Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Constitutional Recognition of ATSIP; Report
by leave—My personal involvement in this debate goes back to 2014 when Damien Freeman and I, as a private citizen, wrote a paper on the proposal to adopt an Australian declaration of recognition and launched an organisation called Uphold & Recognise to encourage constitutional conservatives to play a part in supporting the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I remain committed to constitutional recognition and I'm on record as being a supporter of the voice with a basis in the Constitution. There are some constitutional proposals I could support and others to which I remain opposed.
This committee is not about my personal views, though. As we know, constitutional change in Australia is difficult to achieve. In 117 years, only eight out of 44 proposed amendments have succeeded. To change the Constitution, the bar is rightly set high. A referendum must be passed by a majority of the Australian people and a majority of people in a majority of states. No proposal has ever succeeded without strong bipartisan support. The committee was asked to consider the work of the expert panel, the former joint select committee, and the Statement from the Heart of the Referendum Council.
As I said in the House, the Statement from the Heart was a major turning point in the debate. Not only did it bring the new element of the voice into the debate but it rejected all proposals for constitutional recognition that had gone before. The rejection of all the previous proposals was a shame because there were proposals that had previously been made that could, in my view, have commanded broad political support. But we acknowledge that at Uluru they seem to have been taken off the table. We note in chapter 4 of the report that the proposals relating to the repeal of section 25 of the Constitution and the rewording of section 51(xxvi) may command a high degree of cross-party support but that these matters were effectively taken out and ruled out at Uluru.
At the centre of the Statement from the Heart is the voice. The voice is the matter on which we focused most of the efforts of this committee. The recommendation of the report builds on the work of the interim report of this committee. In that report we raised 100 questions, to which there were some responses but unfortunately not as many as we'd hoped. In the interim report we flagged that the next step in the process towards constitutional recognition would be co-design of the voice, involving 'a process of deep consultations between the Australian government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in every community across the country in order to ensure that the detail of the voice and related proposals are authentic for each community across Australia.' That's what we promised in the interim report and that's what we've delivered in this final report.
The future of the voice after the Referendum Council's report was uncertain, but now this joint select committee has confirmed bipartisan support for the concept of the voice. If successfully co-designed, the voice should become a reality. The design of the voice is now a matter for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to work with government to achieve. Ultimately, the form of the voice will emerge from the co-design process, but the lead point is that the voice will be designed with government but by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and adapted for local conditions right across the country. The voice will provide a mechanism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be consulted and engaged on the policies and laws that affect them. It will provide a forum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to bring issues to government. Such a process has as its goals better social and economic policy outcomes for our First Nations people.
In preparing for co-design, the government and Indigenous people should draw on the eight principles and 21 models of existing and proposed structures, which could form the basis for discussion about the co-design of the voice, which we divined from evidence presented to the committee. The commitment to the voice and the commitment to co-design of that voice are significant steps for the parliament to take. They're significant steps towards a bipartisan and agreed approach to advancing the cause of constitutional recognition. The co-design of the voice is covered in chapter 2 of the report.
After the co-design process is complete, the legal form of a voice can then be worked out. It will be much easier to work out the legal form the voice should take once there's clarity on what the voice looks like. Since the interim report, a division of opinion has emerged as to the political tactics that should be used to achieve constitutional recognition. Some have argued that there should be a referendum passed as the first step, while others consider that legislation should be developed to establish the voice by an act of parliament and that, once that's done, the government should proceed to a referendum to entrench the guarantee of a voice in the Constitution. Leaving aside any questions of the need to build further political consensus, it's difficult to proceed to any referendum today on the voice when this committee has received no fewer than 18 different versions of constitutional amendments which might be put at a referendum. Our judgement therefore is that, before the voice proceeds to the next step, the co-design process must successfully have been completed. These matters are discussed in chapter 3.
Since the interim report, the committee has heard significant evidence about truth-telling, a matter that was raised in the Statement from the Heart. I think this is perhaps an overlooked part of the report but a very important one. We believe that there's a strong desire among all Australians to know more about the history, traditions and culture of First Nations people and their contact with other Australians, both good and bad. A fuller understanding of our history, including the relationship between black and white Australia, will lead to a more reconciled nation. We've made some recommendations in chapter 6 about how this might be achieved.
