SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament; Hamas-Israel conflict

EDWARD TUDOR, CEO OF MELBOURNE INDIGENOUS TRANSITION SCHOOL: Well thank you for being here today. My name is Edward Tudor. I’m the CEO of MITS- where we are today. It’s a great privilege to have Senator Jana Stewart and the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, visiting us and most importantly, speaking to our young people today- our young First Nations people. So MITS is a school and boarding program for young First Nations people who, with the support of their families choose to take the great educational opportunities of Melbourne. We provide a two year school program at year seven and eight, in partnership with the Richmond Football Club, at Punt Road oval. And from year nine onwards, our students go into our pathway schools, which has great Melbourne schools which are all different shapes and sizes across the city of ours. Our students live with us from year seven, right through to Year 12, in our wonderful boarding houses where they’re surrounded by other young First Nations people and supported by staff, including our own staff who are one-third First Nations people- we’re very proud of that. And so it’s so special this morning that we’ve had, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Senator come to speak with our students about this fundamentally important time for us as a country. MITS, this organisation came into existence by listening, by listening to the voices of First Nations people, and to really reflect on what it was that they wanted for their young people as they pursued education, away from home. And eight years after the establishment of minutes, we can see the power of that listening. Every day here, over 80 young people are pursuing their educational aspirations in Melbourne, through a simple act that started with listening. And that is what we are being asked to do today and tomorrow as a nation- it is as simple as that. Every day at MITS we listen to our young people, we listen to our families, and that listening makes us a better place for our young people. But what we’ve also experienced through MITS is that that listening has made our whole community better. Our students make an extraordinary vibrant contribution to this community in Melbourne that they are a part of. Every day I get stopped on the street by neighbours who say that the MITS make our community better. And isn’t that a great example for us as a nation of what we can achieve through the Voice. So at MITS we are proud to advocate for Yes. We do that having spent the last year listening again, to our families and to our students engaging in quiet conversation- yarning, to understand their perspectives, to understand what’s important to them. And also as a school to provide education on what the Voice proposal is: a very simple, very humble proposition to come together with our First Nations people and listen. And through that listening and yarning with our families and our young people, it has become so clear that they want us to advocate for them for yes, to amplify their voices for years, so that we should have a constitutionally enshrined Voice to the Australian Parliament, to advocate for them and their families into the future. It is for that reason that we are so proud to have Senator Jana Stewart and the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles here this morning to hear the voices of our students, to hear their aspirations, and to hear their wishes for this important vote for our country tomorrow. So thank you for being here. And I’m delighted to pass on to the Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Ed. And it’s great to be here with Ed and great to be here with my good friend, Senator Jana Stewart. And really, it can’t be put better than the way Ed has just made the case to you right now. It’s an enormous honour to be here at MITS, the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School. And I’ve had a connection with this place really from its inception, and if I could just spend a moment talking about MITS, the Tudor family, Rick and Liz and Ed have done a remarkable thing in establishing this extraordinary place, which is giving opportunities to so many young Indigenous Australians working with the partner schools, the excellent partner schools across Melbourne. Ed first came and spoke to me about this idea back in 2009- I think it was- Ed is unreasonably young now, he was about ten years old at that time. And it’s incredible literally what Ed has managed to achieve in that period of time. And to go from seeing what the Tudors at that point had really had an idea in their head to the bricks and mortar now and the people we met this morning- the lives that have been changed is truly extraordinary, and this place is making a difference. And at the heart of what MITS is about is empowerment. And that’s actually what’s on offer for the country tomorrow. Tomorrow is a genuine opportunity for our nation to take a huge step forward. And to make a step change in the empowerment of Indigenous Australians in this country. Firstly, by making our founding documents much more complete, by recognizing the fact that indigenous Australians have been the custodians of the continent on which we all live for 65,000 years, that is something that should be recorded in our Constitution. But doing that, in a way, where we ask Indigenous Australians how they want to be recognized, and they have come back through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, after a long period of meetings around the country, which led to that gathering at Uluru in 2017. By saying that recognition should happen, but it should happen in a practical way, for the establishment of a voice to Parliament, where we listen to Indigenous Australians about the issues which particularly affect them, so that we can make a real difference in those programs and make a real difference in closing the gap of social disadvantage. Because the idea that a group of our fellow citizens live shorter lives and less healthy lives is by virtue of their birth is something which is unfair. I think an ethos about this country is that we have a fair go for all. And it should mean a fair go for everyone, including Indigenous Australians. And the opportunity to take a step down that path is the opportunity which has been given to Australians tomorrow. And that’s why we really passionately believe in the Yes campaign, and the passage of this referendum. There’s a lot of votes still out there to be won, there’s a lot of people who are undecided, I think there’s about 32 hours to go until the polls close. So until then, we are going to be using every moment along with the thousands of campaigners around Australia who are doing the same thing, to encourage people to vote Yes, to explain what this is about, and the simplicity with what it’s about recognition, and listening. That’s all there is to it. And this can make an enormous difference. Jana.

