Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Constitutional Recognition of ATSIP; Report

3:48 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I wish to stand in support of Senator Dodson's statements and the tabling of this report. I would like to just remind the Senate that, this time 12 months ago, the issue of a voice to the parliament was an issue that was almost destroyed when the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said no. He said no to the First Nations people of Australia. He said no to the people who'd gathered at Uluru and recommended, through the referendum council, a voice to this parliament.

I would like to commend in particular the work of both the co-chairs on this committee. Julian Leeser MP, a coalition member, despite the movement of his own leadership and the opposition of his own party, has navigated a very respectful, considered journey with this committee, along with Senator Patrick Dodson, as co-chairs.

It's very important to put on the record the work of this parliamentary committee.

People may say that there are so many parliamentary committees—maybe too many parliamentary committees—but I have to put on the record that the work of the Greens, the work of Independent Cathy McGowan and the work of other members, along with Julian Leeser, in the coalition has been important work. It is important work for this parliament. It is important work for democracy in this country. We may all come from different viewpoints but the real challenge here has been about staying together on this journey. Where I come from, as a Yanyuwa woman, we call that journey 'kujika'. It is our songline, when we travel and walk together. That's what happened over these past six to eight months, where people who come from different ideologies and backgrounds firmly believed in the importance of what was said at Uluru and wanted to make sure it was revived and kept alive in the Parliament of Australia.

Many people who read this report being tabled today will reach different opinions—and that's okay; that's what a democracy is about. As Senator Dodson says, the Greens will have something to say and Senator Stoker will have something to say, but that is our democracy. The challenge here for every single politician in this place and the other place is to find the one common thing that we have to hold onto to bring us to what I firmly believe is the voice to the Australian parliament for First Nations people. That is what we have to hold onto. We have to hold onto it in a way that respects the cultural differences of every single person in this place but rises above those differences to acknowledge the importance of First Nations people in this country and the lack of their voice to this place.

In moving forward from here, I say to all members and all senators that moving forward means that we do so with respect. We are not going to agree on everything. We are going to come from different geographic spaces and different philosophical ideas. But I call on you to believe in the fundamental importance of First Nations people needing a voice to this parliament—and needing it in the right way. We want constitutional recognition. We want to have the First Nations voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution. I believe that there are enough people in this country who will make that happen. I believe that our country will be swept up in the goodwill, the good hearts and the graciousness of so many Australians who see way too much injustice, compounded by the lack of empowerment, compounded by the lack of sincere consultation and dialogue over policies and compounded by poverty and extreme disadvantage, whether by geography or just due to financial situations.

I want every senator and every member of parliament to know that this is what the First Nations people want. We want a voice to the Australian parliament, in an advisory capacity. I challenge you, as you go on your Christmas break and you look to your New Year's resolutions, to rise above your fears of the First Nations people in this country. I challenge you to be unafraid. I challenge you to allow our country to be the best that it can be. The only way we can do that, Senators, is when we allow First Nations people to take our rightful place in democracy in this country.

We stand in this place each day and we talk about the Westminster system of governance and we talk about procedural matters, and then we ask every February, when Close the Gap comes in the statement to the parliament, why are we not making a difference to the lives of First Nations people? Every year for nearly 10 years we have been asking that question in the parliament of Australia every February. Well, as you go away, as you reflect on this year and as you prepare for next year, I urge you, senators and members of parliament, to think about First Nations people. We've been here for over 60,000 years, and guess what? We ain't going away.


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