Television interview - Sunrise

23 Jan 2023
Prime Minister
Voice to Parliament; Medicare

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Good morning, and welcome to Sunrise for the first time in 2023.


BARR: What exactly will Australians be voting for in the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: What Australians are voting for, the draft has been out there since July. They will be voting for two simple things. One is to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution and to do it in a way which gives them a Voice so they are able to provide advice to the Parliament on matters that directly affect them, on education, on health, on housing, on the matters we need to close the gap. That is what will be before the Australian people in the second half of this year. Those principles and that detail has been out there since July. That detail makes it very clear that the Voice won't be a funding body. It won't be an administrative body. It won't be administering programs. It will simply be an advisory group that will not be above Parliament. Its advice doesn't have to be taken but it does have to be heard. We know that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in all of those areas, like education and health and housing, is substantial. You get better results when you actually listen to people and when you engage with them and that's what he Voice is about.

BARR: If you are an Indigenous person in this country you don't live as long. You have lower levels of health, education and employment, your baby is more likely to die. We have to do something here. 


BARR: But people don't seem to be listening, do they? Because people are saying 'What is this and why do we need it?' So, is your sales pitch failing here, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. I am very confident that Australians will show the generosity of spirit that is part of our national character as we go forward and that Australians will say 'we have tried a lot of things, people in Canberra or the state capitals deciding what was best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, how about we actually give them a Voice?' What we know is that when Aboriginal people are involved in programs directly on areas like justice reinvestment, on some of the community health initiatives, or national park rangers programs, where they are directly involved are the programs that have been most effective, that have made a positive difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So this voice is just the means. The end is to make a practical difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to show them respect. This is what they are asking for. They asked for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 after five years of consultation. And what we will be doing is giving Australians the opportunity to enshrine this very simple change. It is a modest change, a very conservative proposal, that will be before the Australian people at the end of this year.

BARR: I guess the problem with referendums in this country, as you would know, they hardly ever get up. We've had maybe a handful get up with the yes vote. It's going to be tough.


BARR: What happens if you fail? Will you push through legislation anyway?

PRIME MINISTER: No, what we are aiming to do here is have success. We don't want to fail here and that's why we are calling for, and Indigenous people are calling for, people of goodwill to come forward. Now, the draft constitutional change has been out there now since July of last year.

BARR: But look, it's a big document, no one is probably reading it.

PRIME MINISTER: It is just three simple lines.

BARR: The question was what happens if you fail because the odds are against you?

PRIME MINISTER: What we are aiming to do here is to have success, Nat. And there are so many Australians that I have spoken to who are so supportive of this change: people from church organisations across the spectrum, the sporting organisations like Cricket Australia, basketball, the NRL, the AFL, these sporting organisations are all on board. You have community organisations out there campaigning on this issue as well and you have the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, you have the Minerals Council of Australia as well as the Australian Council of Trade Unions. You have all of these groups coming together saying that this a simple change to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution. Our Constitution is our nation's birth certificate and our nation's birth certificate should reflect that we have the great honour of living with the oldest continuous culture on this planet. That is a source of knowledge and it should be a source of great pride. What this constitutional change will do is to acknowledge that fact in our birth certificate.

BARR: Let's look at Medicare. Big change here, set to undergo the biggest overhaul since its inception with the Health Minister flagging the rebate system is no longer fit for purpose after all these years. The government has devised a funding system that would open up the delivery of primary care to a wider range of health professionals including nurses and paramedics. Prime Minister, these changes are important. How would we pay for them and how much is it going to cost?

PRIME MINISTER: What this is about, Nat, is recognising that the Medicare system that we inherited was struggling to keep up. Too many people are turning up at emergency departments because they can't get access to a GP and to primary health care. At the election campaign we allocated $750 million to assist over three years with primary health care. We also allocated funding for urgent care clinics as well, to take pressure off those emergency departments. We will receive this report and go through in the lead up to the May Budget. But what we know we need to do is to fix primary health care because if you don't get primary health care it ends up costing more. Someone going to a GP or someone getting that immediate assistance, if they don't get it, what they end up getting is being in hospital, turning up at the emergency department and that costs much more.

BARR: Basically you can claim when you go to a nurse or from a paramedic, you can claim your Medicare rebate. Is that the big difference?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that is one of the things that is being examined. The big thing we are looking at is how do you take pressure off the system. We are talking to the AMA, talking to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, talking to health experts because we want to make sure that this Medicare taskforce is listened to. We will receive the report. The report this morning pre-empts that a little bit. We want to see all of the detail. We will also work it through with the states and territories. We have been working through models of primary health care assistance that would take pressure off hospitals. We allocated $100 million in the Budget last October for a trial and I will have more to say about that in coming days.

BARR: It sounds like a lot of the nitty gritty of the details are still being worked out. Prime Minister, thank you for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Natalie.