Monday, 22 May 2023
Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023; Second Reading
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and thank them for their strong and continuing stewardship, particularly the Yuggera people of my electorate of Moreton. I'd also like to acknowledge, sadly, the death of a senior Indigenous person in my life, Yvonne Long, the mother of my good friend Wayne Long. She passed away on Friday. Vale, Yvonne. Later this year, Australians will have an opportunity to change our Constitution via a referendum, and I would have loved for Yvonne to be involved in that referendum. For those under 42, this is your first chance to vote in a referendum. My oldest son turned 18 earlier this year, and so he will have an amazing opportunity to change the country that he lives in on the very first occasion he goes to the ballot box.
The bill we're debating, the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023, is the next step, a chance for the Australian people regarding two simple things, recognition and consultation: firstly, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been here for over 65,000 years as being this nation's First Peoples—recognising our First Peoples—and, secondly, consultation. It's about listening to First Nations people on the practical changes that will have an impact on them, their families and their communities—consulting our First Peoples. It is about recognition and consultation.
These concepts didn't come from Prime Minister Albanese or Prime Minister Morrison—definitely not Prime Minister Abbott, despite him moving Aboriginal affairs into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or even prime ministers Gillard or Rudd, despite the latter delivering that historic apology to the stolen generations on my first day in this chamber. Sadly, the opposition leader chose not to hear that apology. He missed that apology, just as he's missing the mark when he deliberately misrepresents recognition and consultation as concepts springing from Canberra. Imagine spending 100 nights a year in Canberra every year for more than two decades but still having the hide to use 'Canberra' as a pejorative term. Badmouthing the place where you deliberately chose to spend more than 2,000 nights sounds a little bit counterintuitive or hypocritical.
The truth is that First Nations recognition and consultation aren't new ideas either. They've been talked about for decades. These ideas were started by First Nations people and culminated in their Uluru Statement from the Heart. This document is a powerful and emotive statement that a modern, progressive, reconciled Australia simply cannot ignore. To quote Thomas Mayo:
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a sacred First Nations' invitation to the Australian people. It was conceived on 26 May 2017 from the collective experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during an unprecedented process of dialogue and consensus building. Forged from more than two centuries of hardship and struggle, the Uluru Statement gives hope to a nation born from many nations, that we may find our collective heart.
I remind the chamber that the first step outlined in the Uluru statement was to have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice enshrined in our Constitution—a Voice that will enable local representatives to make representations to the Australian parliament and executive on matters that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It will amplify the voices of First Nations peoples from communities and regions on matters that affect them, sending grassroots into the halls of Canberra. That's a metaphor; there wouldn't be actual grass, obviously.
I return to the legislation before us. When this place listens to the Voice regarding making and changing relevant laws and policies, we know that it will improve the lives of First Nations peoples. It will deliver better bang for the buck re spending taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. It will help us close the gap, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd committed to 15 years ago and as every prime minister thereafter has committed to. Governments at all levels achieve better outcomes when they work in genuine partnership with First Nations communities. The constitutional amendment ensures that the Voice will be an enduring, independent representative body that cannot be taken away by the whim of politicians.
This bill is the product of robust and detailed consideration by the Referendum Working Group and the Constitutional Expert Group, and via consultation with state and territory governments. It empowers this parliament to legislate about the day-to-day operation and functioning of the Voice, allowing it to evolve over time. This is how this document works, our Constitution. The heads of power are contained in the document that was signed off by Queen Victoria back in August 1900. On the level above us, on level 1, the public can look at the British act of parliament signed by Queen Victoria's own hand during her 64th year on the throne. This document, our Constitution, has only been altered eight times in 122 years, despite 44 different questions having been put to the Australian people. The design principles for the Voice, which the referendum working group developed and agreed on, will inform the government's design of legislation to establish the Voice.
There is a lot of bunkum floating about at the moment, especially on social media, but also down at your local bar or local coffee shop, and maybe even coming from the other side of the kitchen table. So let me be clear about the design principles:
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The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed
A true grassroots organisation. Fifthly:
The Voice will be accountable and transparent
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The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures
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The Voice will not have a program delivery function
The Voice will not have a veto power—
Parliament will retain its primacy when it comes to legislation.
So the Voice is not a threat to this place; it's an invitation for our place of work to be better, more effective and even, dare I say it, a little more noble. A parliament and executive that is better at making laws and establishing and running programs to close the gaps in education, health, housing, justice—the list goes on. This invitation from our First Nations people is not to be feared but is to be accepted and embraced. This bill contains the constitutional amendment for parliament's consideration prior to it being put to a referendum.
The constitutional amendment proposed through the document that Queen Victoria signed on Monday 9 July 1990—a Monday, which I guess is a good a day as any to start a country. Queen Victoria's signature was only the royal assent, and then it was proclaimed on 17 September 1900. But, as we all know, technically our country didn't kick off until Tuesday 1 January 1901. The United States started on 4 July 1776. That was a Thursday. Canada started on 1 July 1867, a Monday—but I digress.
