Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Matters of Public Importance
Australian Constitution: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
I must say that today it does feel like a big reach for those opposite, including for the previous speaker and the member who brought this motion, to be accusing those on this side of incompetence and division. If we look at the conduct during this referendum debate, I think that, for those on the other side, looking in the mirror when it comes to incompetence and division might be more to the truth of what's happened over the past few months. I want to particularly reflect on one part of this referendum debate and the actions of those opposite that I find particularly concerning, and that is some public statements from those opposite that seem to be aimed at undermining the integrity of the AEC, our independent electoral body.
The AEC is a world-leading electoral commission. It is an important democratic institution, it is independent and it is in none of our interests to undermine the independence and integrity of that institution. So we should not, and cannot, let anyone get away with Trump-like statements that are aimed at undermining the integrity and independence of the AEC. This type of behaviour does nothing but diminish trust in our elections and the processes of our elections. I do ask those opposite, including the Leader of the Opposition, to reflect on their behaviour and their public statements that seem to go to undermining trust in the AEC. All of us in this place and our entire country benefit from having strong democratic institutions and having a strong independent electoral watchdog, and that is what the AEC is.
I do spend a lot of time, in my role as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, reflecting on our democratic institutions and particularly the role of the AEC. So I thought, in this context, it was particularly important for me to raise that today and talk about some of the broader implications of some of the debate that we had in the referendum. I will note as well that our committee has recommended that, for future elections, we do have truth in political advertising laws in place. I think it is important that Australians can vote in an environment whereby they feel like they go to vote armed with the facts. Again, I would ask all, particularly those opposite, to reflect on their behaviour during this referendum and to reflect on the information they put out and on whether it would meet the test of truth in political advertising. These are questions for all of us. They are questions that go to the heart of how we conduct ourselves, and they're questions that go to the heart of how we do elections in this country.
I'm proud to say that on our side of the House we do respect democracy and democratic institutions. We put this question to the Australian people, as we should have, and as Aboriginal people asked the Prime Minister to do. They came to him and said, 'We have been working on this for decades. Please put this question to the Australian people.' He had the courage to take that forward. Australians were asked to have their say. Are we disappointed with that result? Yes, we are. Do we respect that result? Do we respect the processes that led to that result? Absolutely, we do; that is what democracy is about.
While the country didn't say yes on Saturday night, my community in Jagajaga did say yes. More than 450 volunteers worked across my community to have the conversations at a local level, knocking on doors, standing at train stations, hosting conversations with neighbours, handing out at polling booths. I'm really proud of the work they did. I'm proud of the conversations they had to explain this concept and to convince people to vote yes.
While we didn't see the result we had hoped for beyond Jagajaga, I know that those people of goodwill will continue to work to close the gap, will continue to do all they can to build on what is a really positive community movement and carry that forward. I know that they will continue to stay engaged in the work that we all know we must do to support First Nations people and to support the change we need to see more broadly. Again, I thank them. It was a real privilege to stand alongside them and to campaign locally, and I am proud of the result that we did achieve in Jagajaga.
Once again, I will just ask the opposition to think about whether these types of discussions serve any purpose apart from trying to make them feel better about their behaviour over the past few months.