Monday, 21 November 2022
Private Members' Business
First Nations Voice
I thank the member for bringing this motion forward on the proposal for a Voice to Parliament. I hope that it begins to throw more light on what it is that the government is actually planning to take to the Australian people in the form of a referendum—when that they will be and, far more importantly than either of those points, how it will work. I am supportive of the view that the Constitution should recognise the fact that Australia was occupied, in fact, by peoples with the longest continuing culture in the world before European settlement. However, unless the government moves to get some meat on the bones of what is, at this stage, not much more than some vague objectives, and gives Australians the detail they need to make a rational decision, they will have lost the campaign virtually before it has begun. From the very outset, a case needs to be made as to how the Constitution has failed Indigenous peoples given that the current parliament has delivered an over-representation of Indigenous voices, with 11, or 4.9 per cent, of the members of our national parliament identifying as Indigenous. According to the recent census, 3.2 per cent of Australians claim the same status. This should be a reason for great celebration but strangely seems to be missing from the debate. Australians need to be informed as to why the Constitution needs to be altered given these outstanding results. It was put to me recently by a leading campaigner for the cause that, as the 11 Indigenous members are not specifically representing Indigenous peoples, they are somehow compromised. I struggle with this reasoning. They are, after all, elected representatives. I would hope that none of us are beholden to delivering better outcomes for only one constituency.
I would have to report that, at this stage, a referendum on the Voice is not a first-order issue in my electorate, either in the Indigenous or the general community. But those who are fully focused are concerned that, if we insert legal racial discrimination into our Constitution and set up a second independent political body, with an authority which at this stage is undetermined, it is possible that it will have wide-ranging and dramatic effects on the powers of the parliament. If this is not the case—and a number of the proponents, including government ministers, say it is not—it needs to be explained why it is not the case. A number of constitutional experts have already said that, ultimately, any rewording of the Constitution will be interpreted by the High Court, thus overruling the primacy of parliament. I make the note that, just two years ago, the High Court ruled that a noncitizen claiming to be Indigenous could not be deported. As a warning to those concerned about these issues, the Prime Minister has said that it would be a very brave parliament indeed that would seek to defy the will of the Voice.
Australia needs to know how such a body would be elected or appointed and who would be eligible to be part of it, as we seem to have arrived in Australia today at a point where self-identification as Indigenous is acceptable. Voters will need it clearly spelt out as to what pieces of legislation the Voice should be consulted on, and, given that most applies to all Australians, including Indigenous Australians, where any boundaries in those jurisdictions lie.
There is another question I would add to all of the aforementioned, and that is: what is it all likely to cost given that the Prime Minister has indicated that he's not inclined to wind up a plethora of existing Indigenous corporations, consultation groups and health, employment and social support groups and is instead committing to adding another? The framework put forward thus far, by the Langton and Calma report, which I commend, envisages a local voice informing and empowering the national Voice. Any such structure is likely to involve hundreds of meetings and consultations on an ongoing basis and cost in the tens of millions at least. The question of how much it will cost, how it will be funded and whether it comes from within an existing budget or whether it is a new cost, I think, should also be answered.
This speech may sound obstructive. It's not meant to be. I am simply making the point that I have questions that millions of other Australians will also have once they start to fully engage with this issue. I cannot see how we can proceed down this pathway unless they are comprehensively answered. If they are not, Australians will not vote in favour of a general question as to whether or not they support a Voice on the basis that details will be developed later, and I don't believe that Australians will, or indeed should, vote on that basis. If the government want us to support these proposals, they need to take us with them and answer all the questions.