Unusually for a parliamentary committee, this committee didn't have a chair and a deputy chair but rather was co-chaired by Senator Dodson and myself. As I said in the House, I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Senator Dodson. The committee wouldn't have functioned as well if the relationship between us hadn't been as open and cooperative as it was, and I want to acknowledge his generosity in sharing his knowledge of Indigenous culture and his experience of Indigenous affairs with me and the other members of the committee. It was a privilege to work with Senator Dodson, as it was with all the other members of the committee. I want to acknowledge the members for Barton, Indi, Groom, Farrer and Wide Bay as well as Senators Duniam, McCarthy, Stoker and Siewert. As my friend the member for Lingiari is in the Chamber, I might say something particularly about him. The member for Lingiari has a very deep knowledge and personal experience of Indigenous matters, right from the days when he sat at the feet of Nugget Coombs and assisted him. I learnt a great deal about a very interesting period in our history from talking to the member for Lingiari. More of us should spend time listening to his experience in these matters. I certainly benefited from his experience.
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
I'm sure I've ruined his preselection chances there! While acknowledging we all came from very different perspectives at all times, this committee sought to focus on what we agreed on, not what we disagreed on. On behalf of the committee I want to acknowledge and thank everyone who's worked with us, including those who made submissions and gave evidence. In particular, I'd like to thank the committee secretariat for their work on the report.
I also want to acknowledge Kevin Keeffe, from Senator Dodson's office, who played a terrific role in assisting Senator Dodson and members of the committee with the report, and Philippa Englund from my office. It's appropriate for me to acknowledge that Pip has been with me almost since I became a parliamentarian, and personal circumstances with her husband's work have now taken her interstate. She recently left my office, and that's left a big hole in my own office at the moment. We're missing her. The work that she did on this report was very useful. I'm grateful for the indulgence of the Federation Chamber to continue my remarks and I commend the report to the House.
Firstly, I acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, on whose lands we're meeting today. I say to the member for Berowra: you've been very generous in your remarks, but I might just make the observation that there was a generosity of spirit involved in working on this committee. This meant us parking our ideologies at the door and trying to come to an agreement, and perhaps even compromise on some of the issues raised. I want to thank you for your leadership, in partnership with Senator Dodson. Pat's a senior man in every sense, but I think you were able to work with him in a very constructive way to bring us to a point where we've got a report that I think the parliament can be proud of. It won't be agreed, as we know, as not everyone external to the parliament will agree with the recommendations. But I think no-one can devalue the intent and commitment of the committee members to try to get to a point where we could recommend to the parliament in a bipartisan way the acknowledgment for a voice and a process for getting it established. I want to thank you for that most particularly—so thank you.
In his contribution, the member for Berowra canvassed in many ways the depth of the report. But I do want to go to the foreword of the report, which is co-signed by the member for Berowra and Senator Dodson. At the beginning of the report they say:
Beyond the poetry of the Statement from the Heart is the prose of political reality—the need to ensure that our recommendations provide for a form of constitutional recognition that is legitimate and acceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as well as our parliamentary colleagues across the spectrum, and ultimately to the Australian people.
And there is the challenge. There has been some criticism of those of us on the committee for not adopting a view that we should immediately go to a referendum and not go through a process of co-design prior to the referendum process. Clearly, in the context of this parliament, that would not succeed. Whilst it's clear that we on the Labor side of the parliament have committed ourselves to a referendum in the next term of government, if we're successful at the forthcoming election, that is not the case with the government. And for a referendum to be successful, it is important that we do whatever we possibly can to inveigle the current government, and potentially the future opposition, to support a proposition that can be successful at a referendum. That's the challenge that we have.
It's absolutely legitimate for people to have the view, as has been expressed, that the priority ought to be given to a referendum first, prior to the question of the voice itself being properly settled. That's a valid position, but it's not one that we've proposed in these recommendations. It's not one that I think would be successful. Nevertheless, there is an absolute necessity for us to see the reality of the voice come to fruition. For too long now, since the demise of ATSIC—bearing in mind the work that the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has undertaken, but putting that aside—there has not been any real representative voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across this country.
