Senate debates

Monday, 5 February 2018



4:12 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw general business notice of motion No. 634 standing in my name relating to statutory office holders established under the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010.

4:13 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Senator Di Natale, I withdraw general business notice of motion No. 595 standing in his name for today relating to the introduction of a bill.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw matter of privilege notice of motion No. 1 standing in the name of Senator Cormann for today proposing a reference to the Standing Committee of Privileges.

4:14 pm

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek to withdraw notice of motion No. 545 standing in my name for today relating to the establishment of a joint select committee and I seek leave to make a statement of no more than three minutes in relation to the matter.

Leave granted.

My motion was intended to find a mechanism for advancing the cause of constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Constitution. It aimed to establish a joint select committee on progress towards Indigenous recognition. Any such mechanism, in order to lead one day to a successful referendum, would need to have bipartisan, indeed cross-party, support in the development of options for parliamentary consideration.

This parliament, unfortunately, is at a critical juncture on this issue for one simple reason: the government, in its wisdom, has clearly indicated it does not, and will not in the future, countenance any consideration of what first-nations people have put forward in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The government has emphatically rejected the recommendations of the Referendum Council for an entrenched voice in the Constitution. Without government support, any future referendum proposal will fail. Without cross-party support, any future referendum proposal will fail. Without hearing and listening to first-nation peoples' calls, any proposal for a referendum will be pointless.

We need to find an effective way to take on board what has been plainly put to us from Uluru about first-nations people having an effective voice in the parliament on matters that affect their destinies. We need to find a way together to advance these issues and flesh out how first-nation aspirations can go forward with the support of the government, the opposition and the minority parties—and, most importantly, the first-nation peoples. In the current environment my proposal will not achieve these objectives and I, therefore, withdraw the motion. I'll be willing to work with the government and other parties on any proposal for the parliament to advance these issues in the future.

4:17 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I'd like to make a couple of comments on my colleague's contribution. What I should point out, and my colleague may not be aware of it, as you rose to your feet, Senator Dodson, and said, 'We support recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution,' is that so do we. I want to make that absolutely clear. What we've indicated is that, in relation to the establishment of this committee, we need to ensure we have some bipartisanship. I understand that we're continuing down that line. Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull have had an exchange of letters dealing with one thing—that is, the parameters and the terms of reference for this parliamentary committee.

It's very important to say that we didn't think we should put something to the Australian people that would fail, because it was simply four words: a voice to parliament. There was not a single piece of information that went behind that, and that's what disappointed us so much. On that basis, we weren't prepared to put that to the Australian people. What we are prepared to do is ensure that the terms of reference consider all of those recommendations.

We're not saying to the committee, 'You can't consider these matters.' This is to be a multiparty committee, and we've ensured that that is the case. I think we have got down to six of the 18 terms of reference that were put forward. We'll continue to work in a multipartisan way to ensure that this committee is the committee that can make some recommendations to the Australian people that we can take forward.

4:19 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—The Greens were prepared to support the establishment of this committee because we felt it was important that we find some way forward through the deadlock that is currently in place in this parliament and, in fact, in Australia. I get a bit touchy when I hear the minister talk about a multiparty approach, when all parties are not being involved in the negotiations over the setting up of any committee that the minister was just talking about. The fact is that, if we are going to proceed and achieve some form of recognition into the future, we need all the parties around this place involved in those discussions. This is not a bipartisan approach. It's a multiparty approach. I'll just put that out there on the table.

It is really important that we find a way forward, because things have moved on considerably since the consultation process that was undertaken in 2011, since the expert panel reported in early 2012 and since the latest consultation by a joint parliamentary committee, chaired by Mr Wyatt and Nova Peris, was undertaken. Things have moved on from there. We've had the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I find it difficult to find a way forward, I've got to say, when the voices of a lot of Aboriginal people are not being listened to and when people's understanding of what constitutional recognition now means has shifted so considerably. I was talking to people about this just last week, and it was very strongly put to me that a lot of Aboriginal people—I can't say it's everybody; I know there are diverse views—want to address sovereignty and treaty before recognition.

There is a significant amount of work that needs to be done. It's disappointing that we haven't yet been able to reach agreement on what this place is going to work on and, in fact, if we can work together. But I would put to this place that one way forward is to ensure that parties that are not the government and not the opposition are involved in those discussions. Unless we're all on board, we cannot hope to get agreement in the community on where we're moving forward to—whether we're going to move to recognition first or, as a lot of people want, to sovereignty and treaty first—or how that continuum works or how to address issues around the Makarrata Commission and the part of the Uluru statement that addresses truth-telling and justice. Those are all things that need to be considered, and I urge the government to be inclusive in discussions on the committee.