SENATOR JANA STEWART, SENATOR FOR VICTORIA: Thank you. And thank you to Ed and all the students here for having us here on this gloomy Melbourne morning. But incredible to see, really in action, what success can look like when you listen to First Nations communities and when we work with children and families. This is really the epitome of what’s possible in our nation. And that is what the referendum is about. It’s about recognition and listening for better outcomes. It is really so simple. It is about recognizing 65,000 years of history in our founding document. And for me, that’s important because it means connecting my 65,000 years of connection to this place with the Australia that we are today in our Constitution. For me, it’s actually just about completing the picture of who we are as a nation. It is a piece of work that should have happened a long time ago, but we’ll take the 14th of October. The other really important part of this, of course, is listening for better outcomes. No matter where you look in education, jobs, health or housing, my community, Aboriginal people, are just not where we should be. And when I say us, it’s easy to disassociate the statistics from people. It is about the children who go to this school, it is about me and my family. These are our lives that every Australian is voting on over the next few days. And I really want to encourage each and every Australian to keep in mind the children that go to this school and the Aboriginal people and communities lives who will be improved with three simple letters – Y, E, S. And I want to say a huge thank you to each and every one of our allies who have walked with us to get to this point and up until 6pm tomorrow, sharing the load is an incredibly important thing for our allies to do. There isn’t a First Nations person who I speak to who isn’t feeling the load of this referendum. So genuinely from the bottom of my heart, thank you for doing everything you can to make sure that we get a successful and resounding yes tomorrow and for standing with the over 80% of First Nations people who are asking for a voice to be enshrined in our Constitution.

JOURNALIST: It’s been a really long campaign. All highs and lows and just so much time, people out there spreading different messages, but how do you feel coming up to the end? You say 32 hours until polls close, how are you feeling? I’m sure there’s a lot of emotion.

MARLES: There is a lot of emotion. I might ask Jana, to have a go at this question as well. There is definitely a lot of emotion, I feel that there is a huge opportunity for the country tomorrow. And I look to tomorrow with hope and optimism that we will take that opportunity. But you know, what I’ve seen is thousands of Australians who have come out to be active in this campaign, who have actually given expression to their voice for the first time in terms of contributing in this way, in an activist way to their community and their society. And that’s been a wonderful thing to say. We have been literally speaking to millions of Australians about the issues which affect First Nations peoples, about the challenges that are there in terms of closing the gap and the need to do that. And I think there is a sense across the country, that the gap is fundamentally unfair, and it needs to be closed. And that’s a real positive, that so many people are hearing that message and feel the need for that to be acted upon, again, is a really positive part of the campaign that has occurred. I certainly feel that. You know, I’ve been involved in elections and votes for most of my life. The day before is a particular moment of apprehension, you kind of know that the world looks very different one way or another come six or seven o’clock tomorrow night as the results start to come through. So I feel that apprehension as well at this at this moment. But it’s exciting, and it’s been an exciting process. And this is, I think it’s been a really positive conversation for the country and I think there is this great opportunity for our nation tomorrow. But, Jana?

