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Kieran Gilbert's interview with David Littleproud

  • Written by Daily Bulletin

KIERAN GILBERT - Let's go live to Perth and The Nationals leader David Littleproud joins me. Is there any chance that you would reconsider your position?


No. And I'm quite interested to hear those statements from the Senator, considering the Prime Minister has made it very clear the details have been in place for some time, it's out of the Co-Design Voice report. He's made it very clear that it'll be a representative body, a representative body that we've experienced before in regional and remote Australia. It was called ATSIC and it didn't shift the dial and closing the gap. So the details are there, and this is the confusing messaging that the government is putting out, where you've got the Prime Minister who last year said, the details are set, they're set in stone, they're the Co-Design report.

And we took him on face value. We consulted and we worked through that Co-Design report and we felt that another layer of bureaucracy will not fix and close the gap for Indigenous Australians. So we took a pragmatic stance of lived experience.

And while there's many in the commentariat that look down on The Nationals, how many of those actually represent these communities? How many of those actually have lived in these communities and experienced what needs to be done? And it's a bespoke model that needs to be put out there. Not sending Indigenous Australians to Canberra. We've done that before and it failed. And that's what they're going to do. Again, history's repeating itself. We're simply saying, send the bureaucracy to these communities. Sit around the campfires, sit around the town halls, and come up with the solutions to close the gap. And we should have an aspiration to have closed a gap by a set date.

There's nothing even near of this. It's an open-ended model that says we're never going to close the gap. Why shouldn't we be ambitious about closing the gap and saying, why should we ever need to have a Department of Indigenous Affairs by 2035 or 2030 because the gap is closed. We are all equal in this country, and we have solved the disadvantage in these remote communities, the ones in which The Nationals represent. So while I seek to understand metropolitan Australia, I just say to metropolitan Australia, the commentariat metropolitan Australia, to seek to understand us because we have lived experience.


Now you've basically said that the detail is there, sufficient enough for you to make a decision. There's a real contradiction there, is there not, between you and your counterpart, Peter Dutton, he says there's no detail, there's not enough for him to decide one way or the other?


Well, we have enough detail from the Prime Minister. It's a representative body of around 20 odd Indigenous Australians from across the country too, from each state, and then some extra representative from rural and remote Australia. But let me just put this in perspective. We don't need any more detail. Have you tried this before? Because what's happened is that that might work in Redfern, but let me tell you, in remote Australia, you'll be representing hundreds of thousands of square kilometres with hundreds of different communities with different needs and challenges, with different solutions that are required.

And this is why we've gone down this path before and it's failed. And the question being asked to Australians is about putting another layer of bureaucracy that will get in the road. This really needs leadership, courage of leadership. And I've got to say, governments of all political persuasions, of the past have failed. We should be taking the bureaucracy to these people, not these people coming to the bureaucracy in Canberra. That's how you get better ideas, listening to more voices, not just one or two voices that are sent to Canberra, but sitting in town halls and listening to many voices.

That's what a Minister should do, consult enough.


When you've actually, if you look at all the parties, your party's the one that's probably, you know, at least in political terms, suffered the most already. You've lost one of your own party remembers. Andrew Gee for our viewers who might not recall, he quit the National Party just before Christmas over your position on the Voice.


Well, let me just say, I don't think Andrew Gee quitting was laid barely at the feet of the Voice. It was a bizarre decision because, as most of your viewers would know, The Nationals have, well, I think you need to dig a little bit deeper rather than scratching the surface. Any journalist worth their salt would scratch the surface and understand there's a little bit more to this, than that. But, because if you only have to know, having been in the gallery, you know, the unique culture of The Nationals, the unique culture of The Nationals is that we are able to cross the floor. And that was offered to Andrew.

There was his view and it was one that was different from the rest of the party room. And we respected that, as we did on net zero.


There were voices in the party room you're saying didn't accept net zero?

So you're alluding to something now, you said the journalists worth their salt will scratch the surface. I'm going to do that because you're alluding to something our viewers aren't privy to. Explain to our viewers, but it's more than scratch the surface. You just tell us what you're saying here because you're alluding to something. Tell the viewers what you're talking about?


