Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Matters of Public Importance
Australian Constitution: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
The result on Saturday was not what many of us wanted to see. I am really deeply disappointed to have seen it, but we absolutely respect the decision. This is a democratic process, and I am pleased that we live in a democracy where we can have these discussions and where people can peacefully turn up somewhere and vote and have their say. Obviously we accept the result on this referendum, but I do want to acknowledge that many in our community are devastated by this result. My heart is particularly with the First Nations people who put their heart and soul into the 'yes' campaign and the process that led up to it over many, many years. I'm talking about the Uluru dialogues, the Uluru statement, the 'yes' campaign and even, of course, the many years before that that had been put into seeking constitutional recognition and the fights for Indigenous rights over many, many years. I respect very much that the Indigenous community has asked for a time of silence—a week of quiet to let the dust settle—before we start picking apart this result. I respect that very much.
I want to acknowledge that I'm proud that the majority of people in my community voted yes and that the majority of people in Indigenous communities around the country voted yes. There are people really feeling this at the moment, and I think we need to be very respectful of that. I want to thank all the people—nearly a thousand volunteers—in Canberra who came together to ask people to vote yes. Many of them had never volunteered on a political campaign before, and I was very proud to campaign alongside them. I acknowledge every conversation that they had and the many hours that they spent making phone calls and door-knocking, on street stalls, on pre poll and on polling day.
I want to acknowledge our Prime Minister. I am incredibly proud that he took this referendum to the Australian people, that he respected the agency of First Nations Australians and that he showed leadership when the oldest continuing culture on earth gave an incredibly gracious and generous invitation to Australians through the Uluru statement. I'm proud that he took that outstretched hand and that he had the guts and the determination to put the question after the many years that this process has been going on. I also I want to acknowledge the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the member for Barton, Linda Burney, who, through this whole process, has shown such leadership, such grace and such strength.
This has been a long process. It started under the Abbott government and it was the biggest-ever consultation with First Nations Australians from every corner of this vast country. They came together, with the culmination being the Uluru Statement. They said, 'In 1967 we asked to be counted and now we ask to be heard.' That was the question. When I was first elected as a new MP in 2019, there was a lot of excitement here because there seemed to be the prospect that this parliament was going to work together to progress that Uluru statement. This was back when Ken Wyatt was the Indigenous affairs minister. At that time, I had the great privilege to be involved in our caucus First Nations committee and to work with wonderful people there as we progressed that discussion. I want to acknowledge in particular—as well as Linda Burney—my friends Senator McCarthy and Senator Pat Dodson, and the conversations we had there as this came to fruition.
I also want to acknowledge the newer Indigenous members of our caucus, Senator Stewart, the member for Lingiari and the member for Robertson, and the work that they have put into this. And I want to acknowledge our local Indigenous leaders here in Canberra: Auntie Violet Sheridan and her grandson Noah Allen; and Auntie Matilda and Paul House. I want to say that although this vote didn't get up, our government remains completely committed to listening to you and to walking with you in reconciliation, and for the better future for all Australians that comes when we come together and we continue to listen.