One of the things that is very clear, and something that we in Labor are committed to, is that we need to go back to the regions across this great continent of ours and talk to people in their communities and in the regions about how they perceive the voice developing and what the question for constitutional reform should look like. The member for Berowra commented that there were 18 different proposals for the question about reforming the Constitution. Indeed, my good friend Senator Dodson and I posited one. We suggested—we did talk to a few people about this!—that a simple process for the referendum would be to say that this is what we want:
1 There shall be a First Nations Voice to Parliament;
2 The Voice shall not be a third chamber of the Parliament;
3 The Voice shall be advisory only and its advice will not be justiciable; and
4 Its powers and functions shall be determined by the Parliament of Australia.
That encapsulates quite neatly the aspiration from the people who were behind that great, coherent process around the Statement from the Heart. I believe that it is that sort of approach that will get recognition at some point. But in the meantime there is a lot of work to be done.
We need, as a parliament, to go back to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia to ultimately get what this co-design process will look like. I accept most profoundly the words of the member for Berowra when he commented on what this co-design process should be, but it's very important that we understand that handing down the tablets from on high to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across this country does not work. It has never worked and it will not work. We have to go back to the people and talk to them in their communities and allow them the courtesy of being able to make a contribution to this process in a way that they think is appropriate. If we do that, I am very confident that we can get a consensus around what the design of a voice should be and that we can settle on a question to be put to the Australian people. That is our quest.
The member for Berowra referred to previous approaches to constitutional change. I am disappointed that the other approaches—that the expert panel, for example, proposed—were not picked up by the Statement from the Heart. But, nevertheless, we are now on a road that I think is going to take us to a point where we will get a successful referendum, provided that we're prepared to work cooperatively together. When I talk about cooperation, I don't mean just working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and giving them the lead; we need to understand and comprehend that, if this is ever to be successful, then we have to get our friends across the chamber to come with us. I'm sure if they see the strength of support that there is within the general community for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution and for a voice to be described, they will see the inevitability of a successful referendum and come on board. That is not to say there won't be critics, but it is important to us that we do the right thing by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, at last, and give them the voice they properly deserve in our Constitution.
A series of recommendations have been made, and they speak for themselves, but one of them that I think is not really properly appreciated is recommendation 4:
The Committee also recommends that the Australian Government consider the establishment, in Canberra, of a National Resting Place, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains which could be a place of commemoration, healing and reflection.
The issue of truth-telling is really very important to this nation. An ossuary or a keeping place here in Canberra would, I think, be a vital part in telling the story. We need to hope that communities around this country will see the challenge of accepting and understanding their past, our past and our collective responsibility to address the past, not in any sense of guilt but understanding the reality of what happened. If we do that, I am absolutely confident that the Australian community will support us in our endeavours to ensure that the voice is constructed in an appropriate way and that we get constitutional recognition through a successful referendum process.
I thank the secretariat for their work on the committee. Most particularly I thank the committee members. I mentioned the co-chairs earlier, but I do want to pay particular tribute to the member for Barton and Senator McCarthy, who came along this road and provided great insight, intellectual capacity and cultural experience and knowledge and background, which helped us in our deliberations in a very important way. Thank you.
I join with my colleagues in welcoming the tabling into parliament of the report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. This committee has spent many months travelling across this vast continent and heard and spoke with many organisations. It has engaged with a remarkably diverse group of people that are intensely interested in its important inquiry, which is of national significance. They're also interested in the recommendations of this final report that has now been tabled.
I want to note where this committee travelled to: Kununurra; Halls Creek; Fitzroy Crossing; Broome; here in Canberra, of course; Dubbo; Sydney; Adelaide; Perth. The committee attended a meeting of the four Northern Territory land councils at Barunga. There were hearings in Wodonga, Shepparton, Melbourne, Thursday Island, Townsville, Palm Island, Brisbane, Redfern and Albury. This is a remarkable amount of travel for a committee to do, and I want to commend those members of the committee that did apply their dedication to this great work and took time away from their families and all their other work.