I think you'll find that Andrew had many issues, many issues outside the voice, with the National Party, particularly New South Wales National Party. And that's fine. He was a former state member of the National Party in the Parliament. And obviously there were personality issues that he felt couldn't be reconciled. And I respect that he had issues around the floods and the delivery of actually outcomes for his community, by the New South Wales government. I respect that, but I think it's deeper than the Voice because it was very clear as it has always been in our party room, at a federal level, you are able to cross the floor.

That is the unique nature, the diversity of the National Party that we celebrate and that we protect as the custodians of the party room now, to ensure that that diversity of our party room, continues to be enshrined in our culture. And that culture's very important that you have that diversity. And that was made very clear to Andrew that the fact that he had a differing opinion to the rest of us was fine. It wasn't an issue at all. We continued to want to do that. Because that's a better thing for democracy that makes the national stronger.


Do you expect others in your party room will share a similar view to him?


If there is, there'd be very few and you would be hard to find them. But obviously there are people that had reserved their right, but mostly, as a rule, everybody got to a position that we've had a lived experience that we've gone through this representative body before and metropolitan Australia might remember. But we do because we're still left with a gap that hasn't been closed and we don't believe putting another layer of bureaucracy will close it. And that's lived experience. And so we're not anything other than more genuine than anyone else in this country.

We genuinely, with great intent, want to close the gap and putting another lay of bureaucracy will not do that.


The Prime Minister says consulting the people affected will help close the gap. His argument is that it's actually good manners to listen to those first Australians who will be affected by decisions. Why is that wrong? Just because the ATSIC failed and collapsed. Obviously it ended up being dysfunctional, but why should the nation not try again?


Well, well, well, he's not wrong. We're just saying it's how you do it. And so what we're saying is that by putting another layer of bureaucracy to listen to a few that are sent to represent vast communities over a last geographic area didn't work before, because that didn't work. You know, what the Prime Minister did this week, prove The Nationals point, prove the point by going to Alice Springs and sitting in that community, sitting in the town halls and making sure that the decision makers, the decision makers are there listening to the broader community and making sure they come up with solutions to solve the problems.

Now, I don't think he's come up with all the solutions, but sending Canberra to Alice Springs was the right thing to do. And that proves The Nationals point exactly what we've been saying. Not send a couple of representatives from Alice Springs to be able to come and tell them in Canberra what they think we should be sending to Canberra.

And in fact, the bureaucracy should have been dropped off in Alice Springs and should not be allowed to leave Alice Springs until the solutions in which that community and the government gets to is implemented. And this is the problem, is simply what we're saying. And the Prime Minister proved The Nationals point. That's the political leadership and courage that we believe should happen in how we're going to close the gap. Because I think that's what all Australians want to do. We come to this with genuine intent to close the gap. There is no malice in what The Nationals are doing here. We simply live it and experience it in the people we represent and in Jacinta Price’s case in living in that community.

So just don't look down your nose at The Nationals, understand that we come from a different perspective because we actually live it. Now, while you might want to put your head on a pillow and close your eyes and think you've done the right thing, we're left with the consequences.


Do you, did you ever think you'd be on the same side of this debate as Lydia Thorpe, a Greens Senator?


Uh, well look, Lydia Thorpe and I don't agree on a lot and probably will continue not to agree a lot, but, I don't think that that where she's coming from is the same perspective as us. Um, our perspective clearly just to close the gap, genuinely close the gap and to make sure there's a mechanism that can do that. And that can be done without having to put another lay of bureaucracy that can be done with existing mechanisms. The thousands of old bodies that are there that are giving advice, that Indigenous voices that are giving, the government advice.

Now, we don't think that you need to do another layer, because we've experienced this, we've experienced this before in our community. So Lydia Thorpe comes from a totally different perspective. And I wouldn't say that The Nationals are on the same page.


The Prime Minister's pushing for tougher alcohol restrictions. That was clear last week when he flew straight to Alice Springs. When the story, albeit belatedly, it was elevated to sort of national attention. Do you welcome his push for tougher alcohol restrictions? Will that work?


