House debates

Monday, 21 November 2022

Private Members' Business

First Nations Voice

11:02 am

Gordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—At the request of the member for Jagajaga, I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the commitment of the Government to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full;

(2) recognises the progress made by the Government, particularly the Minister for Indigenous Australians, in preparing for a referendum to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in our Constitution;

(3) notes the important role local leaders, organisations and others will play in engaging with their communities on the referendum and how the Voice to Parliament is a nation-building project; and

(4) commends the interest and engagement of many Australians in progress on the Voice to Parliament, and truth-telling and treaty negotiations across various jurisdictions.

Throughout the election campaign, on election night and during our time in government, the Prime Minister has committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart. What this is—what these beautiful and generous words symbolise—is the largest consensus of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on a proposal for recognition in history. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity: an opportunity to recognise our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters in our Constitution and to ensure the Australian community is truly a place of equity, a place of equality, a place for all. We must all come together as one community to improve and strengthen the quality of life, health and education outcomes for our First Nations communities. If we continue down the same path, we will continue to get more of the same: poor outcomes, unfulfilled potential, widening gaps in health and widening gaps in education.

We need practical measures to address these issues, and that is exactly what the Voice will do. It will give local people, local communities, a say in the areas that will directly affect them. We need to address the injustices of the past. We need to create meaningful structural change to deliver a better future, and this is exactly what the Voice will do. It is our best chance to come together as one, to rise as one and to move into the future as one. Comprised of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Voice will be an advisory body. It will have the capacity to make representations to government on the issues and legislation that affect First Nations communities. The idea? It is so that we have policy tailored to meet the needs of our First Nations people.

There has been no policy proposal that has been subjected to the amount of inquiry, research, consultation and deliberation as the Voice. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives have formed referendum working and engagement groups, guiding government and informing procedure on a path forward, ahead of the referendum. Within the budget handed down by the Treasurer only a few months ago, we have committed $50.2 million for the Australian Electoral Commission to prepare for this enormous task: the task of a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution of Australia.

The movement to establish the Voice should and must be above politics. This is because the Voice has, and the Voice will, come from the people. This has been years in the making. In 2016, the First Nations Regional Dialogues commenced, so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their voices were at the centre and at the core of the process for recognition: bottom-up, grassroots, community lead. From the dialogues, the experiences and stories were taken to the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017. The convention endorsed the work of the dialogues and issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people: voice, treaty and truth. Bottom-up, grassroots and community lead. A better future for all.

As a Wurundjeri man residing on the Central Coast in New South Wales, I want to thank the many Australians across our beautiful land—from the sea to the mountain ranges, from the desert to our lush rainforests, from the city to the bush—who have shown interest and support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the establishment of a voice. We have an essential duty to listen to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders, brothers and sisters, to hear them and to understand them, so that our light may shine brighter today than it did yesterday. This is an opportunity, this is a time for unity, and this begins by voting for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, because we are stronger together.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:08 am

Allegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this motion on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. In doing so, I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we stand and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent lands. Theirs is an ancestral relationship with the land, with the soil and with Mother Nature. They have possessed the land for 60 millennia, and their sovereignty has never been ceded. But, despite this deep and enduring relationship, despite this being the culture with the longest continuous civilisation in the world, their treatment in so many instances has been shameful. They are the most incarcerated people on our planet, their children have been alienated from their families at unprecedented rates and their youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.

This is the result of structural failure, and it must be addressed by structural change. The Uluru Statement from the Heart sets out what needs to be done. It was delivered not to the government but as an invitation to the Australian people, asking them to walk together with First Nations people towards a better future. It is one of the most beautiful and generous pieces of writing in Australia's history. As the Uluru Statement from the Heart says, by accepting this invitation we have a historic opportunity to enable this ancient sovereignty to 'shine through as a fuller expression of Australia's nationhood'. And that is why I applaud the government's commitment to implementing the Uluru statement in full, and for its commitment to enshrining a First Nations voice in our Constitution.