I think this report will one day be reflected on as a report of historical significance to this parliament, and those committee members who were active participants in it can be rightly very happy with their work. The co-chair of this committee, the member for Berowra, Julian Leeser, was elected to the parliament on the same day as me. We share a deep respect for the Constitution of this country. I know that he applied himself entirely to the work of being co-chair of the joint select committee and the extraordinary responsibility of the inquiry the committee undertook into the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. In the course of this work there's been a new addition to his family, James. It's a great burden to be away from a newborn, but also a great burden on your partner, and I'd like to pay tribute to Mrs Leeser. I want to acknowledge her part in this, as well as the contribution of the member for Berowra.
He had the great honour of being co-chair alongside Senator Patrick Dodson, Senator for Western Australia and the father of reconciliation in this country. Improving the lives and futures of Indigenous Australians, ensuring their equality and delivering this nation's reconciliation with its past is Patrick Dodson's idea. He lives for his people. If I ruled the world and could have all my wishes granted, Pat Dodson would be Australia's first Australian head of state. But in the meantime all I can do is to thank him for his commitment to his work as co-chair of this committee and for his commitment to this inquiry.
I also want to recognise the contributions of the member for Barton, Linda Burney; Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator for the NT; and the member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, who spoke earlier on this report. All have been active participants and dedicated to ensuring that the Indigenous peoples of this nation are recognised in the Constitution, but they also work on many more issues of great concern for Indigenous peoples. Alongside Senator Dodson they have fought for many years for equality and fairness for Indigenous Australia.
As a member of Labor's First Nations caucus committee, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend one of the meetings of this inquiry. I attended the meeting at Barunga, where the committee met with the four Northern Territory land councils—the Anindilyakwa Land Council, the Central Land Council, the Northern Land Council and the Tiwi Land Council. Sometimes in your life you find yourself in a place you never knew existed or never really imagined. I was aware of the Barunga Statement, delivered 30 years ago, but had not really turned my mind to where that was on this earth—the place where it was delivered to PM Bob Hawke by Indigenous leaders. To go there and be at that meeting place and witness the land councils meeting with this parliamentary committee was extraordinary and unforgettable. This meeting was held under a large canopy in Barunga just prior to the start of the annual Barunga Festival. Since being elected just over a couple of years ago I've seen some committee hearings, but nothing like this. It's hot in Barunga. It's an hour's drive from Katherine.
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
I reckon it's hot, Warren! It's in the middle of the country. The setting was a million miles away from the hearings we held here and in cities around the country, but it was much more than the setting that was very different. Together with my friend and colleague here today, the member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon, we sat under a tent and watched and listened to the hearing for some hours. For those who don't know, Sharon Claydon was an anthropologist before she became a parliamentarian. She's skilled in the observation of people and their behaviours and she has been an important participant in the whole parliamentary committee system since being elected in 2013. As we watched, Sharon asked me quietly, 'Where have you ever seen so many people so deeply engaged in such a lengthy and detailed discussion about the Constitution?' It was quite an observation. I was a student of constitutional law, I've been a lawyer, I worked at a university for 10 years and I've been a parliamentarian for two years, and never in that time have I seen such an engaging discussion about the Constitution of this country—not in a lecture theatre, not in my community and not in this parliament. I saw such a wonder and it was in that tiny little remote town in the Northern Territory known as Barunga.
More than a hundred Indigenous Australians, organised in their land councils and groupings, sat, listened and caucused on how they'd speak to the committee. They talked about the points that needed to be made and what had been said and what had not been said. There was good humour, there was harsh reality and there was thoughtful consideration of recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution by those themselves seeking to be recognised and included 117 years after they were excluded.
The people participating in this meeting in Barunga have some very significant issues to deal with. Extraordinary inequality exists between that community and urban areas around the country, as it is for all remote communities around this country. But you can fight battles on more than one front, and the people at Barunga who participated in the inquiry on that day know that. They live the inequality that we here cannot imagine and they argue for a better Constitution and a better country. We need to listen; we must listen. We must listen to what they said 30 years ago in the Barunga Statement and, more recently, the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As the member for Lingiari said, it has to stop where we deliver things from on high and expect it to magically happen. We have to listen to the people who these things affect.
