House debates

Monday, 22 May 2023


Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023; Second Reading

6:54 pm

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

At least 50,000 years ago, the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations became the first sovereign nations of this Australian continent and its surrounds. Those nations had their own laws and customs, and their sovereignty was never ceded or extinguished. More than 20 years ago all sides of politics in Australia accepted that this rich fundamental history of Australia should be told and that, central to a long overdue reconciliation process, our First Nations should be recognised in the Constitution.

The demand for recognition became the proposal for a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament, which would empower our Indigenous people to take their rightful place in what is and always has been their own country. Six years ago, in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, our First Nations people asked us to create for them a voice to parliament. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a beautiful document. It's an invitation and a gift to our nation from our First Peoples. Most Australians have not yet read it, but I suspect that most people in my community of Kooyong have. I know that not only because the people of Kooyong are, on average, 10 per cent smarter and 20 per cent more attractive than the people of any other electorate in Australia, I know that because my team has managed to deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart directly to their doors.

In these recent weeks of May 2023, a steady stream of volunteers has come to my electoral office to pick up boxes and boxes of postcard sized statements from the heart. They have now letterboxed them to every home in the electorate. In providing every Kooyong household with a copy of the Statement from the Heart, we have delivered a statement of intent. As Kooyong's Independent I would not stand on the sidelines or, like some in this chamber have, actively campaign against recognising our First Nations Australians in our Constitution. Instead, I will be out in the community with hundreds of volunteers, bringing our community with us as we work towards a historic yes vote in the forthcoming referendum. Just this month alone, more than 140 of our wonderful volunteers have delivered more than 72,000 copies of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And for that I thank them.

The goodwill from our community is palpable. On receiving her Statement from the Heart in her letterbox, Joanna from Canterbury called our office. She said that she so appreciated receiving the postcard from her local member that she wanted to become involved as a volunteer immediately. Others, like Eric from Hawthorn, John from Canterbury and Mandy from Hawthorn have also emailed to say that they appreciated the gesture.

I was really pleased to read in the Age last week that the Yes 23 campaign is readying its 7,000-strong volunteer army to flood Australia ahead of the referendum. Dean Parkin, the director of Yes 23, said that there have been over 100 Voice related events nationally in the last week alone, in sporting clubs, religious institutions, workplaces, community halls, offices and schools. This is a decentralised distributed network campaign. Discussions are happening at kitchen tables and around water coolers around the country.

I have every confidence that this plan will work. I know that because I've seen it before—in the campaign that brought me here. To those saying that they don't believe that these grassroot volunteer armies will make a difference in the Voice referendum, let me say this: most felt that volunteer armies wouldn't succeed in Wentworth, Mackellar, North Sydney, Warringah, Curtin and Goldstein. They especially didn't think that the extraordinary groundswell of 2,000 volunteers in my electorate of Kooyong would create the change in our community that it created in 2022. But it did.

With this speech, I wish to inform the House of what on-the-ground voice campaigning looks like in my electorate right now and why it gives me great confidence that the public will accept the gift from our First Nations Australians that we can walk with them in accordance with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The delivery of 72,000 statements from the heart in Kooyong followed on from our initial Voice information night with Thomas Mayo and Marcus Stuart held in the Hawthorn town hall earlier this year. That community town hall had just under 1,000 attendees. I'm proud to have informed the House that we are not stopping there; we are only just getting started.

In the next few months, our incredible volunteers will knock on every door in Kooyong. They will give every household in Kooyong an opportunity to discuss the forthcoming referendum. Our dedicated team of volunteers numbers more than 100 already, and it is a broad church. There are people doorknocking for the very first time alongside doorknocking professionals. There are card-carrying Liberals, alongside lifelong Labor Party members and Greens voters. We have an amazing Youth4Voice team, with 25 young people in Kooyong, who have written presentations to be given in schools across the electorate to help spread the word. This is not a political movement; this is a grassroots social movement motivated by a desire to support one of the most important questions faced by this country in recent years.

Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly, corflutes are back. During the federal election, the people of Kooyong expressed their desire for change by placing a corflute at the front of their homes. What started with a few dozen signs here and there around the electorate turned into a flood of support. By election day, 3,000 homes in Kooyong had a corflute out the front. I'm proud and excited to tell the people of Kooyong that we have now designed Yes 23 corflutes and will soon be offering them to our community.

The point of all of this is to say: do not underestimate—ever—the power of community. If there is any lesson to be learned from the 2022 federal election, it is that, when an Australian community stands up and demands a change, it can surprise everyone. Kooyong is but one community in a big country, a country now full of communities that have learned the power of collaborative local democracy. I know that many of my fellow Independents represent communities that are also standing up for their values, inclusiveness, collaboration and positivity ahead of the Voice referendum. Almost exactly one year after the community campaign for Kooyong ended, the community campaign to win the Voice referendum is just getting started. It will not be won in this House; it will be won in the houses and homes and around the kitchen tables of kind-hearted Australians across this country.

I will be voting in favour of the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) Bill 2023 because my community overwhelmingly supports recognising First Nations Australians in the Constitution and giving them a voice to parliament. First Nations Australians have been calling for a greater say in the development of Australian public policy for more than a century. With a successful referendum, Australia will finally listen to those calls. This will be a source of pride for the Australian nation. It will be a unifying moment for us all. It is past time for all of us, as the Uluru statement says, to walk together with Indigenous Australians. As we walk together with those born of early settlers and with our more recent immigrants, it is time for us to give our First Nations Australians a voice, and it's time for us to listen to that voice. So I commend this very important and very significant bill to the House.


No comments