Subjects: The Voice referendum, Aston By-Election, Mobile Black Spot Program
Greg Jennett: After the Aston by-election loss at the weekend it would be fair to say there are a few questions confronting Liberal MPs and senators. To discuss some of those and matters within his own Shadow Communications portfolio, Opposition frontbencher and Member for Banks David Coleman joins us now from Sydney. Welcome back. David, why don’t we start on the Voice, it’s assumed you and many others will be on the move to be here for this meeting on Wednesday. What do you think the goal is to be decided by the party room when the Joint Select Committee on the referendum has barely begun looking at the proposal?
David Coleman: We will talk through the issues on Wednesday, Greg. I don’t want to pre-empt that discussion or the outcome of it. It is an incredibly important issue. We’ve only changed the Constitution eight times in 122 years. We all want the very best for Indigenous Australians, we all acknowledge that there are many things in our past that were frankly terrible, as they relate to Indigenous Australians. We all want to do all that we can to improve the situation of Indigenous Australians. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that everybody has to agree exactly with everything that Anthony Albanese says on the issue. So, we’ll talk it through on Wednesday. I think to reflect on some of those comments that Julian made earlier today – one of the concerning things is you would have seen that we have asked a number of questions in recent days and weeks of the Prime Minister about the Voice proposal, quite reasonable, legitimate questions about how it will operate in practice and his general response has been to be quite dismissive of those questions. I don’t think that is appropriate. I don’t think it is wise either because I think the same sort of questions that we are asking in parliament, to be frank, are the same sort of questions that Australians are going to ask and I think there is a smarter and better way to go about this and the Government has so far.
Greg Jennett: Would you seek – would you appreciate even, being granted a free vote so that you may exercise your own opinion on this one?
David Coleman: Well again, Greg, I’m not going to pre-empt any of the party’s discussions on this. I’ll just say that this is a really serious matter. Nobody is suggesting that it is a small thing to change the Constitution. Nobody is suggesting we do this every day of the week, we don’t. We do it very rarely and it is incumbent on all of us regardless of what political party we are from, to really work through this carefully, have a mature, sensible discussion about it, and then ultimately the Australian people will decide. But it is a serious matter and the Government should be responding in a more serious and mature fashion to reasonable questions and they’re just not.
Greg Jennett: There are other things I want to discuss, our last one on the Voice. Do you separate as others in your party do, the question that the Government has effectively put to you with the bill and that is, at one level the granting of the referendum which the Government was upfront it wanted to hold before the election, and then the quibbles you may have about the wording and the proposal. In other words, is it possible to support the passage of the bill that enables the referendum to take place, then to splinter off in whatever direction you choose to take beyond that question?
David Coleman: Well again, Greg, sorry to disappoint you but I’m not going to pre-empt what we discuss on Wednesday or what the outcomes are. We obviously supported the referendum machinery bill a couple of weeks ago, but from this point, obviously, this meeting on Wednesday will be very important. I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion.
Greg Jennett: Okay. You would have absorbed the news on Saturday night, relatively early on Saturday night, for that matter, of Aston’s loss to the Liberal Party. What ails it? What lessons did you learn from that?
David Coleman: Oh, look, obviously a very disappointing result down there, Greg. There’s no beating around the bush on that. The Government obviously is still in a honeymoon period. We lost Alan Tudge who did have a strong personal vote in that election. And to be frank, the issues in Victoria that we saw in the week or two before the election were clearly not helpful. So, I think there’s a range of things that have occurred there. Our task, as it always is, is to hold the Government to account as we approach the next election to put forward an alternative set of policies for Australia. But no beating around the bush as I said, a disappointing result and we will reflect on that result and learn from it.
Greg Jennett: It is when you map it across all of the major metropolitan areas in the country that it becomes stark, doesn’t it, David Coleman. 14 of 79 urban seats, only 14 held by the Liberal Party. Do you draw a trendline through that that there is some fundamental policy and relevance problem here?
David Coleman: Well look it is of mathematical fact, Greg, that the Liberal Party to regain government must win a significant number of seats in metropolitan Australia. There is just no other way of cutting it. Liberal ideas are the greatest ideas in human history, to be frank, Greg. The idea that everyone should be free to pursue their dream, regardless of their race, their religion, their gender, their sexuality, any of those things that we all should be free to live our best lives in a democratic system. Those are big ideas, that’s what we stand for and we will be reminding people of that and developing further policy as we approach the next election.
Greg Jennett: I don’t want to get you in on false pretences, David Coleman. I definitely promised to ask a question about Shadow Communications. So, I will do that just finally and relatively briefly. A matter of record that you wrote to the Auditor-General asking that office to take a look at mobile towers, black spots. Have you received any response yet?
David Coleman: No, not as yet but I would expect one in the weeks ahead. This is an open and shut case, Greg. Michelle Rowland has been caught red-handed directing funding into Labor electorates. In New South Wales and Victoria, our two most populous states, 100% of the mobile black spot locations, in Michelle Rowland’s round six, all in Labor electorates. And Anthony Albanese back into 2021 said that taxpayers deserve better than to have their taxpayer funds funnelled into marginal electorates for political purposes. And that is plainly what has occurred here. No-one in Australia would think that 100% of the need for mobile black spots in those two states is in Labor electorates. So, it is very clear and this is an issue that we will be pursuing every single day, Greg, because this goes to the credibility of the government and frankly it is an outrage.
Greg Jennett: I get the impression you will. You have been dogged about it ever since you stepped into that Shadow portfolio, David Coleman. Not the first time we have spoken on it and I suspect it won’t be the last either.
The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks