House debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Constitutional Recognition Relating to ATSIP; Report

11:17 am

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm really proud to support this report, and I want to take the opportunity today to acknowledge, honour and thank everybody involved. I want to refer to some of the key findings in the report, and I want to finish by referring specifically to my electorate of Indi.

To the committee and to the wonderful people who were involved in doing this report, I extend my thanks not only for your excellent company but for the leadership and the very high level of skill you brought to this task. To the co-chairs, Patrick Dodson and Julian Leeser: I have learned so much from the way you have worked together. To the committee members, the Hon. Linda Burney, Sussan Ley, John McVeigh, Llew O'Brien, Warren Snowdon, Jonathon Duniam, Malarndirri McCarthy, Rachel Siewert and Amanda Stoker: it's been an absolute pleasure to work with you, and I thank you. Thank you to the secretariat for the work that they did. It was such a difficult task to not only herd the cats that were the committee and our very complicated lives but also follow up with the submissions, organise the public hearings and produce such a good report at the end. Thank you to all the people who made submissions and the people who appeared before the committee to share their wisdom, their courage, their leadership and, most importantly for me, their goodwill.

It has been an absolutely amazing committee for me to be on. It's the first time I've experienced bipartisan co-chairs working together and it's the first time I've been on a parliamentary committee where the numbers worked out. There were equal numbers of House of Reps members and senators and equal numbers of government and opposition, and two Independents to manage it all. The committee worked so well. The debate was fierce, the content was excellent and the people were professional. I was definitely inspired by the role of committees in this parliament. I'm really pleased with the final report. It's a very elegant report. It's simple and clear in its recommendations. I'm going to speak particularly to one of the recommendations, around truth-telling, but before I get there I want to bring into parliament and my words today how important this process has been, taking the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for so many years, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to this report. I want to grace my words today with these words from the Statement from Heart:

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.

I take those words with such optimism. We've got 60,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, and, projecting it into the future, we might have another 60,000 years of this nation working together. This moment in time is where the past actually comes to its place and we can design our future, giving full recognition to the tradition and the cultures of the first people of this country. I'm very keen to be part of that.

I will move to one of the recommendations in the report, about truth-telling. The foreword to the report says:

We believe there is a strong desire among all Australians to know more about the history, traditions and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 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 have made some recommendations about how this might be achieved.

Today I want to talk a little bit about how I will take this report and work within my electorate to bring that recommendation to its next stage. In doing so, I want to read into the parliamentary Hansard the names of the people in my electorate who made submissions to the inquiry and say thank you to them. I think in these committees we often ignore or take for granted the enormous amount of time that people put into making submissions, the thought they give to it and the expertise they bring to it. To John van Riet, Marie Sellstrom, Pam Griffin, Chris Norman, Warren Gould, Rhonda Diffey, Val Gleeson, Elizabeth Quinn, Judith Ahmat, Violet Town & District Reconciliation Group, Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group, Dr Jacqueline Durrant, Doug Westland, Rebecca Crawley, Pat Larkin, Cath Marriott, Kate Auty and Charlie Brydon, Albury-Wodonga Health, Liz Heta, Tony Lane and Uncle Freddie, I've read every single one of your submissions, I've heard what you've had to say and I commit to continue to work to deliver on the requests that you make.

In acknowledging the people who made submissions, I also want to share with the House some follow-up work I've done since the public hearings finished. In my electorate, gathering around Albury is a group called Wodonga First Nations Senior Consultative Group. I met them two weeks ago to talk to them about aspects of truth-telling in North-East Victoria. I want to acknowledge Alan Steward, Kevin and Lyn Bell, Rachael Bogie, Steven Pickering, Jenny Murray, Liz Heta, Pam Griffin, Walter Melrose, Sonnie Morgan, Tony and Julie, and Nancee Butler and say thank you for inviting me into your circle. I look forward to meeting you late in January and continuing our discussion of some of the history of this land that I call home.

I want to finish with a bit about why all this is so relevant and so close to my heart. When the initial apology was made in parliament, the member for Indi at that time was not present. It caused enormous suffering in my community that the member chose not to be there. When I got elected, it was one of those things that I said I would put first and foremost—to make sure that I represent my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and I will do that; I will give voice to their issues.

One of the particular areas to give a voice to is the Closing the gap report and that process. I've been working with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to talk about how the data for Closing the Gap is actually collected at a local level, how the institutions in my electorate can work together to set our own targets and how we as a community can take responsibility for our own targets. To do that, one of the things we need to do is look at our history, to look at white settlement and the conflict that happened there. There are very few traditional owners still living in north-east Victoria because of the impact of white settlement. There's very little data collected in my electorate around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their issues—there is some—and there's an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in the justice, health and education areas. But, to do that, non-Indigenous and Indigenous people need to work together.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:26 to 11:42

In conclusion, I really want to support recommendation 3:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government support the process of truth-telling. This could include the involvement of local organisations and communities, libraries, historical societies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander associations. Some national coordination may be required, not to determine outcomes but to provide incentive and vision. These projects should include both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and descendants of local settlers. This could be done either prior to or after the establishment of the local voice bodies.

So, in bringing my comments to a close, I would like to offer north-east Victoria as a place where we could begin the process of truth-telling and work with local settlers, such as my family, who have been in the community of north-east Victoria since the gold rush days, and my extended family and my community, and work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owners and people who have come to the area more recently—beginning the process of telling our truth and understanding our history—and together, with a much better process, we can move forward for the next 60,000 years of Australia's history.

11:43 am

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

It is appropriate that I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which this parliament meets and pay my respect to elders past and present. I am very pleased to take the opportunity to speak to this report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I believe that our Constitution is inadequate while ever the First Australians are not recognised in it. We recognised the rights of Indigenous Australians to be citizens in the famous referendum in 1967, but we need to take the next step—it's absolutely critical.

Last May, 250 First Nations leaders met at Uluru. They delivered a historic document, the Statement from the Heart. It is a powerful document, and it included the following powerful passage:

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.

Indeed, those of us who are the descendants of migrants, which is all of us except First Nations people, benefit enormously from the fact that we have, in our midst, the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet. It is something that we should cherish. It is something we should recognise.

Something that we should acknowledge is that the arrival of Europeans in 1788 brought violence, disease and hardship on those people who had been here for 60,000 years previously. We should also acknowledge how we're enriched by that culture. The connection that First Nations people have with the land and with water is something that we can learn a great deal from, so Labor very much accepts the Statement from the Heart. We support a voice to parliament and we support constitutional change.

When the 250 First Nations leaders delivered the Statement from the Heart, the then Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, simply dismissed the call for a constitutional voice. He told the ABC:

I don't believe that would be able to be passed at a referendum and it's not a policy that I would support.

Instead of committing himself to listening to First Nations people, to showing leadership for our nation, his government mounted a scare campaign about so-called third chambers of parliament and rejected the proposal out of hand. That was tragic. It followed, and was reminiscent of, the Howard government's failed recognition of an apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—an apology that was famously delivered by Kevin Rudd at the first opportunity after the election of a Labor government. As the Leader of the House of Representatives in that government, that was my proudest moment—my proudest moment, bar none.

Around the country, far from it being a time of division, it was a unifying moment in our nation's history. People, whether they were members of the stolen generation or young kids in every school around the country, stopped to watch that apology. They were inspired by that moment. That was important, but it was, as then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said at the time, just a first step. He said that we needed to commit to practical reconciliation, closing the gaps—in some cases extremely large gaps—between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their fellow Australians that still exist in education, health and other outcomes.

The voice to parliament could also be a unifying moment. It's not a third chamber; it plays no role in the legislative process in terms of making law. It is simply what the title implies: a voice whereby First Nations people would be consulted on legislation that affects them. It would provide a structure for that consultation and input. It wouldn't determine what way any one of the 150 members of the House of Representatives or 76 senators would vote on legislation, but it would allow for appropriate democratic input. That is why it is critical. That is why we have committed to consulting with First Nations people to design the voice to parliament. That is why Labor's response has been worked up with the input particularly of Senator Patrick Dodson, widely regarded as the father of reconciliation in this country; Linda Burney, my long-time colleague and friend; Senator Malarndirri McCarthy; Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari; and Luke Gosling, who's here in the chamber, the member for Solomon. They have all worked very hard to consult and to establish a process moving forward.

This report is part of that process. It is keeping the fight for constitutional recognition alive in this parliament, despite the inaction of the government. But there is much more to do. That's why we're committed to additional reforms proposed by the Statement from the Heart—in particular the makarrata commission for agreement making and truth-telling. That's why we remain committed to closing the gap.

I said in this place on the 10th anniversary of the apology:

Of course, the apology was not the end of the story; it was just the beginning … it was just a step on the road to reconciliation.

I believed that then and I believe that today. The national apology was a step on this road, closing the gap means more steps on this road, and constitutional recognition is a vital step in us truly coming together as a nation. On this side of the house, Labor is committed to continuing on this journey. I know that across the parliament there are many people of goodwill who are also committed to this journey. I believe we need to advance it because it's in the interests not just of First Nations peoples but of each and every Australian and those generations to come.

11:53 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and thank them for their strong and continuing stewardship. I'm pleased to speak on the tabling of this report from the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I'd first like to acknowledge the great work of the co-chairs of that committee, Senator Patrick Dodson and the member for Berowra. Through the stewardship of these good men, this report has found common ground across the members of the committee, providing for the first time the possibility of a path forward for our parliament and for our nation. The committee traversed the country, holding 27 hearings in communities from the remote town of Fitzroy Crossing through to bustling Sydney and everywhere in between. They have listened to First Nations people.

This report recommends that, following a process of co-design with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Australian government consider, in a deliberate and timely manner, legislative, executive and constitutional options to establish the voice. The call for a First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution was borne out of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, held over four days in May 2017. At that convention, delegates met to discuss and find agreement on an approach to constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The resulting Uluru Statement from the Heart had two broad reform objectives: the establishment of a First Nations voice and a makarrata commission. I'll come to the makarrata commission concept in a minute, but first I want to talk about the First Nations voice.

Although the first word spoken on earth was an Aboriginal word, it has been 10 years since the issue of constitutional recognition of First Nations people was raised loudly and consistently in the public domain. Obviously, it's not a new idea to include our First Australians in the Constitution; it was discussed even before the Constitution kicked off in January 1901. And it's hardly revolutionary that Aboriginal people should have a say in the decisions that affect them on their land. It has taken far too long to get to this point of consensus about how we might move forward. Along the way we've seen scaremongering that a voice would become a third chamber of parliament. That is total nonsense, and I do call out the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for that craven framing of that call for a First Nations voice. A voice will actually be a mechanism for First Nations people to have a greater say in the policy issues that impact on their lives. It will not be a chamber of this parliament.

There are many complex issues that affect First Australians, and we should be working with them to find solutions. I'm very pleased that the committee report has produced clear, bipartisan recommendations on a way to achieve a design for the voice and a recommendation that the Australian government consider in a deliberate and timely manner the way to enshrine the voice into law, the law of this land. Labor made it clear that, if elected, a Shorten Labor government will establish a voice for First Nations people and will seek the support of all Australians for that voice to then be enshrined in the Constitution. It will be Labor's first priority for constitutional change. It's about time our birth certificate included the original Australians. Labor is committed to providing a genuine process of government and First Nations people working together to achieve meaningful change.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reform objectives from the Uluru Statement from the Heart was to seek a makarrata commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. The word 'makarrata' is from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. It conveys a concept of two parties coming together after a struggle and negotiating to heal the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something has been done wrong and seeking to make things right. What a wonderful concept. The committee acknowledges that the word 'makarrata' means different things to different people. The Referendum Council says that 'makarrata' is another word for treaty or agreement-making; however, the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council calls it both truth-telling and agreement-making. The committee report acknowledges that there is no single defined and agreed way forward on the proposal for a makarrata commission.