The Voice has been developed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and it is the way forward, supported by the overwhelming majority of them. It proposes the creation of new constitutional institution to assist parliamentarians in improving our record when it comes to legislating on matters relating to the First Nations community.

In the ambitious process of designing and conceiving this reform, we must meet the aspirations of First Nations for what this Voice can achieve. Members of the Voice must be selected by First Nations people in accordance with their own cultural practices. It must be established as a stable and powerful institution with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of First Nations people in the future. And, in the admirable pursuit of consensus, we must not deviate from the call set forth in the Uluru statement.

Australia has an historic opportunity, and I know that we are ready for it. But I also know this referendum cannot succeed on goodwill alone, and the government and our community must therefore take several important steps in preparation. We have seen the impact that lies and misinformation can have in elections and referenda across the world, and, sadly, we are already seeing this, in part, in the early stages of this debate. The Australian people must have access to objective and fair and reputable information on which to base their vote, and we cannot allow misinformation by regressive forces across the country to derail an historic structural reform. I therefore implore the government to urgently legislate truth-in-advertising reforms. My colleague the member for Warringah has put forward a widely supported bill on this topic. If the government are serious about enshrining a voice to parliament in the Constitution they should support it.

But stopping lies and misinformation will not be enough. I therefore also encourage the government to think seriously about the role that the public sector, alongside community organisations, can play in ensuring people can make an informed decision. That means carefully considering the content design of the referendum pamphlet, which can have a powerful effect on shaping someone's choice at the ballot box. It also means looking at alternative ways to provide trustworthy information to voters in the run-up to the referendum, for example through the use of citizen town hall meetings.

But the government is not alone in its responsibilities. This is also the responsibility of every Australian, of every member of our community, to stand up, to work together, to inform, to debate and, ultimately, to seize this historic opportunity. I am so proud that already in Wentworth, my electorate, we have community members who are passionate about supporting the Voice. They are already organising to support this Voice across the electorate of Wentworth, and no doubt across the country. We have been presented with an historic opportunity for change, and my community are ready to make this ambition a reality.

On election night back in May, one of the biggest cheers of the evening came when the Prime Minister announced his commitment to implementing the Uluru statement in full. This is a priority for my community; this is a priority for me. Wentworth is ready to walk alongside the First Nations people of Australia on the path for a better future. Thank you.

11:13 am

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

Do you hear that sound, Deputy Speaker Freelander? It's history calling us. For 60,000 years, First Nations people have been speaking, but under our Constitution our First Nations people have no voice. So let's fix this together. Together we can learn from and correct history now, so I'm proud to speak on the motion put forward by the member for Robertson.

History isn't just calling me and everyone else in this parliament, including the previous speaker, the member for Wentworth, it is calling on every adult Australian, so we all need to work together with one voice and correct history. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change this country for the better, which I'm sure the young students up in the gallery will embrace. As Prime Minister Albanese said at the Garma Festival earlier this year:

The Uluru Statement is a hand outstretched, a moving show of faith in Australian decency an d Australian fairness from people who have been given every reason to forsake their hope in both.

I am determined, as a Government, as a country, that we grasp that hand of healing, we repay that faith, we rise to the moment. I share Prime Minister Albanese's optimism. As a nation we can succeed, but to do this we will need out communities and our community leaders to step up and become active.

We will need our community leaders to take the lead by starting conversations within their groups and their meetings, on their streets, over their back fences. This means the leaders at our local Lions Club, Zonta, Rotary club, footy club, P&C, church, mosque, meeting hall and P&F, and the heads of our African, Bosnian, Chinese, Dutch, Eritrean, Korean, Pasifika, South American, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and every other group. Wherever you or your ancestors once called home, your nation now needs you to step up. We need you out there informing, educating, engaging, fighting the good fight against ignorance, a fight to correct history. We need everyday Australians to encourage their family, friends, neighbours and community to vote yes for the Voice.

History is also calling my parliamentary colleagues in Queensland. History is asking you to get out there and call on your volunteers to campaign as hard as they did for your election in 2022. It won't be enough just to say you support a First Nations voice to parliament; you actually need to act. Caring is doing. You need to act by actively campaigning for a yes vote. My dedicated team in Moreton is ready to go and will work alongside you.

