Television Interview - ABC News Breakfast

23 Jan 2023
Prime Minister
Lunar New Year; Energy Prices; Defence Spending; Voice to Parliament; Coronation of King Charles

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: PM, good morning and happy Lunar New Year to you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Michael. Yes, I was at Burwood yesterday at Chinatown there and it was going off. People were really enjoying the festival and so a Happy Lunar New Year for all those who celebrate it. For people of Chinese background, it's Year of the Rabbit which is particularly auspicious for a South Sydney supporter. And for people of Vietnamese background it's Year of the Cat. Those zodiacs are different this year, I had that explained to me last week, and now hopefully we're right on top of it, but Happy New Year to everyone.

ROWLAND: We wish all those communities all the best. Prime Minister, far from a happy new year for so many Australians receiving big increases in energy prices in their mail, including yours truly. Some of the increases have been wild and many of our viewers would agree. Now, I know the intervention the government announced late last year will take some time to work through the system. But increasingly is it going to be the case when it does have an impact, the intervention, the price caps otherwise, will only see price rises capped to a certain extent and it's increasingly unrealistic to see energy prices fall for Australians this year, next year and certainly by 2025?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the price caps are having an impact already, Michael. That's the good news in what is otherwise a difficult story because of what we're seeing in global prices. When you look at the caps that are there in the futures market, the prices have come down substantially. They came down when we announced that we were prepared to intervene and have come down further since the price caps were put in place. Not just by the Commonwealth Government, but by the New South Wales and Queensland government as well. What we're doing, we understand the pressures that are on there. We're doing what we can, to make sure that we take that pressure off. But these baked-in prices that we’re seeing flow through to people's bills are a direct result of us being exposed to international markets, us not being resilient enough, so we're trying to do two things. One, the immediate price caps to take that pressure off, but secondly, as well, make sure that we can in old-fashioned terms stand on our own two feet. That we're less vulnerable to those international price movements that can happen because of, in this case, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

ROWLAND: Some of those wholesale price falls - it means simply, don't they, that the retail prices, the price paid by our viewers won't be as sharp as they otherwise would be, but they are still going to be pretty sharp and we're looking for the next few years on that basis?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly in the immediate term, yes, Michael. What we're seeing is those wholesale prices be considerably increased. What we're doing is taking some of that off as a result of this intervention. You can't just click your fingers and fix issues like supply and you can't click your fingers and fix the issue of our vulnerability, our exposure to those international prices. But that's why we were prepared to take what was extraordinary action because of the extraordinary circumstances in which we were facing.

PRIME MINISTER: I won't pre-empt those national security issues. What I will say is that we'll see very soon the report from Stephen Smith and Angus Houston about our Defence Strategic Review. What that's aimed at doing is making sure that every single dollar that's spent in defence is spent in the best possible way to support our national security. So, for example, a shift from where we were perhaps focused on land conflict in areas that we might or we mightn't need, perhaps, so many tanks or so many defence security issues like that. What we need is to make sure we have the best possible defences. So we have looked at missile defence, we’re looking at cyber security, we’re looking at all of these issues.

ROWLAND: And sea mines potentially.

PRIME MINISTER: We're looking at all of these issues. We'll receive those recommendations and we’ll respond in an orderly way. We want to make sure that we put as much in place as possible for the Budget in May this year.

ROWLAND: Let's go to the Voice. The Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, is calling on the Government to release more detail ahead of the referendum in the second half of this year. You have said that more detail will be forthcoming. What is that detail and when can Australians expect to see it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there will be more detail that’s being worked through the referendum working group and that will be released. But let's be clear, already - last July, I released what Australians will potentially be voting for, a draft question and draft constitutional change. That was something that was requested. There hasn't been any suggested changes to that draft from the Coalition and they have had more than six months to put forward constructively. That is what Australians will be voting for. That is what will be in the constitutional change. And what occurs with our Constitution principles are there, and then the Parliament will determine the legislation.

ROWLAND: Excuse the interruption, would you, as part of that detail would you go to the composition of the Voice, its members ahead of the Referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: The Referendum working group have already put out there the principles that they want for the Voice which flows from the reports which have been written. Those principles are important, they are that it won't be a funding body, it won't administer programs, it will be elected or appointed by Indigenous people themselves, that it won't have a right of veto, it will be an advisory body only. Which is there in the questions and in the constitutional change that has been put forward. The three simple points put forward - there will be a Voice, it will be subservient to the Parliament and the Parliament will have the power to make decisions and laws around the nature of that Voice. That's what's very important, because that is why this represents such a minimal change to our Constitution and to our way of governing. This is two simple principles being asked for here - one that we recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have that history of 60,000 years, that should be a source of great pride in our country and I know it is.

ROWLAND: But to go more to the issue of the detail of the body?

PRIME MINISTER: The second is - well, in terms of that detail, there's already the principles out there. But this will be an advisory group to Parliament and it will be able to put forward the views, it will not be a determining body, that’s all it is. And the Voice to Parliament in the Uluru Statement says it very clearly  when it concludes with the words about in, ‘1967 we were counted, in 2017 they're asking to be heard’, that's not too much to ask for. This a gracious offer of reconciliation. That is what will be before the people of Australia in the second half of this year and I'm very confident that Australians will take up the offer of reconciliation which has been made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

ROWLAND: Finally to another issue, details of King Charles's coronation in May were announced over the weekend. Will you be going?

PRIME MINISTER: That decision hasn't been determined.

ROWLAND: If invited would you go?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, I think that Australia should be represented, King Charles is our head of state. That will be formalised on that day. I respect our institutions and I was very honoured to be present on behalf of Australia with the 10 Australians that I took across, as well as the Governor-General at the Queen's funeral. That was an important moment to acknowledge 70 years of devotion and leadership. The coronation of King Charles will be an important event for Australia, for all countries, because he is our head of state. That is a system of government that we have and it's one that I respect.

ROWLAND: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, really appreciate your joining us this morning, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Michael.