The three days I spent in Katherine and Barunga earlier this year were remarkable and unforgettable. I learnt from my new friends, the Indigenous members of the Labor caucus, Pat, Linda and Malarndirri, and the wonderful representatives of the NT, Warren Snowden and the member for Solomon, Luke Gosling, and others who were with us—the member for Newcastle and the member for Maribyrnong, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, who, 30 years after the Barunga Statement was delivered, committed Labor to recognising Indigenous Australia and ensuring that Australians everywhere opened their hearts to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Barunga Statement, from 30 years ago, called for Aboriginal self-management, land rights, respect for Aboriginal identity, the end to discrimination and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights. The statement hangs on the walls of this parliament for all to read. It sits opposite the suffragette tapestry of a young Australia urging an old Britain to permit women to vote. The requests of the Barunga Statement have not been met. Now we have the Uluru Statement. Part of that statement, as delivered by the Indigenous peoples, says:
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
It is an aspirational statement, as the report observed, but it is an aspiration that we must grab hold of and make sure we meet.
The final report of the select committee has been delivered. As the report states, the key point of this report is that the voice should become a reality and be co-designed with government by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right across the nation. I support this recommendation. I support the report. I know that not everyone will support it and that not all parts of it will be supported, but it is an excellent starting point for this country to move forward.
Labor will be guided by the recommendations of the report. We hope that members of the government all take it on board—that they read it, listen to it and listen to people in their community, and that they go further afield to all of the places that the committee saw fit to visit. More of us could do more to reach out to Indigenous communities that we don't normally have interaction with, so that we might ensure that they are more well represented in this parliament, whether it's as representatives or, as we're meant to represent people, by us talking to them, listening to them and bringing their representations to the parliament. Most importantly, we must recognise what the voice is and what has been asked of us. We need to act in the best interests of the nation and our Indigenous sisters and brothers. It's time that we met the requests of the Barunga Statement and the Uluru Statement from the Heart and committed to a voice for Indigenous peoples in this nation.
Along with my colleagues, I welcome the report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2018. I am very proud to rise to speak to the report and, in doing so, I believe it is only fair that I acknowledge the Bwgcolman people of Palm Island, the Wulgurukaba and the Bindal people in my electorate of Herbert.
It has been more than a quarter of a century since the High Court's Mabo decision first acknowledged that terra nullius was a myth and, in fact, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are and always have been the traditional owners of this great land we call Australia. During that time, a whole generation of younger Australians have grown up with a sense that the Constitution, written in the days of White Australia, needed to be changed to reflect the unique status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country, yet little progress has been made because of deep disagreements over what form recognition should take.
As a nation, we asked our First Nations people: what does recognition mean to you? They delivered, in most recent times, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was promptly rejected out of hand by this government. So Labor did what Labor does best: we fought for those people who have been ignored and left behind, our First Nations people. This commitment was pushed by Labor and, as a result of the report that I am speaking on here today, has been led by Labor. This report addresses some of the most important challenges for us as a nation—that is, acknowledging and including our First Nations people, recognising our First Nations people, and truth-telling about our history. Most importantly, it addresses how we as a nation can move forward together as a united and fair nation.
I want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the members of the committee; in particular, Senator Patrick Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, the Hon. Linda Burney and the Hon. Warren Snowden. I also pay tribute to the committee's co-chair, the member for Berowra, Julian Leeser. This committee has had the enormous responsibility of travelling across Australia and listening to the stories of First Nations people. The committee has heard their stories, some of which were incredibly difficult for people in those communities to tell, especially the people who felt forgotten and ignored. The committee has arrived at some shared understanding on a way forward for the parliament to consider. The committee was established in March and presented its interim report in July. It held 27 hearings in communities around Australia. In June and July the committee held hearings in Kununurra, Falls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Canberra, Dubbo, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. The committee also attended a meeting of the four Northern Territory land councils in Barunga. Barunga commemorated the 30th anniversary of the promise of a treaty that was made by Prime Minister Hawke.