As a nation, we need to accept this outstretched hand offered by First Nations people through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Their generous Uluru statement builds on the strong history of Indigenous advocacy for a better future based on justice and self-determination.

In May 2017, on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, First Nations representatives gathered in Central Australia to forge an historic consensus on structural reform and constitutional change. This consensus followed a groundbreaking process of First Nations voices from across Australia through 12 deliberative dialogues. Joining each dialogue were a representative sample of approximately 100 First Nations people drawn from local traditional custodians, Indigenous community based organisations and Indigenous leaders. These regional dialogues selected their own representatives to attend the First Nations National Constitutional Convention at Uluru. At the convention, and by an overwhelming consensus, more than 250 delegates adopted the Uluru statement. The key to achieving that remarkable consensus on such a complex problem was a process designed and led by First Nations people—such an important precedent in Australian history. I believe the Voice will improve the lives of First Nations people in practical ways by giving local communities a say in areas like education, health and housing.

I must also mention the hard work of Minister Linda Burney, the Labor First Nations caucus and all those in parliament who have contributed to this. I see the member for Berowra, who I know has been involved in this, in the chamber. Thank you all for bringing this together. I'll finish with another quote from the Prime Minister from Garma:

Hope in your abilities as advocates and campaigners, as champions for this cause.

And hope because I believe the tide is running our way. I believe the momentum is with us, as never before.

I believe the country is ready for this reform.

I know that so many of my First Nations colleagues, and people that I went to school with out in St George, will be looking forward to the opportunity for the nation to speak up.

11:18 am

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great honour to be speaking today in this place on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and concurring with the motion moved by the member for Robertson. I wear with pride the pin to say that I support the Uluru statement. Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, the traditional custodians of this land on which parliament stands, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge that the history of Warringah land, which I represent in this place, is complex and that there is a need for healing. I express my heartfelt thanks to our local communities, and I am committed to learning from and nurturing the world's oldest adapting culture and our First Peoples' connection to land, sea and sky.

Directly opposite the front steps to Old Parliament House, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy sits centrestage. It reminds us all that sovereignty over these lands was never ceded. Australia's first people have been here for over 60,000 years, and the 200 or so years since British arrival do nothing to extinguish their sacred link to the land. The unbroken and unmistakable strength of Indigenous culture across Australia, despite continued and relentless discrimination, serves as a testament to their cultural fortitude. It is those people who make up the oldest continuous culture on Earth that makes our nation so unique and so special, and there is much for us to learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's close and unique relationship with these lands.

Yet there is a shocking and continuous history of mistreatment against this land's First People. Currently there are more Indigenous children being removed from their homes than at even the height of the Stolen Generation. In 2020 the Family matters report forecast that this number will double by 2029 if nothing is done. Yet we have seen only the most minimal effort put into making any meaningful change. Additionally, the Uluru Statement makes no mistake when it says that Indigenous Australians are proportionately the most incarcerated people on Earth. And while last year's census revealed that around one in 31 Australian citizens are of Indigenous heritage, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported that almost one in four deaths in custody in the most recent quarter of 2022 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. These are shocking statistics.

The system has failed and continues to fail. It's time to act. To meaningfully change this system we must listen to those it fails. The Uluru Statement calls for a commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. This commission is called the Makarrata, which means 'coming together after a struggle' in the Yolngu language. This name encapsulates what the commission would do: creating a voice for meaningful and constructive dialogue and agreement between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Australia remains the only Commonwealth country to not have a treaty with its Indigenous people. Yet, through the Makarrata commission, we can begin to change this. The Uluru Statement from the Heart provides great insight:

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.

Five years after this statement, Australians are finally getting the opportunity to change the course of history for the better, just as we did 55 years ago. Here lies the opportunity to change the Constitution and enshrine an Indigenous Voice. In the words of Pat Anderson, one of the architects of the Uluru Statement:

There comes a time when you are at the ballot box and it's just you and your conscience.

