House debates

Monday, 21 November 2022

Private Members' Business

First Nations Voice

11:44 am

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the member for Jagajaga for her motion on a matter that's incredibly important to my electorate of Swan as well as to our nation. Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the Constitution is a once-in-a-generation reform. It has been led by the community. The process has been a journey. When you ask Australians, 'Would you like to see a government that has integrity?' the answer is yes. Similarly, there is this other question, which is: 'Do you think that our First Nations people should have constitutional recognition?'

Recognition and a greater voice on the issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians has been a journey of resistance and courage. From the Yirrkala bark petitions in 1963 by the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land to 2017, the National Constitution Convention, First Nations people are making a point that 200 years of colonisation does not diminish or extinguish their sovereignty, which has been held for over 60,000 years. To take a word from the Statement from the Heart, it coexists with that sovereignty of the Crown.

This government and I will join the journey in recognising the unique and special history that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have here. It's a journey that I look at with great reverence as a scientist, because the astrological, medicinal and climate knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders enabled survival in some of our harshest climates. It's a journey that includes the Yolngu people knowing about the link between the tide and the moon phases thousands of years before Galileo. I will walk this journey with my community and I will do so because for too long we have been failing to address injustices of the past and to create meaningful changes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Earlier we heard the discussion of the question, how much will this cost? The thing that I'll say is that if we get this right it will be phenomenal—the health, emotional and wellbeing outcomes that we will achieve for our First Nations people. We will also see that we will be spending money wisely and doing early intervention et cetera. I'm not going to read you the statistics of what we've heard about the gap, but I can say that we need to strive harder to close the gap, and we can do this only by changing the structures. A Constitution that will create a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be the best chance for meaningful action and closing the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Giving people a leading role in fixing structural inequalities that are the fallout of years of structural racism and oppression is a step in the right direction.

This is what's at the core of our government's support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and it's self-determination through leadership. First Nations representatives are forming the referendum working and engagement groups. They are guiding government on the way forward ahead of the referendum. In my community, Whadjuk and Ballardong Noongar man Professor Simon Forrest has been utilising platforms at events to talk about the importance of a Voice to parliament. Since the Albanese Labor government has been elected he has spoken to over 40,000 people about its importance. From AFL games to NRL games to graduation ceremonies, he is leading the conversation.

My electorate office physically sits on neutral grounds where various clans of Whadjuk people would meet. It's where the Derbal Yaragan crosses to Matagarup, allowing for important seasonal passage from north to south. It's a place of shared understanding and cooperation, and I'm hoping that this place can be a place of shared understanding and cooperation—Australians putting aside our differences, especially those here and on the opposite side of the chamber, and coming together in the spirit of shared cooperation. This will be the key to success. And to my community of Swan, I want my office to continue to be a place of shared understanding and cooperation, and I want to have those tough conversations with those who may oppose the referendum, and I'll be available to listen to those voices who are calling also for its implementation. Great reforms like a Voice to parliament can happen only when we come together as a community.


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