ABC DRIVE WITH ANNA VIDOT
MONDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Barton Highway duplication, Voice referendum, Australian Institute of Sport independent review
ANNA VIDOT (HOST): Lots to talk about, not only with regard to the referendum but there are a couple of other interesting political things bubbling along. To discuss this afternoon I'm joined by the Federal Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh, who's on the line with us.
Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time. How are you feeling on the Monday after the referendum before?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CHARITIES, COMPETITION, TREASURY AND EMPLOYMENT ANDREW LEIGH: Look, very sad, Anna. I think this was a referendum which would have made a big positive difference for First Nations people and for Australia as a whole. I’m feeling especially for the First Nations leaders here in the ACT and across the country who'd worked for years, in some cases even more than that, in order to get this constitutional recognition happening.
I think the challenge now is to take the energy and the passion, the mobilisation of volunteers that's occurred around First Nations issues and point that towards closing the gaps, towards reconciliation.
We know that there is a lot of goodwill, particularly here in Canberra where more than 60 per cent of Canberrans voted yes. That certainly shows how strongly committed we are here in the ACT to reconciliation and to closing the gaps.
VIDOT: Are you concerned that because of the divisiveness of the referendum process as a community nationally, as a society, we are maybe further apart on some of these questions about how we address disadvantage than we were before this began?
LEIGH: Look, I'm optimistic that we're able to find solutions but it's certainly true that no referendum has gotten up without bipartisan support and that was true of this one as it's been for past referendums.
Once Peter Dutton moved away from the stance that had been taken by his predecessors, people like John Howard who promised to hold a referendum on constitutional recognition in 2007, once Peter Dutton took away that bipartisan support it made it an awful lot harder to get this referendum up.
VIDOT: I think there's going to be a lot of post-mortems and probably some very diverse factors which may have led to this result, but we're in any case left with the question ‘Well what next?’ How would you like to see those next steps taken, Andrew Leigh? To try and address the still very present issue of the gaps that exist between Indigenous and non‑Indigenous Australians?
LEIGH: Anna, a core message of the Yes campaign was that we needed to listen to First Nations people. So I think the best answer to your question is we need to listen to First Nations people on the way forward.
There is a week of silence from First Nations leaders who advocated for a Voice, but after that I'm keen to listen and to learn from them about how they believe we should best advance the cause of reconciliation and best work to close the gaps. I'm sure there'll be work in my portfolio, as there will be in other portfolios across government.
One of the things the referendum did was to showcase a range of remarkable First Nations leaders, and those leaders are going to take their place in the pantheon of great Australian leaders, advocates, and activists. Australia is better for that work which emerged. We lost a vote, but we didn't lose the opportunity to build a movement that takes us further along the journey of reconciliation.
VIDOT: We've been talking this afternoon about, regardless of I guess the content of the question, some of the confusion that clearly exists in Australia among its citizens about how its democracy works functionally, the Parliament, the Constitution, what the different roles are and powers are. Do you think we're doing enough on civics education in Australia? And if not, how could we be improving that?
LEIGH: This is an issue that arose of course in the 1999 Republic Referendum where you had questions over the reserve powers and the Yes case were being asked ‘What are you going to do with the reserve powers?’. Nobody seemed to care about the fact that there were already reserve powers in the constitution.
I think we can do a better job at teaching civics in Australian schools. Part of the challenge that I find in talking with teachers is the fine line they're walking between not engaging too much in politics but keeping it interesting for kids. If your civics education is all about saying well there's 227 people in the Parliament, 151 in the Reps, 76 in the Senate, then you can understand why kids are snoozing by the time you've gotten to the end.
If you engage students on policy issues then you can really animate them about why politics matters and understand that, as Aristotle put it, politics is all about trying to help us live together. It's no more complicated or simple than that.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh is with us at a quarter past four on ABC Radio Canberra. He is of course the local member for Fenner in North Canberra, he's also the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury.
I guess to other matters in the Federal Parliament at the moment, Andrew Leigh. The AIS namely. We've heard rumours for some time that there is some pressure from Queensland officials to get the AIS moved up to Southeast Queensland ahead of the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. The Federal Government has announced a review into the current state of the AIS ahead of those games.
Is the AIS and its presence in Canberra in trouble?
LEIGH: I'd like to think that Canberra will keep the Australian Institute of Sport. There's certainly nothing else like it in the country, no private or public facility which has the services and accommodation the AIS campus has.
It's big. There will be nearly 6,000 elite athletes and coaches from 33 sports that will come and do camps at the AIS this year. There are six national training centres, gymnastics, volleyball, combat institute and basketball among them that call the AIS home. It'll host the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships next year.
It's an important facility. It isn't now what it was when it was created in 1981, but I think it ought to be strengthened. Certainly that's the view ACT Members like Alicia Payne and myself have taken. That we ought to strengthen the AIS rather than move it. That'll be one of the questions that this independent review will look into.
VIDOT: There are a lot more MPs from Queensland than there are from the ACT, how do you as a local representative try and persuade the Federal Government that they should ignore that political pressure from up north?
LEIGH: I think this is about getting the right policy result. Certainly the approach the Albanese Government has taken across a range of issues is that good policy is good politics. We've focussed on the policy first. And here I think there is a strong case for strengthening the Australian Institute of Sport.
Those multidisciplinary learnings are really critical. I'm good mates with Dick Telford and his knowledge out of middle distance running and long-distance running has also seen him work with sports people right across the spectrum. If you're looking at areas like physiology and nutrition, then sports have a lot to learn from one another.
So having a multidisciplinary sports centre is more valuable than balkanising sports and having them each go off to different parts of the country. That was the genius of the Australian Institute of Sport, born out of the 1976 Montreal debacle and there's still a lot of value in that model, as epitomised by the more than 30 sports that come through the AIS for more than 220 training camps this year.
VIDOT: Meanwhile for the many long‑suffering people commuting back and forth between Canberra and the Yass Valley regularly, you've got an update on the Barton Highway duplication project. What's happening there?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Kristy McBain, Catherine King and I opened today the next stage in the duplication project, a seven-kilometre stage near Wallaroo. This is moving towards a fully duplicated Barton Highway between the ACT and the Hume. Absolutely critical for Canberrans who go to Yass, and of course for the many Yass residents who come into Canberra every day.
You know, a lot of people feel they take their life in their hands when they drive the Barton Highway, and it shouldn't be like that. It should be a road where you can feel safe and when your teenager says they're going to drive down the Barton Highway you don't suddenly think you've got to stay awake until they get home.
Right now it's a road that's too dangerous and so duplication is the solution. I've campaigned for that for many years. I opened a section called the Gounyan Curves back under the former Gillard Government and it's great under the Albanese Government to have further work taking place in conjunction with the New South Wales Government.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, appreciate your time this afternoon, thank you.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, Anna, thank you.