This is probably one of the biggest things we are ever going to do. After five years were wasted ignoring the Uluru Statement, we are now finally seeing some meaningful progress. I welcome the government's commitment to implement the Uluru Statement in full. The Uluru Statement ends with an invitation to all Australians to walk together for a better future. I accept that invitation and urge everyone to do the same.

We know that the referendum is likely to be held during the course of next year, but there is one thing we must do in advance, and that is to legislate to stop misinformation in advertising relating to the referendum. Next week I will present Stop the Lies, a private member's bill to legislate against misleading and deceptive statements in political and referendum advertising. Under no circumstances should we allow the lack of legislation to have the naysayers misinform the Australian public as to what the Uluru Statement seeks to do. We must ensure that we have trust and confidence in the process. This is too big a moment in time to let fake advertising and misleading statements derail it. Thank you.

11:23 am

Louise Miller-Frost (Boothby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The electorate of Boothby, which I'm honoured to represent here today, is on Kaurna Yerta, the unceded lands of the Kaurna people. I pay my respects to the Kaurna people, on whose lands I live, and also to the Ngunnawal people, whose lands we meet on today, and to all First Nations people present and watching online.

We rightly acknowledge country before all gatherings that take place here in our nation's federal parliament. We do it as a way of acknowledging the incontrovertible fact that sovereignty over the land we now call Australia was never ceded by its First Nations people. To acknowledge this of course raises a series of other profound question for us as Australians—questions we've been reckoning with in myriad ways since Europeans first set foot on this continent. The 1967 referendum, amongst other things, gave the Commonwealth the right to make laws for all peoples, including our First Nations people. But we also know that some of the laws, policies and programs that have been made in respect of First Nations people have not helped them address the issues, concerns and ambitions that they have for themselves. In some instances, they have made their lives more difficult and have entrenched disadvantage. In some instances, they have brought great, great sorrow to individuals, families and communities. Life expectancy for Aboriginal people is still a decade less than for other Australians, and infant mortality is 1.8 times the rate for non-Indigenous babies. Despite efforts to address these and other disadvantages experienced by our First Nations people, these statistics remain. As we sit in our offices in cities and try and think about what might make a difference, we neglected one very basic principle of any form of community development: that, unless the community itself is engaged, these efforts don't work.

And so one of the basic principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is Voice—that we in this place will ask for input from First Nations people via a representative body as to what they think about any law we make that affects them. The Uluru statement itself is such a beautiful piece of writing, and the section that specifically relates to the member's motion is as follows:

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.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

I encourage every member in this place and, indeed, every constituent of Boothby and every Australian to consider deeply this humble request. We can build a better future for all of our children. The Uluru statement shows the way.

The Uluru statement makes plain that the problems facing First Nations Australians are indeed deep-seated and structural. This, it says, is the torment of their powerlessness. And so they require structural solutions. We are asked to begin with a structural change to the way policy choices relating to First Nations Australians are made, by ensuring that policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is not made for them but with them and by them—the basic principle of 'nothing about me without me'. As my colleague Wiradjuri man the member for Robertson said earlier, 'grassroots, bottom-up'. A Voice to Parliament enshrined in our Constitution would ensure that this would take place. It will deliver real and practical advice and guidance.

In my first speech here, I also said the following:

I'm proud to be here as part of the Albanese Labor government, which has committed to the important reconciliation work that is the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Voice. Treaty. Truth. This is unfinished business for us all. Together, we are stronger. The work of bringing us together is overdue.

This remains the case six months later, and I commend those in our community already working to plant the seeds that will grow into what I hope will be a widely embraced social movement advocating for First Nations Voice. We can build a better future for all of our children. The Uluru statement shows the way.

11:28 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sad to say I think this motion is misplaced. It's a case of premature congratulations when the government needs to do so much more work. I'm a supporter of the Voice. I have been since before I was elected to parliament. There's a lot of talk about the Voice. There's a lot of emotive language. There's a lot of moralising. What there isn't a lot of is detail. In fact, the government doesn't seem to want to provide detail, so opponents of the Voice are filling the vacuum before the debate has begun. The government's starting point should not be a pipedream for activists but what proposal might actually succeed in a referendum. Unfortunately, the government is mishandling the issue.

