House debates

Monday, 21 November 2022

Private Members' Business

First Nations Voice

11:08 am

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in support of this motion on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. In doing so, I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we stand and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent lands. Theirs is an ancestral relationship with the land, with the soil and with Mother Nature. They have possessed the land for 60 millennia, and their sovereignty has never been ceded. But, despite this deep and enduring relationship, despite this being the culture with the longest continuous civilisation in the world, their treatment in so many instances has been shameful. They are the most incarcerated people on our planet, their children have been alienated from their families at unprecedented rates and their youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.

This is the result of structural failure, and it must be addressed by structural change. The Uluru Statement from the Heart sets out what needs to be done. It was delivered not to the government but as an invitation to the Australian people, asking them to walk together with First Nations people towards a better future. It is one of the most beautiful and generous pieces of writing in Australia's history. As the Uluru Statement from the Heart says, by accepting this invitation we have a historic opportunity to enable this ancient sovereignty to 'shine through as a fuller expression of Australia's nationhood'. And that is why I applaud the government's commitment to implementing the Uluru statement in full, and for its commitment to enshrining a First Nations voice in our Constitution.

The Voice has been developed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and it is the way forward, supported by the overwhelming majority of them. It proposes the creation of new constitutional institution to assist parliamentarians in improving our record when it comes to legislating on matters relating to the First Nations community.

In the ambitious process of designing and conceiving this reform, we must meet the aspirations of First Nations for what this Voice can achieve. Members of the Voice must be selected by First Nations people in accordance with their own cultural practices. It must be established as a stable and powerful institution with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of First Nations people in the future. And, in the admirable pursuit of consensus, we must not deviate from the call set forth in the Uluru statement.

Australia has an historic opportunity, and I know that we are ready for it. But I also know this referendum cannot succeed on goodwill alone, and the government and our community must therefore take several important steps in preparation. We have seen the impact that lies and misinformation can have in elections and referenda across the world, and, sadly, we are already seeing this, in part, in the early stages of this debate. The Australian people must have access to objective and fair and reputable information on which to base their vote, and we cannot allow misinformation by regressive forces across the country to derail an historic structural reform. I therefore implore the government to urgently legislate truth-in-advertising reforms. My colleague the member for Warringah has put forward a widely supported bill on this topic. If the government are serious about enshrining a voice to parliament in the Constitution they should support it.

But stopping lies and misinformation will not be enough. I therefore also encourage the government to think seriously about the role that the public sector, alongside community organisations, can play in ensuring people can make an informed decision. That means carefully considering the content design of the referendum pamphlet, which can have a powerful effect on shaping someone's choice at the ballot box. It also means looking at alternative ways to provide trustworthy information to voters in the run-up to the referendum, for example through the use of citizen town hall meetings.

But the government is not alone in its responsibilities. This is also the responsibility of every Australian, of every member of our community, to stand up, to work together, to inform, to debate and, ultimately, to seize this historic opportunity. I am so proud that already in Wentworth, my electorate, we have community members who are passionate about supporting the Voice. They are already organising to support this Voice across the electorate of Wentworth, and no doubt across the country. We have been presented with an historic opportunity for change, and my community are ready to make this ambition a reality.

On election night back in May, one of the biggest cheers of the evening came when the Prime Minister announced his commitment to implementing the Uluru statement in full. This is a priority for my community; this is a priority for me. Wentworth is ready to walk alongside the First Nations people of Australia on the path for a better future. Thank you.


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