Thursday, 4 July 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I am delighted to follow my colleagues in this matter of public importance discussion today on services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. I thank the for his contribution earlier and willingness to work in a bipartisan manner to focus on outcomes. I take heed of what both the member for Barton and the member for Lingiari said before. A bipartisan approach must be reaching for the stars. We have to be setting a benchmark of excellence and, in fact, leading the world. We need to have confidence that that is a shared position of this parliament. The First Nations people of our country deserve nothing less and expect nothing less from this parliament.
There are plenty of signs of a willingness to have a kind of renewed relationship with the parliament. Indeed, no sign is more prominent than the Uluru Statement from the Heart. That had a very rocky re-entry into this parliament. Let's not forget the complete dismissal last September of any notion that there could be a voice to parliament. Indeed, the new Prime Minister, a month after the former Prime Minister dismissed it, went on to say that he too believed that there could be no countenance of a voice to parliament—with the very mischievous interpretation that this somehow represented a third chamber. Of course, there has been a resounding and emphatic rejection of that interpretation by First Nations people.
I'm glad to see that there has been some movement on the government bench to now give some shape to what a voice might look like. There is an allocation in the budget of $7.3 million to try to progress this. I would like to see that that is done. I take on board the minister's comments earlier on about the new agency and a genuine desire for co-design of programs. This is an ideal opportunity for that $7.3 million to be spent around the design of what this process is going to look like and, indeed, to have a genuine partnership.
The theme for this year's NAIDOC Week is 'Voice, Treaty, Truth'. They were the three fundamental elements of reform that were spelled out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. So this NAIDOC Week is indeed honouring the intent of that statement from Uluru. It is the job of this parliament now to honour that statement. However that voice gets shaped and interpreted, I think we should never lose sight of the fact that the Indigenous voice in Australia is at least 65,000 years old. This is not a new idea. This is not a new voice in our nation.
Likewise, the concept of a treaty has a very, very long history—since colonisation, in fact. In my own home town of Newcastle, I remember 30 years ago convening, in my then role in the Newcastle Aboriginal support group, a public meeting and discussion around treaties and what that would look like in Australia. I am definitely not wedded to the idea that there be one treaty that serves the entire nation. There may be multiple. I do not wish to prejudge what that is going to look like. But there is nothing surer than that one day this nation will have to answer to that history, own that history and, indeed, go back to looking at treaty-making. There will be the formation of a treaty at some point in Australia's history. I really hope that I'm in a parliament that helps to do that.
Likewise, there can be no treaty without truth, without owning our history and without having a shared understanding and agreement on the unfinished business in this country. These are all matters that are deeply meaningful to First Nations people, regardless of whether they live in a highly urban environment like Newcastle or in a remote community like Wadeye. These are matters that go deep in our national identity and the relationship we have with First Nations people.