The motion talks about the role of local leaders and organisations in assisting communities to prepare for the Voice. I've had Probus clubs, church groups, schools and businesses contact me to ask what the Voice is and how it will work. What frustrates me is that the lack of details means I can answer very few of their questions. As Megan Davis told RN Breakfast today:

I think the detail point is a legitimate one. People want to see more detail about what it looks like

But the government continues to spend its energy congratulating itself or dealing with side issues instead of developing a model for the national Voice and providing a process for engagement of the broader Australian community ahead of the referendum.

Let's recap the government's work on the Voice to date. Before coming to office. Labor's promise to implement the Voice was part of practically every speech given by the Prime Minister. Since coming to government, it has become an addition to the government members' acknowledgement of country. So it's reasonable to think that the government would have had a detailed plan for what a national body might look like and a strategy to roll out the referendum.

Unfortunately, it seems they did not. Labor keeps telling Australians the referendum is a fait accompli, despite most Australians having no idea what it is they will have to vote on. Labor's recklessness risks the entire reconciliation project and the social cohesion of the country. The minister knows these risks, she told the Herald yesterday. Back in July the Prime Minister made a speech at Garma outlining a question and some possible words for constitutional amendment, but with no plan about how we would get there. Then we had the government calling in the American celebrity Shaquille O'Neal, with the most superficial connection to our country, to endorse the Voice. None of this helped build confidence. Labor is more interested in side issues like setting a date or playing with the referendum rules than explaining how the body will work. While Labor pat themselves on the back for having made a speech and establishing a couple of consultative groups and undertaking a photo shoot, Aboriginal leaders across the country asked me what the Voice is about and whether it will make any difference to their people.

I'm concerned about Labor's desire to turn this into a legacy moment, instead of answering the public's questions about how the Voice would work. It's now over 100 days since the Prime Minister announced draft sentences to add to the Constitution. The Prime Minister said that those words would be the basis for consultation. But how do people provide feedback on this? What process will the government establish? Is this the only form of words they are willing to entertain? Why did he choose this form of words given that the joint select committee in 2018 received 18 different versions of how this might be done, and more have been put out since? What is the government doing to respond to the issues being raised by commentators about the Prime Minister's proposal?

The government has also not been clear about what it will do with the co-design report led by Tom Calma and Marcia Langdon, which recommended the roll-out of local and regional bodies first. Why hasn't it supported the roll-out of these bodies first, which will ground any advice that any national body might be provided on the experience of local communities? I want to be able to have serious discussions with colleagues and constituents about what the Voice might mean for our country, but until the government gives us a plan and a roadmap that isn't possible.

I went to Garma with no idea what the Prime Minister was going to announce, and today I stand with no idea what the plan is to move forward. I support the Voice, and I have done so for many years, but I will continue to ask questions that Australians have every right to know the answer to: questions like who will be on the Voice? How will these people be chosen? What powers and functions will it have? How will it represent the diverse communities that make up our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples? How will it address the real issues that impact people's lives every day in communities? Will regional and local bodies exist? How will the government ensure that the body hears from voices who don't already have a platform in Australian public life?

These are serious questions. They're questions that the government is failing to answer. But they are questions that are very important to Australians in making a decision as to how they will vote on this and in making a decision as to what role the Voice might play in our Parliament moving forward.

So my message to the government today is: no more of these self-congratulatory motions. Instead, let us get out there and do some of the hard work, providing people with an opportunity to provide feedback on the sentences that the government has put forward in relation to amending the Constitution, and providing a process where people can actually engage understanding in full detail how this body will work. People have the right to know the details about what the Voice body will do and how it will work before people go to vote on it. I call on Labor to stop talking about how admirable they are for announcing the referendum and to start responding to the reasonable questions that all Australians have.

11:33 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion on the Notice Paper from the member for Jagajaga and moved in this House of Representatives this morning by my friend and colleague the member for Robertson. In 1967 the referendum that was put before the Australia people resulted in substantial change to our Constitution. It enabled the Commonwealth to make laws in respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and it included them in the census. But now we have the chance to make good on the unfinished business that remains. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution and to really make our nation better for everyone.

