Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Matters of Public Importance
Australian Constitution: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
The Albanese government is going to continue working for the shared wellbeing of the Australian people, and we're going to continue to keep our commitments. That's what we have done so far and what we're going to continue to do. I'm sorry that Australia didn't vote yes, because that's the outcome I personally supported. I know how strongly it was supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. We put the referendum in the terms that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people asked for through the most comprehensive referendum constitutional process that has ever occurred. That's what we said we would do and that's what we did.
I accept the outcome with good grace. In my electorate people turned out and voted in good spirit, with respect for one another and with respect for our democratic process. That's not what we're seeing with the motion that has been brought today, and it's not what we're seeing with some of the ridiculous questions that have been put in the first two days of this parliamentary week. The opposition has settled upon a method that it intends to prosecute, not that different from what we saw the last time we were in government: basically negativity at every turn, chaos at every turn and division at every turn. Create division and then blame division, practice negativity then seek to profit from negativity.
That's not what Australians want to see from this parliament. That's not what they should expect from their government. If you want a judgement on competence, just when it comes to the referendum that we held, you could look at Ken Wyatt, the cabinet minister responsible for advancing constitutional recognition under the previous government. He utterly rejected and repudiated the approach that those opposite have taken to this process. You could look to the member for Berowra, the shadow Attorney-General and the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians. He resigned his position in discussed at the approach taken by those opposite.
Irrespective of whether Australia chose yes or no, the work of reconciliation and the work of closing the gap had to continue. If Australia had voted yes on Saturday that work had to continue. The fact that Australia voted no on Saturday means that that work has to continue. It wasn't going to be done with a yes vote and it's not finished with a no vote. That's something that we should apply ourselves to hear. We should stop having these kinds of finger-pointing exercises. We should stop confecting division then blaming division. We should apply ourselves to the task that I think all Australians want to see their government apply themselves to, which is closing the gap and ending the disadvantage that afflicts too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Fremantle voted no relatively narrowly. We ran a big positive campaign, and the way that the 500 volunteers were received in the community was always respectful, even though on many occasions they were having conversations with people who had decided to vote no. That's the nature of our democracy. People coming along and trying to suggest that the process that we just had, which is a legitimate and necessary part of a democratic process, is somehow a bad thing or inherently a divisive thing, are just bananas. They are bananas. At the last election, this government was elected, pretty clearly, on a two-party-preferred outcome of 52-48. Is that divisive? That's democracy. People who come along and claim that those processes are inherently divisive and bad are doing harm to our democracy, the kind of harm that we've seen in other places, like the United States, which we should utterly reject here and which we should repudiate at every turn.
Last Thursday, the Prime Minister came to Fremantle. He came with me to the site of what will be a new urgent care clinic in Beeliar, in the south-east of my electorate, the fourth in metropolitan Perth. I think we're going to go on to deliver 58—after we promised 50—urgent care clinics, where people can go and get health care for those things that can't wait but don't need the resources of an emergency department. Forty per cent of presentations at Fiona Stanley Hospital Emergency Department are exactly those kinds of issues. Because of these urgent care clinics, people will go there with their Medicare card and get fully bulk-billed health care. Immediately after that, we went to a rally and spoke to some 'yes' campaigners. That's what this government is about—advancing the shared wellbeing of this nation in critical areas, like our public health system, and keeping our promise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to hold a referendum that they asked for. That's what the Prime Minister did with me last Thursday. That is Anthony Albanese in a nutshell—a leader who keeps his promises.