Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Committee; Appointment
(1) a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples be appointed to inquire into and report on steps that can be taken to progress towards a successful referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition, and in conducting the inquiry, the Committee will:
(a) consider the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 with a view to securing strong multi-partisan Parliamentary support for the passage of the Bill through Parliament, reporting by 30 January 2013;
(b) thereafter, work to build a secure strong multi-partisan Parliamentary consensus around the timing, specific content and wording of referendum proposals for Indigenous constitutional recognition;
(i) the creation of an advisory group who’s membership includes representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to guide the work of the Committee;
(ii) the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians on the process for the referendum; and
(iii) and develop mechanisms to build further engagement and support for the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across all sectors of the community, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and taking into account and complementing the existing work being undertaken by Reconciliation Australia; and;
(d) take the following matters into account:
(i) the report and extensive work of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians, including its recommendations and forms of recognition, namely that:
- section 25 be repealed
- section 51 (xxvi) be repealed
- a new ‘section 51 A’ be inserted, along the following lines:
Section 51A Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
Acknowledging the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters;
Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
Acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
The Panel further recommends that the repeal of section 51 (xxvi) and the insertion of the new ‘section 51 A’ be proposed together.
- a new ‘section 116A’ be inserted, along the following lines:
Section 116A Prohibition of racial discrimination
(1) The Commonwealth, a State or a Territory shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group.
- a new ‘section 127A’ be inserted, along the following lines:
Section 127A Recognition of languages
(1) The national language of the Commonwealth of Australia is English.
(2) The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage.
(ii) some of the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not included in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 because they can only be implemented through a change to the Australian Constitution;
(iii) the fact that those recommendations are excluded from the Bill does not preclude those recommendations being considered by the Committee as referendum proposals for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
(iv) research and findings from work currently being undertaken by Reconciliation Australia on raising awareness and support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
(v) advice from the legal workshops being led by Reconciliation Australia and the need to seek constitutional legal advice regarding the content of any referendum proposals;
(vi) the preparedness of State and Territory governments to support a referendum on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and
(vii) other matters that the Committee considers may be relevant;
(2) the Committee consist of eight members, one Member of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the Government Whip or Whips, one Member of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or Whips, one non-aligned Member and two Senators to be nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, two Senators to be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and one Senator to be nominated by any minority group or Independent Senator;
(3) every nomination of a member of the Committee be notified in writing to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively;
(4) the members of the Committee hold office as a joint select committee until the House of Representatives is dissolved or expires by effluxion of time, whichever is the earlier;
(5) the sunset date of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012, once passed, will provide the impetus for a future Parliament to reconstitute a like Committee to continue the work towards a successful referendum;
(6) the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 also includes a proposed legislative review, commencing one year after the commencement of the Act and concluding six months prior to the sunset date;
(7) the Committee elect a:
(a) Government member as its chair; and
(b) member as its deputy chair who shall act as chair of the Committee at any time when the chair is not present at a meeting of the Committee, and at any time when the chair and deputy chair are not present at a meeting of the Committee the members present shall elect another member to act as chair at that meeting;
(8) in the event of an equally divided vote, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, have a casting vote;
(9) three members of the Committee constitute a quorum of the Committee provided that in a deliberative meeting the quorum shall include one Government member of either House and one non-Government member of either House;
(10) the Committee:
(a) have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of three or more of its members and to refer to any subcommittee any matter which the Committee is empowered to examine; and
(b) appoint the chair of each subcommittee who shall have a casting vote only and at any time when the chair of a subcommittee is not present at a meeting of the subcommittee the members of the subcommittee present shall elect another member of that subcommittee to act as chair at that meeting;
(11) two members of a subcommittee constitute the quorum of that subcommittee, provided that in a deliberative meeting the quorum shall include one Government member of either House and one non-Government member of either House;
(12) members of the Committee who are not members of a subcommittee may participate in the proceedings of that subcommittee but shall not vote, move any motion or be counted for the purpose of a quorum;
(13) the Committee or any subcommittee:
(a) have power to call for witnesses to attend and for documents to be produced;
(b) may conduct proceedings at any place it sees fit; and
(c) have power to adjourn from time to time and to sit during any adjournment of the Senate and the House of Representatives;
(14) the Committee will report:
(a) on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012, no later than 30 January 2013; and
(b) as needed in order to progress constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
(15) the provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the standing orders; and
(16) a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it of this resolution and requesting that it concur and take action accordingly.
This government supports constitutional change to recognise the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and we are committed to achieving this. We appointed an expert panel to develop options for constitutional change to help us work out how best to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. Now, for the first time, we have specific proposals on how to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution, and I thank the expert panel members for their excellent work in developing these proposals. We are now working, through Reconciliation Australia and You Me Unity, to build a movement for change of our Constitution.
In extending the time frame for a referendum, we have also set out a clear way forward and momentum to build support. This week, we will be introducing a bill for an act of recognition, acknowledging the unique and special place of our first peoples. The act will demonstrate that parliament is united on progressing constitutional recognition to show the Australian community the leadership needed for change. I am pleased that the opposition, the Greens and a number of Independents have shown their support to pass the act of recognition. Strong parliamentary support for the bill will help build momentum for change. We have proposed a sunset date of two years, setting a clear time frame to work towards the ultimate goal of constitutional recognition.
To further show the parliament's desire to work together towards the goal of successful referendum, we agreed to work with the opposition to establish a joint select committee. The membership of the committee will be drawn from across the parliament. The committee will be asked to consider the bill for the act of recognition as its first task, reporting in late January next year. The committee will be then asked to continue to progress constitutional change. The recommendations of the expert panel will be the foundation of their considerations. I thank all the incoming members of the committee for their willingness to take on this very important task. We know that there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure that we are able to hold a successful referendum that unites our nation. The committee will play a significant role in ensuring that this occurs. I commend the motion to the House.
Achieving constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is a very significant step towards genuine and lasting reconciliation. It is a cause the coalition has long been associated with and one that we have proudly long supported. The coalition's position for over a decade has been that there should be recognition of Australia's Indigenous people in the Constitution. That is why when we were in government, in 1999, we put a proposal to the people seeking to include recognition in the preamble of the Australian Constitution. As history records, our proposal unfortunately did not succeed.
We again strongly advocated for such recognition during the 2007 election campaign. It would come as no surprise, therefore, that it was our proactive approach to this issue that ensured it retained the attention it so deserves. It was the Leader of the Opposition who wrote to the Prime Minister proposing that such a committee, as proposed by the motion moved by the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, be established. We must all remain mindful that the primary objective of a constitutional referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is to achieve a unifying moment for our nation, a moment similar to that of the 1967 referendum. The work done by the expert panel, including my friend and colleague the member for Hasluck, the first Indigenous person to be elected to this House, has continued the journey of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is something that we believe in. It is something which we are proud to support. And it is something which we will continue to advocate. We remain of the view that constitutional recognition is a continuation of that important journey.
Question agreed to.