On election night, the Prime Minister made sure that our Labor government's commitment to the implementation of the Uluru statement in full was loud and clear. Labor is the only party that has committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full—no ifs or buts from anyone on the government benches. We know the job that needs to be done. The Uluru Statement from the Heart represents an overwhelming consensus of First Nations people on a proposal for a Voice to Parliament and the establishment of a makarrata commission to oversee the truth-telling and treaty-making components.

Labor has repeatedly called for the Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in our constitution. Now that we're in government, we have set out a road map for its implementation, including a possible question for a referendum and an amendment to the Constitution to establish a voice. Along with treaty and truth, a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament will be a momentous step towards unifying our nation and creating a shared future. No idea or policy proposal has been subject to as much inquiry, research, consultation and deliberation as a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. So I reject the argument that there is no detail on the table. Our Labor government has brought together experts and First Nations representatives from the referendum working and engagement groups, and they are guiding us on our way forward for a referendum. We are on track to have legislation to introduce into the parliament in the first half of 2023.

I want to thank the people of Newcastle who have already shown very strong support for the Uluru statement and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. The campaign to establish a Voice to Parliament should be above politics because the voice came from the people. It came from First Nations regional dialogues which commenced way back in 2016—this is not something new on our horizons; let's not fall for that trap—to ensure those regional dialogues took place and to ensure First Nation voices were always at the very heart of constitutional recognition, as they should be. The stories and messages from those dialogues were taken to the First Nations National Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May 2017, where they were endorsed and resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart being issued to the Australian people. We've got the three pillars. We've got voice, treaty and truth. That is what Indigenous Australians wanted. This is what we are committed to.

It has been a long journey, and there is still much work to be done. But after 55 years of unfinished business, since that original, successful referendum, the time for a First Nations voice is now. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a very generous gift to our nation. It should not be beyond us, as a parliament or a nation, to address the absence of First Nations voices in our constitution, in our original birth certificate which remains silent and commits ongoing injustice as a result. Next year, every Australian will have an opportunity to fix this by voting yes in the upcoming referendum. There are conversations taking place in my electorate of Newcastle—indeed, they occurred this week—and I cannot tell you how excited people are, and Novocastrians in particular, to walk with First Nations people to find a just resolution to a longstanding injustice in this nation.

11:38 am

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for bringing this motion forward on the proposal for a Voice to Parliament. I hope that it begins to throw more light on what it is that the government is actually planning to take to the Australian people in the form of a referendum—when that they will be and, far more importantly than either of those points, how it will work. I am supportive of the view that the Constitution should recognise the fact that Australia was occupied, in fact, by peoples with the longest continuing culture in the world before European settlement. However, unless the government moves to get some meat on the bones of what is, at this stage, not much more than some vague objectives, and gives Australians the detail they need to make a rational decision, they will have lost the campaign virtually before it has begun. From the very outset, a case needs to be made as to how the Constitution has failed Indigenous peoples given that the current parliament has delivered an over-representation of Indigenous voices, with 11, or 4.9 per cent, of the members of our national parliament identifying as Indigenous. According to the recent census, 3.2 per cent of Australians claim the same status. This should be a reason for great celebration but strangely seems to be missing from the debate. Australians need to be informed as to why the Constitution needs to be altered given these outstanding results. It was put to me recently by a leading campaigner for the cause that, as the 11 Indigenous members are not specifically representing Indigenous peoples, they are somehow compromised. I struggle with this reasoning. They are, after all, elected representatives. I would hope that none of us are beholden to delivering better outcomes for only one constituency.

