Monday, 21 June 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail
I thank the assistant minister for reading so eloquently such a speech, which I know he didn't write and knows very little about.
A government member: That's very rude of you!
But it's nevertheless true. I do want to apologise, however, for the member for Barton, who is not able to be here. She is out of Canberra at the moment. I was hoping that the minister would be here to be able to respond personally to the issues that we wish to raise.
Thirteen years ago, the Australian government embarked on a great national effort to close the gap and end the disparity between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians. Thirteen years later—eight of those years having been under the coalition government—five of the seven targets have not been met. The government has now refreshed the targets with 17 new ones, but, extraordinarily, we have seen no new funding for closing the gap in this year's budget. The Prime Minister described closing the gap as the 'ultimate test of our efforts'. He said of closing the gap that his government was 'making that commitment real'. Well, let's see the evidence of it.
If we want to see real progress on this critical national effort, we need to see it backed by a genuine commitment and adequate funding from this government. So I would ask the minister if he were here: how could it be that funding for the national effort is left out of the nation's pre-eminent financial document, this budget? Minister, you're not here, so you won't tell me, but nevertheless it's a question.
I note that funding for the referendum on constitutional recognition remains in the budget. It was first included in the 2019-20 budget papers. It's been almost two years since the minister addressed the National Press Club to commit to a referendum within this term of parliament. We haven't seen that yet. It's been over four years since the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which outlined the desires of First Nations people for a greater say on the decisions and laws that impact upon them through a constitutionally enshrined voice to the parliament as well as a national process to oversee treaty-making and truth-telling. It has been 5½ years since the appointment of the Referendum Council and almost a decade and a half—14 years—since the former member for Bennelong said in 2007:
I believe we must find room in our national life to formally recognise the special status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first peoples of our nation. We must recognise the distinctiveness of Indigenous identity and culture and the right of Indigenous people to preserve that heritage.
… … …
I will put to the Australian people within 18 months a referendum to formally recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution …
That was 2007. The government has asked First Nations people for their vision and the government was given it. They responded through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Australians will be forgiven for thinking this government is cynically dragging its feet.
My second question to the government: Minister, when will the government deliver on its commitment to hold the referendum for the recognition of First Nations people in our Constitution and when will the government present a model to Australians on its First Nations voice to parliament or government?
I want to reiterate that the Uluru statement contained two further elements—namely, the process of agreement or treaty-making as well as truth-telling through a makarrata commission. Minister, if you're not here, I hope you're listening. Truth-telling is crucial to understanding how the events and trauma of the past are inextricably linked to the challenges of the present. There can be, as you well know, no true reconciliation without truth-telling. With the preoccupation with the discussion around the voice to parliament, we cannot and must not forget these second and third elements of the Uluru statement.
Labor is the only party to support the Uluru statement in full, and it's committed to realising the statement in its entirety. In February, my colleague Senator Patrick Dodson moved a motion in the Senate for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry to explore options for a national truth-telling and treaty-making process. The government, sadly, voted it down. What a disgrace. So my final question, to the government is this: Minister, how will the government act to fulfil the second and third elements of the Uluru statement, the express aspiration for a national process for treaty-making and truth-telling? When will you do it?