The committee did come to consensus on truth-telling, saying in their report:

Truth-telling is crucial to the ongoing process of healing and reconciliation in Australia.

The committee has recommended that the government support the process of truth-telling. It suggests that the process could include the involvement of local organisations, local communities, libraries, historical societies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander associations. The committee acknowledged that there is a desire amongst Australians for a fuller understanding of our history, including the history, traditions and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and contact between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and settler communities. Such a process will help us all to belong here even more.

As a teacher and a writer, I'm particularly pleased that the committee has come to this recommendation to record our history. That history is so important. It is important to preserve the history and culture of our First Nations people so future generations can benefit from the knowledge of that history and culture. It is also important to record historic events and the impacts of colonisation on our communities. It is urgent that this be undertaken soon. History can be lost if we don't record it, and as older generations fall away.

Some of that history, some of our history, will be uncomfortable for us to acknowledge. For example, some of the events raised with the committee include massacres, dispossession, stolen wages, and many, many uncomfortable truths. It might be true to say that the statues of some white settlers stand on bricks that are held together with mortar containing the bones of First Nations people. That can be uncomfortable, but it does not mean that it was not a truth. These events are not events that we like to think about as our history. They weren't in the history books I was taught from when I was at primary school. And, if we think about them at all, we distance our own personal history, often, from these events. In some ways, that is not an untruth. We obviously were not around when these events occurred in many parts of Australia—not all parts of Australia but most parts of Australia. But failing to recognise these events in our history is not truthful.

Ignoring the damage being visited on the First Nations people of today because of that settlement would require a deliberate blindness. And that is not something this nation needs. We are seeking a new vision—a clearer vision.

Australia should never ever be a nation built on lies. We have unfinished business, and we must set that right. Truth-telling must include acknowledging the atrocities of the past, however uncomfortable that might be. We must seek collective penance, in a way, for our collective guilt, for the dispossession of First Nations people in so many parts of Australia.

I applaud the committee for the work that they have done in producing this report. I applaud them for focusing on the common ground amongst the broad views held by members of the committee. I applaud them for persevering and achieving agreement on recommendations that will take this nation forward. It is a long road ahead, but I take comfort that we have come some way already from the Barunga Statement presented to Prime Minister Hawke in 1988, to the High Court's Mabo decision in 1992—and I note, in passing, that it is Dr Bonita Mabo's funeral today up in Townsville—to the incredible, the magnificent, Redfern speech by Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1992, which should be compulsory reading for every Australian, as far as I am concerned. It was the first time an Australian political leader publicly admitted the impact of white settlement on Indigenous Australians, and then, in February 2008, on my first day at work in this building, the apology to Australia's Indigenous people delivered by Prime Minister Rudd—still my best day in this building—and then the Uluru Statement from the Heart and this report from the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

But we are nowhere near done. This is the beginning, and I look forward to the process from these recommendations beginning to bring us closer to healing and reconciliation, and a true, true sense of belonging. I look forward to the whole parliament working together to achieve constitutional recognition of the First Nations people and to a process of truth-telling being implemented as soon as possible.

The opposition leader, in his address to the anniversary breakfast for the national apology to the stolen generations this year, when talking about 'bipartisanship', said that it is a meaningless word if it is an excuse to do nothing. Bipartisanship can never be an alibi for inaction. We've made it clear we'll work with this government, but we will not wait for them. Enshrining the voice is Labor's first priority for constitutional change. Let's get this done.