I would have to report that, at this stage, a referendum on the Voice is not a first-order issue in my electorate, either in the Indigenous or the general community. But those who are fully focused are concerned that, if we insert legal racial discrimination into our Constitution and set up a second independent political body, with an authority which at this stage is undetermined, it is possible that it will have wide-ranging and dramatic effects on the powers of the parliament. If this is not the case—and a number of the proponents, including government ministers, say it is not—it needs to be explained why it is not the case. A number of constitutional experts have already said that, ultimately, any rewording of the Constitution will be interpreted by the High Court, thus overruling the primacy of parliament. I make the note that, just two years ago, the High Court ruled that a noncitizen claiming to be Indigenous could not be deported. As a warning to those concerned about these issues, the Prime Minister has said that it would be a very brave parliament indeed that would seek to defy the will of the Voice.

Australia needs to know how such a body would be elected or appointed and who would be eligible to be part of it, as we seem to have arrived in Australia today at a point where self-identification as Indigenous is acceptable. Voters will need it clearly spelt out as to what pieces of legislation the Voice should be consulted on, and, given that most applies to all Australians, including Indigenous Australians, where any boundaries in those jurisdictions lie.

There is another question I would add to all of the aforementioned, and that is: what is it all likely to cost given that the Prime Minister has indicated that he's not inclined to wind up a plethora of existing Indigenous corporations, consultation groups and health, employment and social support groups and is instead committing to adding another? The framework put forward thus far, by the Langton and Calma report, which I commend, envisages a local voice informing and empowering the national Voice. Any such structure is likely to involve hundreds of meetings and consultations on an ongoing basis and cost in the tens of millions at least. The question of how much it will cost, how it will be funded and whether it comes from within an existing budget or whether it is a new cost, I think, should also be answered.

This speech may sound obstructive. It's not meant to be. I am simply making the point that I have questions that millions of other Australians will also have once they start to fully engage with this issue. I cannot see how we can proceed down this pathway unless they are comprehensively answered. If they are not, Australians will not vote in favour of a general question as to whether or not they support a Voice on the basis that details will be developed later, and I don't believe that Australians will, or indeed should, vote on that basis. If the government want us to support these proposals, they need to take us with them and answer all the questions.

11:44 am

Zaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Jagajaga for her motion on a matter that's incredibly important to my electorate of Swan as well as to our nation. Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the Constitution is a once-in-a-generation reform. It has been led by the community. The process has been a journey. When you ask Australians, 'Would you like to see a government that has integrity?' the answer is yes. Similarly, there is this other question, which is: 'Do you think that our First Nations people should have constitutional recognition?'

Recognition and a greater voice on the issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians has been a journey of resistance and courage. From the Yirrkala bark petitions in 1963 by the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land to 2017, the National Constitution Convention, First Nations people are making a point that 200 years of colonisation does not diminish or extinguish their sovereignty, which has been held for over 60,000 years. To take a word from the Statement from the Heart, it coexists with that sovereignty of the Crown.

This government and I will join the journey in recognising the unique and special history that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have here. It's a journey that I look at with great reverence as a scientist, because the astrological, medicinal and climate knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders enabled survival in some of our harshest climates. It's a journey that includes the Yolngu people knowing about the link between the tide and the moon phases thousands of years before Galileo. I will walk this journey with my community and I will do so because for too long we have been failing to address injustices of the past and to create meaningful changes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Earlier we heard the discussion of the question, how much will this cost? The thing that I'll say is that if we get this right it will be phenomenal—the health, emotional and wellbeing outcomes that we will achieve for our First Nations people. We will also see that we will be spending money wisely and doing early intervention et cetera. I'm not going to read you the statistics of what we've heard about the gap, but I can say that we need to strive harder to close the gap, and we can do this only by changing the structures. A Constitution that will create a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be the best chance for meaningful action and closing the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Giving people a leading role in fixing structural inequalities that are the fallout of years of structural racism and oppression is a step in the right direction.

This is what's at the core of our government's support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and it's self-determination through leadership. First Nations representatives are forming the referendum working and engagement groups. They are guiding government on the way forward ahead of the referendum. In my community, Whadjuk and Ballardong Noongar man Professor Simon Forrest has been utilising platforms at events to talk about the importance of a Voice to parliament. Since the Albanese Labor government has been elected he has spoken to over 40,000 people about its importance. From AFL games to NRL games to graduation ceremonies, he is leading the conversation.