SENATOR STEWART: So I feel like it’s been a real roller coaster of emotions, really. But really, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the over 40,000 volunteers who have signed up to get involved in making sure that we have a successful, resounding yes  tomorrow. And a number of people who have never been involved in a campaign before, fills me with immense hope and gratitude for each and every one of those people. And really a feeling of optimism. I’ve done some traveling in the regions and regional Victoria over the last couple of weeks. And the conversations that I’m having there just continue to fill me with optimism that we’re going to get the right result tomorrow night. You know, statistically, the people that are supposed to be saying yes, that are coming out of the early voting centres, are letting me know that they voted yes. Sometimes they’re saying that in a really loud ‘I voted yes’ on their way out. And sometimes they’re coming up to me and whispering ‘I voted yes’. So I have every bit of hope and aspiration that we get the right outcome tomorrow night. And because Australians, I think will show up, they will show up to walk side by side with First Nations people. As Richard has said, the outcomes for First Nations people across our country, are just not where they should be. And we know that lots of lots of Australians, I think, can feel overwhelmed by that sometimes. And this is one of those opportunities, there are not many but this is one of those opportunities where every Australian can do something about that. Every Australian can do something in the next few hours to close the gap for First Nations people with a simple pen, and three letters. It’s an incredible power that each and every Australian has, and I hope that we wake up a better nation than we are on October 15.

JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister, do you agree with the political expert that said if this referendum is unsuccessful, that it’s unlikely that we’re ever going to have another referendum without full bipartisan support?

MARLES: Look, I think in moments like this, you get pronouncements such as that which are very big things to say. And often kind of all encompassing. I think the future is very hard to predict, is my view about that. It is true that the bar in changing our Constitution is high. I mean that that we didn’t need this referendum to teach us that, just the history of referendums in this country demonstrates that it is hard to change the Constitution. We knew that coming in. So we knew that what we were attempting to do here was a hard thing to do. But if not now, when? I mean, that was really the call from the beginning. And this is such an important thing to do, that as challenging and as hard as it is, and it has been, this is a challenge that we needed to meet and to take up. That was the commitment that we made at the last election, we’re following through on that in giving Australians this choice tomorrow. And again, I do feel all the nerves that come from being a day before a poll, which I always feel no matter how we’re going. But I actually have a sense of hope and optimism about this, I think that this is a huge opportunity for the country and I guess the thing I would say, and I might answer that earlier question a little bit as well, in all the conversations I’ve had with people, when you get the chance to explain what this is about, and the simplicity of it there’s been a really good reception. And so, you know, I’m hopeful that we will see a positive outcome tomorrow. But I think this has been a very important process and a very important journey.

JOURNALIST: On the tracking that you have seen, do you believe that Victoria will be one of this necessary states to have the majority yes?

MARLES: Look, again, I I’m hopeful and optimistic about the outcome. And I would also say that, you know, we’ve all seen the published polls, and they say what they say. I probably in my time haven’t seen such, at least in terms of how I’ve experienced this campaign, such a kind of big disjunction between what we read in the papers and the feeling that we have when we’re talking to people out and about as we’re campaigning. But look, the answers to all of these questions are going to manifest themselves, what in about 40 hours’ time? So soon enough we’re going to find out what the answer to this is. Our focus really, between now and then, is just getting the message out and speaking to as many Australians as we can over the course of the next 32 hours.

JOURNALIST: You’ve obviously done this already, and throughout all the statements and comments today and throughout the campaign. But if you were to take this opportunity with the last few hours that there are to look at those voters who haven’t yet cast their vote, they are undecided or not sure in in your own words and as succinctly as possible, you say it’s really simple, what would you say to them to get your message across and to get them to write the three letters?

