Television interview - Sky News Afternoon Agenda

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: As Andrew Clennell mentioned a bit earlier in the programme, this poll in the West Australian newspaper showing a strong uptick in support for the Voice to Parliament. 60% in favour of the yes vote in WA. Just 40% on the no side, let's bring in the Minister assisting the Prime Minister, Patrick Gorman. He's also a WA MP. Why do you think we're seeing that level of support in the west?

PATRICK GORMAN, ASSISTANT MINISTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what we've seen over the last week is strong support for the words that have been put out by the Referendum Working Group and the Prime Minister and indeed the Government. Australians want to see this done. It's been on the table since 2017. Now, I hope that Western Australia does vote yes when the referendum is held later this year, but I also know you can't take anything for granted. You can't look at that result in the West Australian today and think that the state is done and it's locked in for yes. That's why even in my own electorate in Perth, I've been hosting forums with Senator Patrick Dodson. I've been out talking to people about why I think this is in our interest, not just as West Australians, but in our national interest.

GILBERT: So some prominent figures, like Patrick Dodson, like Ken Wyatt, another West Australian, does that feed into this result? Because this, I think, would surprise a lot of people. Initially the concern, among yes campaigners, was around WA and Queensland as being the states, potentially, where they have the weakest support. But you disagree with that?

GORMAN: Well, if I look at those who are organising the no campaign, so far they have been very focussed on the eastern states and that's fine. There are more votes to be won there. West Australians are used to being ignored in these things. But when it comes to what we saw last Thursday in that big moment in this building, in that press conference with the Prime Minister, for West Australians, we saw two giants of reconciliation, Patrick Dodson and Ken Wyatt, standing up with a range of indigenous leaders, talking about why this is in our national interest. Putting politics to one side, saying this is something we have to get done. And I've said many times, I commend the work that Ken Wyatt did in progressing this through the conservative government. And we've picked up that work. This is not a Labor idea. It is not the Prime Minister's initiative. Much of the work towards the Voice happened under a conservative government. We just want to get it to that final place, which is a choice for the Australian people.

GILBERT: And is there any other sort of historical reason why WA might be more open to a recognition of this sort?

GORMAN: Well, Western Australia has already got recognition of Aboriginal people in our Constitution. That happened in 2015 when Colin Barnett was the Liberal Premier of Western Australia. We saw Western Australia under again a Liberal Premier, Richard Court, become the first state to apologise to the stolen generation back in 1997. Western Australia at many times has led and it hasn't been partisan. And that's really what I think should be the message from Western Australia into this national debate, is actually when we can bring people together, when we can work together, we do make progress towards reconciliation. And these don't need to be partisan debates.

GILBERT: The Aston by-election, if we turn our attention back to politics of a different sort, for a moment. Of course, the referendum is one vote, but then there's another one looming, this Saturday much sooner. John Howard sent out a letter to the voters in Aston. Is this a sign that the Liberals might be concerned that you could pull off an upset there?

GORMAN: Well, let's be true to the history of by-elections, which is there is normally a swing against the government. That is the long standing result in many by-elections. I do think it is interesting that the Liberal party in New South Wales substituted Peter Dutton for John Howard. They had him at their New South Wales campaign launch. You've now got the Liberal party in Victoria instead of using the leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton, it's a federal by-election, they've got John Howard out there. I think it's very strange that Peter Dutton is playing hide and seek. He is hiding from the voters of Aston at the same time he's seeking their vote. That's just bizarre.

GILBERT: Are you trying to downplay expectations as well? Because at the moment it looks like things might be shaping up as a potential government win.

GORMAN: I'm a student of history. What we know is that 5 or 6% swings against incumbent governments at by-elections, whenever they're held in the cycle, that's the norm. I came in to this Parliament at a by-election. There was a swing against the then Turnbull government and not long after, Mr. Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison. It's very common that you see swings against governments at by-elections. But we are standing. We put a candidate in the field, Mary Doyle is a fantastic candidate. We're putting our best foot forward so people have a choice.

GILBERT: Patrick, thank you very much for that.

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