My electorate office physically sits on neutral grounds where various clans of Whadjuk people would meet. It's where the Derbal Yaragan crosses to Matagarup, allowing for important seasonal passage from north to south. It's a place of shared understanding and cooperation, and I'm hoping that this place can be a place of shared understanding and cooperation—Australians putting aside our differences, especially those here and on the opposite side of the chamber, and coming together in the spirit of shared cooperation. This will be the key to success. And to my community of Swan, I want my office to continue to be a place of shared understanding and cooperation, and I want to have those tough conversations with those who may oppose the referendum, and I'll be available to listen to those voices who are calling also for its implementation. Great reforms like a Voice to parliament can happen only when we come together as a community.

11:49 am

Kate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the private member's motion by the member for Jagajaga relating to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. In my community, on Whadjuk Noongar land, there's been strong support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to accept the modest request from First Nations people of Australia to let them speak for themselves and jointly tell the truth about our past. There was much enthusiasm in Curtin about the Prime Minister's commitment to the Voice immediately after the election. Since then, some questions have started to emerge. Recently, I've heard two main concerns about the Voice: firstly, that there are more urgent issues that need to be addressed, like the safety of women and children in remote communities; and, secondly, that we don't know exactly how it will work. I want to talk today about why these concerns shouldn't dampen momentum for the Voice and the rest of the Uluru Statement from the Heart: the truth-telling and the agreement-making.

Firstly, in relation to the idea that we need to prioritise more urgent issues, I draw on my own personal experience. About 13 years ago, I was manager for Indigenous affairs at Wesfarmers Ltd, which owns Coles, Target, Kmart, Bunnings and other companies. With an advisory group, I was pulling together Wesfarmers's first reconciliation action plan, committing to actions under the headings of 'respect', 'relationships' and 'opportunities'. I took what I thought to be a pragmatic approach. As the largest private sector employer in the country, we needed to focus on opportunities and, specifically, jobs. This was where we could make a difference. I thought the respect and relationships actions were secondary: nice to have, but not overly practical. It took me about a year to realise how wrong I was. If you're followed around a retail store by the security guard, you probably won't apply for a job there. The penny dropped for me, and I realised that, without resetting our relationships based on respect, we would never succeed with the jobs. You need to get the foundation right before you can build anything that will last.

The Uluru statement offers that foundation. In order to effectively contribute to addressing intergenerational disadvantage, we need to listen to the people affected. We need to establish a shared understanding of how we got here. We have a long history of government intervention into the lives of First Nations people, but many of our current interventions are failing. We can and we must do two things at once: do our best to make improvements in the short-term on vital issues like the safety of women and children, but we must also commit to longer-term, deeper change through the Uluru statement. If we don't reset our relationships and give First Nations people a voice on laws that affect them, there is no reason to believe that the next 50 years of intervention will be any different to the last 50 years.

I want to address the second concern that has been emerging: that we don't know exactly what the Voice is. The first draft of the words proposed by the Prime Minister are:

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The parliament shall … have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

I initially had some concerns that this was too broad and uncertain, but, after reading about the work already done and learning from some experts, I understood why the detail needs to be left to the parliament. The Voice will not be effective if it's appointed by government. It will need to be owned by First Nations communities, which are diverse. Marcia Langton and Tom Calma recommend that local and regional Voice bodies will need to be flexible, so their communities can determine how the representatives are appointed There is complexity between local, regional and state voices, as well as the parallel processes on agreement-making and truth-telling. We may not get it right at first. We need to have patience and the flexibility to change it as we learn. The Constitution is the governing principles, not this sort of complexity. It may take 10 years to get the Voice right, but, if we're committed to it in the Constitution, our legislative body can work through the details.

There is no doubt that there is work to be done before the referendum, but this is the sort of long-term thinking that has been lacking in government. My community lamented the fact that often governments think in political cycles, rather than providing long-term leadership. When government shows a willingness to bravely embark on long-term change, we must be willing to take the first steps and be patient. I support the motion and I look forward to working with First Nations people, the government and my community to build the understanding of the benefits of implementing the Uluru statement over the next year.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.