The constitutional amendment will fulfil the first request made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which the Albanese government is committed to implementing in full. The proposed amendment to this document is:
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
Of course, there is a litany of people with their own agendas banging the drum for the 'no' case, who almost always do so with misinformation and scare tactics. I think the respected journalist Niki Savva put it best when she said:
While it is not true to say that every Australian who votes No in the Voice referendum is a racist, you can bet your bottom dollar that every racist will vote No.
These 'no' campaigners are standing side by side with those racists who are spreading lies and mistruths to stop this happening. I thought I might put together my own top five hot miss-takes from the 'no' campaign. No. 5—and all lists of loony conspiracy theories—must start with Rowan Dean, obviously. So many rants, so little time, but here goes:
The Voice is 24 people on massive salaries living in marble palaces in Canberra for life, condemning Indigenous people to socialism, communism on steroids, and it will end in tyranny.
'Steer-roids' is how Mr Dean pronounces steroids. All that marble palaces and lifetime appointments obviously is complete bunkum. Remember, kids, tell your parents: never watch Sky after dark, SAD—sad in any language.
No. 4 is Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, who is now the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians. The senator for the Northern Territory was originally part of the Recognise a Better Way 'no' campaign but then drifted over to the right-wing Advance lobby group's 'no' campaign. Amongst many mistruths, the honourable Senator Price referred to First Nations people who supported the Uluru Statement from the Heart as being part of the 'Aboriginal industry'. The honourable Senator Price dismisses those very same grassroots people who've worked tirelessly to support their communities to improve First Nations people's lives. I don't know the honourable Senator Price, so I'll leave it up to those who know her well, the Central Land Council, to sum up Senator Price best:
Her people are the non-Aboriginal conservatives and the Canberra elite to which she wants to belong.
No. 3 is Warren Mundine, prominent 'no' campaigner and political chameleon untroubled by loyalty, perhaps. In the Daily Telegraph in April Mr Mundine wrote that the referendum, if successful, would reverse the 1967 referendum. This notion comes straight from the cookers and QAnon crowd. It's complete rubbish.
No. 2, we sadly go to Queensland with Senator Hanson, who, for those that can remember, was kicked out of the Liberal Party over comments about First Nations peoples all the way back in 1996, so it isn't a surprise she is on the 'no' campaign. Such positioning is part of her political business model. Senator Hanson was first out of the blocks in September last year, claiming the Voice was a form of apartheid. This term has become the calling sign for many and goes back to what Nikka Savva said about all racists voting no. This reference is utterly without foundation and shows great disrespect to the people of South Africa, like the late Nelson Mandela, who fought against real apartheid in that country. Anyone who thinks this is the same almost certainly belongs in that racist column.
Before I get my number one pick, some more dishonourable mentions: the Hon. Senator Michaelia Cash, for thinking that the Voice would give advice on parking tickets; Tony Abbott, saying it would do nothing, coming from the man who cut and slashed funds from First Nations programs and communities; Peta Credlin, who worked for the Abbott government, who just last week likened the debate to what happens in North Korea—again, like the apartheid comments, go talk to North Koreans and see what they think—and the lower house MP who held a community forum with two white men speaking for two hours about the Voice and then, when a First Nations person wanted to speak, said, 'Sorry, we don't have enough time.'
My number one pick is the member for Farrer, the Deputy Leader of the Liberals. The member for Farrer, just like that angry old white man, Mike O'Connor, forgot that Australia has a long history of First Nations men and women fighting for Australia in overseas conflicts—Mike O'Connor was another mention from the Sunday Mailwith many losing their lives on the shores of foreign countries, never to come back to their homes where their people had walked for 65,000 years or more. Why I mention this again is the member for Farrer said that the Voice would have a de facto veto over Anzac Day—yes, that's correct; that's what she said. Even the honourable member for New England, to his credit, said this was utter nonsense, and if the $100 lamb roast bloke thinks you're dribbling nonsense, you deserve the Voice bunkum gold medal.
I prefer that people get their information from people like Professor Megan Davis, Dr Marcia Langton, Thomas Mayo, Eddie Synot, Marcus Stewart, Noel Pearson, Pat Anderson, Professor Tom Calma, the Hon. Ken Wyatt, Nathan Appo, Professor Anne Twomey, the Hon. Linda Burney, Senators Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy, former chief justice Kenneth Hayne and Bret Walker, to name but a few. Locally, I've spoken to elders, including Aunty Deb Sandy and Uncle Bob Anderson, and my other colleagues in this place: Jana Stewart, Marion Scrymgour and Dr Gordon Reid.
I want to make sure, when I wake up on the Sunday after that referendum, I'll have done my bit and voted yes. I want my son's first vote to have made a difference—the same one vote every eligible Australian will be able to make, whether you're the Prime Minister or a year 12 student who has just turned 18. Your vote will be the same. When you vote yes, not only will have you made a huge step in helping First Nations people and their communities towards a better life; you'll also be saving and changing lives. You will have made a positive change for our nation. This document, our Constitution, is a complicated document. It's taken a long time to get here. Let's make sure that the next time we take it to the Australian people to change this document, the document signed by Queen Victoria back in 1900, that it reflects a modern, inclusive Australia. Vote yes. I recommend the legislation to the chamber.