that can be done? Or is it one of those instances where everything that can be done is being done? And it's just it's just an accident? It's one of these things that happens from time to time.

TEHAN: Yeah, well, look, I spoke to the police on Saturday afternoon, and they're still obviously investigating and trying to make what they can of what has happened, and we'll hear more of that over the coming days. But at this stage, it's thoughts and prayers with all the family members, thoughts and prayers for everyone who know those who have lost their lives. It's a big extended family, the community of Hamilton, and it's going to take a long while for this to really percolate through the community, and we just need everyone to be getting that support if they need it at the moment.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. A change of pace now, Dan, the prime minister, to deliver a speech today calling on the referendum, to be held later on this year, to be a moment of unity. Are you convinced that it will be?

TEHAN: Well, the problem is that the way the Prime Minister is going about this, it's not unifying at all. He hasn't tried to unify us across the political spectrum. He hasn't engaged properly with the Coalition to see whether this could be done in a bipartisan way. For instance, he could have split the question in two. We could have had a question on recognition in the Constitution, which I think would have got bipartisan support. Instead, he's tied it to the Voice. He hasn't provided detail on the Voice. I think there's still a lot of confusion out there, and a process which could have been unifying now, under the prime minister's leadership, sadly, is becoming more and more about disunity. And that's not the way that we should have gone about this.

STEFANOVIC: When the solicitor general says, according to the Prime Minister anyway, the Voice model is legally sound. So in that sense, is he right when he says today the opposition scare campaign is, quote, a ‘fog of fiction’?

TEHAN: Well, let's see the full Solicitor-General's advice. Let's see it from go to whoa so that we can see what advice has been provided. We know that other legal experts have said that there is a risk with what's been put forward. And all they're doing is debating the level of risk. Now, when you're putting a new chapter in your constitution, you've got to make sure that risk is minimised. Absolutely minimised. Yet we don't know whether it has been minimised. Constitutional experts are saying the wording should be changed. It seems that the Prime Minister's own Attorney General sought to have the wording changed, and yet all this is going on in the background, and the Australian people are none the wiser as to what has been happening, what full advice, what frank advice, the solicitor general has been providing.

STEFANOVIC: So when I mean looking at polls at the moment, we've seen them in recent weeks, that suggest support for the Voice is declining and which, you know, feeds the narrative that it's not going to be successful as most of them are not. The criticism will come to you. The blame will come from the Opposition, no doubt, that derailed it. Are you in any way going to accept that?

TEHAN: No, because it's the prime minister who's put forward this question. It's the prime minister who's gone about this referendum in the way that he has. He hasn't sought bipartisanship. He hasn't sought to unify the nation around questions that we could have voted for. I mean, as I've said, if he broke the question into two, I think he would have got overwhelming support for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution. But he hasn't done that. He could legislate the Voice tomorrow, and then we could have a referendum on Indigenous recognition in the constitution. He hasn't done that. So it's his way, it's his path, and if this goes badly, then it's on his head. It can't be on anyone else’s. He is the Prime Minister.

STEFANOVIC: Do you accept that? I mean, looking at some business leaders who are out and about today saying that investment in this country is going to drop if we vote against the Voice, do you accept that at all?

TEHAN: Well, I'll let them explain that. I’m a former diplomat, and I can tell you, Australia is held in the highest regard internationally for everything we do, whether it be for our democracy, whether it be for the support we give to all our citizens, for the way that we've matured as a nation and what we've done with our Indigenous communities and continue to do for our Indigenous communities, we're held in the highest regard, and I think that we're going to get a lot of claims in this debate, ultimately, the Australian people will sort them all out, and I just think one of the things at the moment the lack of information is really hurting those who want to see these get up and that lack of detail I think is treating the Australian people as mugs and I don't think that that's healthy.

STEFANOVIC: Dan Tehan, good to see you.

Media contact | Cate Mercer-Grant 0408 564 232