12:03 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's with great pleasure that I speak to the constitutional recognition report. As a member of Labor's First Nations caucus committee, I have been privileged to work through it and to attend some of the very important hearings, including the one at Barunga that many of the speakers before me have referred to. I congratulate both of the co-chairs of this report. It was a great privilege to be at Barunga, in particular with the opposition leader Bill Shorten and the land councils. In particular, I want to point out the speech that Senator Patrick Dodson gave at that event. It was truly a remarkable speech. You got some sense of the passion from the audience, their complexities of making this pathway through these important issues for our nation.

The co-chair Julian Leeser, the member for Berowra, is to be congratulated. We're going to need the current government into the future, whatever future that may be. I was very pleased to read that, in his speech, he paid tribute to Senator Dodson. I also think that it's worth quoting that speech. Because he had his son in the gallery for the first time, the member for Berowra said that:

I hope that, when he looks back on whatever his father achieves in this place, he will be proud of the efforts his dad made towards constitutional recognition of and reconciliation with our First Nations peoples. This remains one of Australia's great national goals.

In a very genuine and sincere way, I want to share the member for Berowra's hopes for the future in a bipartisan way, because it is important. No one party can do this together. Leadership is required, and I think leadership is being shown with this report. It maps out a path, including co-design, that is going to be essential for us to arrive at a place where the government is working through a process, through the co-design, led by the First Nations peoples of our country. Of course, the voice that quite unexpectedly came out of the First Nations leaders' meeting at Uluru a couple of years ago is now our challenge—to work together as a parliament and for this and future federal governments to work through a process of legislating once that co-design has been done.

We want to have a process continue, now that this report is done, that is free from any scaremongering of the past. Let's leave that well behind us. The member for Moreton referred to the scaremongering around a third chamber. It was blatantly untrue and being used purely for scaremongering. For those who might seek to derail this important project for our country: yes, the temptation will continue to be there for you to derail it. But I would simply say, in a spirit of bipartisanship for what is good for our country, that we cannot afford those straw man arguments and those negative campaigns of the past to derail this, because it is too important for our country.

This report is part of a process that is continuing. There is more work to be done. I think we all recognise that these important issues of constitutional entrenchment and a referendum will require real leadership—leadership such as that shown by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with the apology. That leadership needs to continue into the future so that First Nations people have a voice and there is an acknowledgement of truth.

The Statement from the Heart that the First Nations leaders at Uluru came up with threw a big challenge our way, and I think this report is an important step towards us rising to that challenge. Hopefully, the spirit of partnership can continue so that there is some truth-telling, which I think is really important because, on a fundamental level, our nation needs to continue to build the ethical infrastructure of our nation by coming to the truth. There may be some who will say that Australia can't handle the truth, but I think that is very wrong. I think our country is up for that two-way learning.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 12:11 to 12:30

When the First Nations leaders met at Uluru, they called for a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament. That's what we, the current opposition, support. I want to again acknowledge the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I had the great honour of going to Barunga for the hearing that was held there, which involved the land councils, many members of the First Nations communities from the Northern Territory, Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten, and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner. It was a privilege to be there. As I mentioned earlier, it was a privilege to hear Senator Dodson speak in that environment and also to have the member for Berowra, the co-chair of this committee, there to witness that and, with the other members of that committee, to hear the testimony, to answer questions, to listen. It was a great privilege, and I look forward to working with the First Nations caucus committee as part of the Labor team, and also working in any way possible with those opposite to make sure that we keep this very important set of challenges or opportunities for our country heading in the right direction.

We don't want to see any more scaremongering about a third chamber, as I have mentioned earlier. It's unfortunate that that has been part of our history, whether it be about the apology or whether it be scaremongering about the third chamber. I think we can all look past that now and really look forward to this as an opportunity to heal our nation and tell the truth about our history, because we will all be so much richer for it. It's very important. I am given confidence by the member for Berowra and his approach to this important issue.

Debate adjourned.