MARLES: Yeah, well, this is about recognition, and it’s about listening. It is as simple as that. If this referendum passes, no one will be worse off but for Indigenous Australians. This is a huge step in their empowerment. And a real difference can be made in closing the gap we should recognize in our Constitution First Nations people who have been the custodian of our country for 65,000 years. And we should be listening to First Nations people about issues which particularly affect them so we can close the gap. It’s not acceptable that a group of Australians by virtue of their birth are living shorter and less healthy lives, we need to fix that. And that’s what tomorrow’s about.

SENATOR STEWART: I would say that this is an idea that has come directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have asked Australians to walk with us to a more united and more empathetic and caring country, walk with over 80 per cent of First Nations people who support enshrining a voice into our Constitution who are saying see us and hear us. It is about recognition. And it’s about listening for better outcomes for First Nations people. Nothing to lose and everything to gain by saying yes on October 14.

JOURNALIST: If we look at the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, there are a number of pro rallies happening from both sides of that claim across Australia. Do you have any comments about any of the pro-Israel, pro-Palestine events that are occurring across the country?

MARLES: What we’ve seen play out in the Middle East is tragic. An act of appalling terror has seen the lives of more than 1,000 innocents taken in the most terrible circumstances. And we have and continue to condemn Hamas in the strongest possible terms and we stand in solidarity with the people of Israel. Now, I know that there’s a context in the Middle East, and I know that people have strong views about that here in Australia. It is really important as we go forward, that we engage in public discourse in a way which is respectful. Respectful of each other as Australians. Certainly what we saw in Sydney on Monday evening was abhorrent, there is no place for that kind of sentiment in Australia. Certainly there’s no place for that kind of anti-Semitism, which is what we saw. We just need to remember at this moment, when we see the tragedy that is playing out in Israel and Palestine, how fortunate we are to be living in a country, which is peaceful, and at the heart of that is the respect that we accord to each other as Australians. And the way in which we go about our discourse. And it’s really important that we are all bearing that in mind in terms of the way in which we engage in in the discourse that we lead.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government open to providing military support to Israel if requested?

MARLES: Look there’s no talk of that. There haven’t been any of those requests.  Obviously, Australia stands in a very different circumstance to America, for example. I mean, right now, as I say, we absolutely stand in solidarity with the people of Israel in this moment. Our focus is very much upon Australians who are in the Middle East right now. And, in providing for their safety and where they are seeking to leave, to be able to afford the means of doing that. And as has been reported in the media today, there are now Qantas flights which are taking Australians out of Israel to London, and making their way back home. So we’re very focused on that. That’s at the heart of our effort. Obviously, we will stay in touch with the Government of Israel. And there’s been communication with the Palestinian Authority as well. But there is no talk of that.

JOURNALIST: Would Australia consider following France’s footsteps in banning pro-Palestinian rallies in their solidarity with Israel?

MARLES: Well, there is no place for what we saw in Sydney on Monday evening. And the Prime Minister discouraged people from attending that rally, and certainly what we saw was completely abhorrent. I simply repeat what I said before, what makes us a place which is in many ways the envy of the world is the peaceful society we have and at the heart of that peace is respect. And there are going to be differences of opinion and that’s okay. But paramount in the way in which everyone engages in this debate must be a respect for each other as Australians.

JOURNALIST: The ASIO Director-General has warned of the potential for opportunistic violence in Australia, are particular individuals being monitored to prevent sporadic or opportunistic attacks?

MARLES: Look, I wouldn’t go obviously into the details of that, for obvious reasons, but we are alive to all the possibilities that are raised by what has occurred and we are very conscious of maintaining domestic safety and security for all Australians. And Australians should have a sense of confidence that in our intelligence agencies, but also in our police forces, we have some of the best agencies in the world. And I really mean that, agencies which are excellent. And our focus is very much on public safety, and I’m confident that we will be able to maintain it. Thank you.




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