Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Statements by Senators

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

1:08 pm

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This week I was moved by the first speeches of our new colleagues. A senator's first speech is a unique insight into their character. But when you listen to several, as I have this week, it is impossible not to realise that they hold a common thread across the political divide. They reflect a shared desire that our time in this chamber will leave a country in a better place. Despite the cynical public view sometimes, most of us occupy our places here because we want to do good. We want to contribute to the difficult but rewarding work of nation-building. We want to shape a fairer, more just and freer society. We want to look back, when our time comes to be done with this place, and tell our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren that we were a part of putting things right.

Those of us in this 47th Parliament will be asked to make a choice on one such issue of nation-building—whether or not to support a referendum on a Voice to Parliament. As envisaged in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the Voice to Parliament is a modest and generous invitation to the nation. Out of the torment of our powerlessness, it weaves a simple and hopeful suggestion for a way forward. It proposes a First Nations representative body to advise the parliament on the laws and policies that will impact upon their lives, and it proposes that this body, the Voice, be enshrined in the Constitution to ensure it has a place of recognition, responsibility and contribution into the future. Importantly, the Voice is not the work of the Labor government or any other political party. It is the culmination of decades of advocacy by First Nations people and their leaders. There is a clear line from the advocacy of early leaders such as William Cooper, the 1938 Day of Mourning, the 1963 Yirrkala bark petitions and the 1988 Barunga Statement to the regional dialogue processes that birthed the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The process brought together over 1,200 First Nations delegates in 12 regional dialogues across the country. The final convention at Uluru resulted in a historic consensus around the proposal for a Voice. It was the largest consensus of First Nations' people on a proposal for recognition in Australian history. It is about recognition in the Constitution and it is also about practical outcomes.

There is a long history, and we know it, of failed government programs, broken promises and waste. Everyone knows that. A Voice means that First Nations people, the people who know what works, will advise the parliament in a focused and consistent manner about laws that impact their lives. It is about shaping better policies and strategies that make a practical difference. It is about getting it right for the first time. It is about giving a constant voice to the people who don't have one. It is not the end of the road. It is not the only thing we need to do. But it is the next significant nation-building step in our journey towards reconciliation.

In my own first speech I made a commitment to work with my fellow senators to build a better country—a stronger, just and inclusive Australia. As I hear the new colleagues across the chamber express similar sentiments I feel hopeful that, together, we can play our part in responding positively to the generous invitation of the First Nations people contained in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, for a Voice.


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