Well, they should never been let go. I mean, they were warned on the 9th of June by community groups in Alice Springs to the Minister saying, do not remove them. The community's not ready. The cashless debit card is the other policy failure of this government. In saying that, they want to respect people, they want to respect the dignity of Australians to be able to give them the freedom to have alcohol, to be able to use their social security payments to be able to buy that alcohol. Well, where's the dignity of the women and children who are the victims of this?

Where is the dignity of those business owners who get up in the morning, the courage and conviction of their own wallet, to have a go and then be robbed? Where is their dignity at? At some stage, a government's responsibility always falls back to one simple principle, to keep its people safe.

And that means you have to govern for the greater good rather than an individual. And when the individual can't control themselves, then you have to implement policy that protects the greater good. And that's where this government's failed, whether it be with the grog bans or whether it be with the cashless debit card. This was foreseen, this was told not just by politicians, but by the community. And so Anthony Albanese now wants a Voice. Well, he didn't listen before it took him, it took him for a crisis to get on a plane to get out there. But if that's exactly the point that The Nationals are saying is get on a plane, get out there and sit in these communities, you don't need a Voice.

You actually need politicians that do their job and get the bureaucracy to do what you tell them to do.

This is the failure. Even that they are actually are a proponent, purporting to support the Voice, their frustration is around the bureaucracy and their failure to deliver. And I agree with them, but putting another layer isn't going to work. It's about a Minister having the courage to grab the bureaucracy and say, you're not leaving those communities. You're not leaving Alice Springs until you've got that solution, it's implemented. You will not be coming back to Canberra until you've achieved that. That's how you close the gap.

Practical, not ideological ways, is the only way in which you'll close the gap for Indigenous Australians.


The Prime Minister's looking, well not just him, this process that he's put in place as an out option as opposed to an opt-in for an alcohol ban. Is that sufficient?


Well, look, I think this takes courage and conviction to say it hasn't worked. You were told just reimplement what was in there. It was working to an extent and reinstate the cashless debit card. There is no one single measure that'll solve this Kieran. It actually is a suite of measures. And that's why it's important that this government understands that and understands they got it wrong, not just on the grog bans. They got it wrong on the cashless debit card, to protect these communities, protect the individuals, whether they be Indigenous or white. You have a right to live safely in any part of Australia, and when it doesn't happen, then you've got a govern for the greater good.

And that's where ideology has got in the road of practical reality.


The government maintains that income management will remain in place. Despite the removal of the cashless debit card that you referred to. Is there evidence to suggest that it's already having an adverse impact?


Sorry, just you dropped out. Sorry mate.


Is there evidence to suggest the removal of the cashless debit card is having an impact? We know the removal of the alcohol ban has clearly had a devastating impact. Is the National Party aware of already a flow on effect from the removal of that card because the government is arguing that income management will remain in place, albeit through a different mechanism?


Well, well I'm sure there'll be reviews and investigations into this because it's only just happened. But Kieran, when you start taking thousands of dollars out of people's pockets and in terms of putting just food and paying the essentials and putting into alcohol, and other substances that have negative social impacts, then I think the reality is pretty clear. That's how human nature works. If people have money in their pocket disposal income for things that they desire that may not necessarily give a good social outcome, then they will.

And that's when you provide that opportunity, and as The Nationals have always said, it is not a right to get Australian taxpayers money. It is a privilege. And with that privilege comes mutual responsibility. Mutual responsibility to make sure you live up to your responsibility as a good Australian citizen, to make sure your kids are at school, to make sure that they have bread and butter on the table.

They have three square feeds a day. That's the responsibility, the mutual responsibility. Now if you start saying that, we open up that and we've had experience where this, and much of the social discord that is happening is from alcohol and substance abuse, and you put thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars back into that side of the economy, then there's going to be poor social outcomes. So I'll let the demographers go and work their magic now, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find the facts that it's just human nature.


Nationals leader David Littleproud live from Perth. Appreciate your time. Talk to you soon.

January 29. 2023

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