In September and October the committee conducted additional public hearings in Canberra, Wodonga, Shepparton, Melbourne, Thursday Island, Townsville, Palm Island, Brisbane and Redfern. I attended the hearings in Townsville and on Palm Island. The stories and experiences that were shared by people in my communities were incredibly moving. I refer to Lynore Geia, an academic with a PhD, who was born on Palm Island. Her story is one of incredible resilience: a young woman born, raised and educated on Palm who now has a PhD in the field of health from James Cook University. But what was really sad was listening to her talk about how, even as an academic with a PhD, at times she did not feel that she was equal to her peers.
One of the elders, whose mother grew up in the dormitories on Palm Island, said that recognition would take time. She wondered if this nation was even ready for such a huge reform. She talked about the need for truth-telling. She asked how we can reform if we don't know the truth of what actually happened.
Those people who lived on Palm Island at that time—in excess of 47 language groups—lived by the bell; they had no choice. A bell rang, and you got up. A bell rang, and you did your jobs. A bell rang, and you went to bed. Those people had no say in how they lived. Their children were separated from their parents. Their parents were sent to the mainland to work in domestic roles when they were as young as 17 or 18. Those people on Palm, particularly the elders, listened and gave evidence in the committee hearing with some trepidation and some real concern for what it would mean for them. They could not go through a 1967 referendum again, as Townsville was one of the two places in the country that voted no. The concerns for them were very real, and they want time for the yarning to happen; they want time for people to hear their story.
On top of the hearings, the committee also received nearly 500 submissions and 47 supplementary submissions. This is a huge workload, and I want to genuinely acknowledge all of the senators and members and the secretary involved in this committee. As my colleagues have said before me—but is worth noting again—although differences exist between the parties on these nationally significant issues, we do appreciate the efforts of the committee members to find common ground and to enable the parliament to go forward.
In the interim report, the committee considered in detail the proposal coming from the Statement of the Heart for a voice to parliament. Since July, the committee continued to seek the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and others about how best to achieve constitutional recognition. In this final report, the committee endorses the proposal for a voice. The committee recommends a process of co-design between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to work through the details of the voice during the term of the 46th Parliament. The committee also recommends that the legal form and role of the voice should be determined following the process of co-design. These recommendations are significant steps for the parliament to discuss and consider in the hope of moving us towards a cross-party and agreed approach to constitutional recognition.
The committee also makes important recommendations in relation to truth-telling about Australian history. Seeking a fuller understanding of Australia's history will lead to a more reconciled nation. As one important example, the committee recommends the establishment of a national resting place in Canberra for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander unknown remains that cannot be returned to country. It will be a place for commemoration, healing and reflection. Labor will be guided by the committee's report on this issue.
As a party, we remain committed to using this report as one step towards the future of a reconciled Australia—an Australia that recognises First Nation people in our Constitution, values the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to a modern Australia and entrenches recognition in our nation's birth certificate: our Constitution. Labor remains committed to all elements arising from the Statement from the Heart and we will continue to work with First Nations people for a voice to parliament, constitutional entrenchment of the voice and a truth-telling and agreement-making process.
These are high-order issues for Labor, and quite rightly so. There has been some quite intense discussion on what should come first: a referendum, legislation or co-design. In some ways, this is a matter of political judgement, working through all of the legal consequences that words bring to constitutional consideration to achieve a successful outcome for First Nations people and the broader Australian community.
A matter not covered in this report is the issue of a republic. Labor is also keen to hold a conversation—an important conversation—with the Australian people on the issue of a republic. The republic will be an important conversation, but we have committed to constitutional change relating to acknowledging our First Nations voice as our first priority and our very clear focus.
Labor has led the way on this important issue of reconciliation. There is a general desire to get on with it, to get things done quickly but thoroughly, and to push for an early referendum. All of this will take political courage—political courage for the government of the day in passing the law, making it possible for any constitutional change to occur. Then it will take political courage for the opposition of the day and those on the cross benches to support the question and the process of the referendum. Finally, it will take courage amongst the Australian people—courage to decide the future that we want to see for our great nation, courage to say yes to recognition and reconciliation and the courage of the majority of the voters nationally and the majority of the states to vote in favour of the questions that have been put to the nation.
