Jan 29, 2018

Transcript radio interview – 2GB with Ben Fordham

Subjects; Australia Day

BEN FORDHAM: Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese is calling for two referendums to be held next Australia Day as a way of unifying the country. Albo says we should hold twin referendums on January 26, 2019, on whether or not Australia should become a republic and whether we should recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution. So it is a lot to consider.

Last year we settled the question of same-sex marriage by putting that question to the Australian people and I must admit after being against spending $100 million on a non-binding postal plebiscite, in the end I was a bit of a fan of Australians having their say. I guess when you are cynical about the political process and the games that go on in Canberra it was a bit refreshing to take the decision out of the hands of the politicians and there was something  nice about eliminating that issue as an issue. The same-sex marriage debate has been done and dealt with. It is gone.
Well, it is becoming pretty clear to me that the battle around Australia Day is not going to go away. Now as much as we may want it to go away it is here to stay, even if 70 per cent of us want it to remain on January 26.

So Anthony Albanese has proposed a bit of a peace deal. He is suggesting a referendum on indigenous recognition on the 26th of January as a way of all of us coming together as one. In other words if Australians voted to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution, as they would likely do, that would turn January 26 into a day of pride for indigenous Australians.

And Anthony Albanese is saying while we are dealing with the past, let’s hold a second referendum on the same day to deal with our future and whether or not we become a republic. Now I know a lot of people will have a toxic reaction to this idea, but you know what I like about it? I like the hope that maybe, just maybe, you could eliminate two more debates that we spend way too much time arguing about. Just like same-sex marriage we wouldn’t have to debate Australia Day or the republic ever again. Anthony Albanese the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Tourism is on the line right now. Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.

ALBANESE: Good afternoon Ben

FORDHAM: You say this isn’t a political position, this is a position put forward by myself. Are you like me in that, while you appreciate issues like same-sex marriage the republic and the date of Australia Day are important to some, it would be nice to have them dealt with once and for all.

ALBANESE: That is absolutely right Ben. It’s very clear that at the moment because of the Change the Date campaign, that I certainly understand the concerns that the First Australians have with what they see as a commemoration of the arrival of the First Fleet that had such drastic consequences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. So at the moment they don’t feel, many of them, that they are a part of that commemoration of Australia Day, which is about of course recognising not just the past but it’s also about who we are today. And there’s no doubt that the arrival of the First Fleet, the arrival of Europeans and the subsequent migration has had a huge impact on modern Australia, who we are. I think that what essentially what I am proposing is that instead of change the date, we enhance the date.

FORDHAM: Look I don’t want Australia Day moved from January 26, but I must admit I felt on Friday, when I got home Friday and I watched a lot the coverage and I paid a lot of attention to what was happening around the place, I feel that as the years go on the protests against January 26 are only going to get louder.

So your idea is, if we’re to hold a referendum on Indigenous Recognition on that date, that would be a way of reshaping the view of indigenous Australians about January 26, but a potential problem would be that there’s no guarantee that even if we have a referendum on indigenous recognition on January 26, even if Australians voted in favour of that proposal on January 26, there’s no guarantee that that’s going to take away the opposition to celebrating Australia Day on January 26 is there? Or have you had feedback from indigenous Australians who suggest that this would be enough to satisfy them that we could come together on January 26?

ALBANESE: Look there are some people involved in politics who are always looking for an argument rather than a solution. So you’re never going to get an absolute consensus. But there’s no doubt that the demonstrations and opposition were stronger this year than they were last year, and they were stronger last year than they were the year before. I think it has the potential to be a very divisive debate and that’s something we don’t want. I think Australians voting as well, if you pitch the vote being held on January 26, when people go along and know that they are commemorating the arrival of the First Fleet, they also know that we have at least 65,000 years of history prior to that here in this nation, I think that there would be overwhelming support for recognising that. Also, at a time where we’re celebrating Australia Day, the idea that people would have an opportunity to vote for an Australian head of state on Australia Day would also be a very positive thing.

FORDHAM: Sure. The sticking point there on the Republic is always going to be though, what’s it going to look like? What’s the model going to be? Surely we’re past the point of asking Australians yes or no on the question of a Republic but they need to know what they are voting on exactly.

ALBANESE: That’s absolutely correct, which is why we need discussion in the community prior…

FORDHAM: We need a model though don’t we? The discussion has been going on for decades.

ALBANESE: Well that’s right. I support very much, I’m a minimalist, so I support a very simple change whereby call him or her whatever you like, replacing the Governor-General but that they have similar powers, or lack of powers if you like so that we still have a Prime Minister and a Cabinet that runs the Government. But let’s have that debate.

FORDHAM: You’ve been criticised today for not discussing your big idea with your boss Bill Shorten before you floated it. Did you lose his phone number? Did he have his phone off? What happened Albo?

ALBANESE: I haven’t tried to make this a Labor position. People are sick of, Labor comes up with an idea, or the Coalition comes up with an idea and the other side of politics says no to it straight away and it becomes the same old stoush. I’m not saying either that this is ‘the idea’, I’m saying it’s ‘an idea’. And that we need one to break the impasse and to avoid conflict and to unify the nation moving forward. So I make no apologies for putting forward an idea. I’m in the ideas business.

FORDHAM: It may just be an idea that saves January 26 as Australia Day, but anyway if nothing else you’ve given us a lot to talk about this afternoon and I thank you for that.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much Ben, I really appreciate your time.