I now ask all senators and members to respectfully read the report. Read the stories of those in our nation who have felt forgotten. Then we must ask ourselves the question: what sort of Australia do we want to be? Do we want to be a nation that excludes minority communities, or do we want to be a nation and a parliament that represents all Australians? The debate must be respectful in this place if we are to be true leaders. It's time for senators and members to honour our First Nations people in our Constitution so that it might be a constitution for every Australian living on this land.
It's a terrific privilege to be able to stand in the Chamber to speak on this final report from the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I should, at the outset, repeat my acknowledgement of the Ngunawal and Nambri peoples, on whose traditional country we gather, and also recognise, from my own home town of Newcastle, the Awabakal and Worimi peoples. I will seek to draw on their millennia of wisdom as we in this parliament try to come to grips with a 200-plus year colonial history and how we might best shape a pathway for the nation to land in a place where constitutional recognition becomes a lived reality.
I would like to thank at the outset all of the participating members of this committee. I know that it was an enormous task, but I must say we probably had the brightest and most committed minds in this parliament put their hands up to undertake this enormous task. I note the model of having co-chairs for this committee rather than the traditional approach of the chair being a government member and the opposition getting the deputy chair position. I pay tribute to those who were able to seek agreement on having co-chairs in this instance. Senator Patrick Dodson, from the opposition, and Mr Julian Leeser, a government member in the House of Representatives, together formed a genuine partnership. Indeed, in many ways, this is a model for what is going to be required for the nation to be able to implement the recommendations of this report.
I would also like to acknowledge the Labor members, the member for Barton, who participated here, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, and the member for Lingiari, who spoke earlier. The crossbench were represented by the member for Indi, who is here in the Chamber as well. There was also Greens senator Rachel Siewert, as well as Senator Amanda Stoker and Senator Jonathon Duniam, and, on the House of Representatives side, Dr John McVeigh and Sussan Ley, who was there for a period of time, and Mr Llew O'Brien. It was an enormous task. There was a lot of travelling across Australia in order to be able to achieve their goals. As the member for Brand said earlier, she and I were incredibly privileged to be at the Barunga Festival at the time the joint committee was hosting its meeting with the four land councils just prior to the Barunga Festival. It was enormously insightful for all of us who were able to be there on that occasion. These are all men and women who have spent literally decades of their lives thinking about the issue of contested histories in Australia and about how you might remedy some of the injustices that have occurred, and participating in very deep and thoughtful discussions on constitutional matters in this community.
It really should come as no surprise that First Nations people might lead us in these sorts of discussions, because it is such a part of their lived reality having to deal with these discrepancies in the Constitution. They feel the very real impacts of the inadequacies of the Constitution as it is currently drafted, probably more deeply than most. So it is no surprise that the meeting with the land councils prior to the Barunga Festival would be so illuminating. People brought great knowledge, humour, love and good faith and intentions to those discussions. I really pay tribute to all of the senior men and women there who really opened up, yet again, their hearts and minds to try and make the rest of us understand what the very real implications of these matters were for everyday life for First Nations peoples.
What has really hit home for me in reading this report and reflecting on just one of those meetings that I attended, there at Barunga, is how critical the way this parliament now responds is. At Barunga, people were reminded that 30 years ago they were promised a treaty. We failed. We totally failed as a nation to live up to that ask and that expectation. I possibly won't be here in 30 years, but I don't want the next member for Newcastle, or anyone else in the next generation, standing in this parliament still calling for a remedy for the injustices that took place in this nation and saying that we have never actually faced the issues squarely enough to find real, lasting solutions.
I think that this report really does open up a pathway. It is critical. You can be assured that every First Nations man, woman and kid is going to be looking to this parliament now and looking at us very closely as to how we conduct ourselves and what course of action we take. I have to say that, for many people, it will be a case of actions speaking louder than words. They have heard it all before, in some cases. This report puts the voice firmly back on the national agenda. That is a good thing because—even though the voice, as recommended by the Uluru statement, might have taken many of us by surprise, in terms of the ask of the nation—that is what very, very close and detailed consultations amongst First Nations people came up with. This was the priority—having a voice.
There are certainly still some live issues about how we enable all of those regional and local voices to be part of the process of establishing a national voice. I think that will be really critical, but this does provide some important first stepping stones in that process. Make no mistake: Labor remains utterly committed to all elements arising from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and we will continue to work with First Nations peoples for a voice in parliament, for a constitutional entrenchment of that voice, which is critical, and for a truth-telling and agreement-making process. These are high-order issues and high priorities for Labor. The significance of truth-telling and agreement-making should be no surprise to anyone in this parliament. It is a vital part of the reconciliation process, where we as a nation confront or, as I said, face squarely the fact that there are contested histories about our nation. We need to understand that history of injustice as experienced by First Nations. That has to be acknowledged. That has to be an important part of that process, and that's why the truth-telling is critical.
I hope that everyone in this place takes very, very seriously the obligation that is now before us to act—to have a very meaningful, purposeful and thoughtful response to this report. I am pleased that, notwithstanding some differences in this Chamber, the voice is firmly back on the agenda. The co-designing with First Nations people at a local, regional and national level is critical to getting this right.
I rise to speak to the report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, a committee co-chaired by the member for Berowra, Mr Julian Leeser, and my esteemed colleague Senator Dodson. In May 2017, 250 First Nations leaders met at Uluru and called for a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament. After more than a decade of debate about what form constitutional recognition should take, representatives of First Nations people described what it looked like to them. They told Australia that, while the 1967 referendum meant they were counted, the next referendum should ensure they are heard.
The Statement from the Heart is one of the most significant documents produced in the history of reconciliation, and from day one Labor has been determined to accord the statement proper respect through consideration. This was endorsed on Friday by the report being tabled. Labor will be guided by the committee's report, and I, as a white woman standing on land that always was and always will be Aboriginal land, will be guided by my First Nations colleagues on this immense undertaking. I have no doubt that, if anyone can take on this journey for constitutional recognition, it's Senators Dodson and McCarthy along with the member for Barton, Linda Burney. I will also be listening to the views of the First Nations community in my electorate.
The Aboriginal community has always been at the heart of the identity of Batman—soon to be Cooper. It's the home of the Aborigines Advancement League, the mighty All Stars football team and Aboriginal voice radio 3KND Kool n Deadly, to name just a few. We recently celebrated the AEC's decision to change the electorate name from Batman to Cooper. For me, it was my happiest moment since becoming an MP. William Cooper was an Indigenous leader who spent his life working to advance the rights of First Nations people. The campaign for change was led by the Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta elders and communities. The AEC's decision acknowledges the intergenerational suffering of First Nations peoples caused by colonisation. It is a mark of truth-telling, respect and recognition and of a nation maturing. This change was achieved by them, and the honour belongs to them. The same will be true when we achieve constitutional recognition.
Labor remain committed to all elements arising from the statement. A Shorten Labor government will establish a voice for First Nations people and seek the support of the Australian people for that voice to be enshrined in the Constitution. We support the voice. We support enshrining it in the Constitution, and it is our first priority for constitutional change. A voice would not be a third chamber of parliament; it would be a mechanism for First Nations people to have a greater say in policy issues that impact their lives. We have nothing to lose and much to gain from working with First Nations people to address the many complex issues that colonisation has thrust upon them. Labor have made it clear that we will work with the government but we will not wait for them. If bipartisanship cannot be reached, we will look to legislate a new body as a first step on the pathway to enshrining it in the Constitution. We will move quickly, following the election, to agree on a process with First Nations people, including a clear pathway to a referendum. We will also work with them in establishing a makarrata commission for agreement-making and truth-telling. This will be a genuine process of government and First Nations working together to achieve meaningful change.
I want to finish by echoing the words of my esteemed colleague Senator Pat Dodson:
It will take the government of the day passing a law to make possible any constitutional change. Then it will take the opposition of the day and the parties of the crossbenches to support the question and the process for any referendum. Then it will take a majority of the voters nationally and in the majority of the states in favour of the question that has to be put to the nation. This is where we, as politicians and our parties, come in—
In the interests of the parliament as a whole, I respectfully ask: once you've had the opportunity to examine our committee's report, do you and your party want to support a referendum to ensure a voice to the parliament for our First Nations peoples? If you do, as Senator Pat Dodson said, then let's work together. But let's be clear: we in Labor can't wait for you.