Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Questions without Notice
Australian Constitution: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Farrell. It is really important that all eligible Australians are enrolled to vote in the lead-up to this year's referendum. However, we know that some groups have faced barriers to enrolling which have seen them unrepresented on the electoral roll and, therefore, unable to participate. I understand that's why the government has been supporting the Australian Electoral Commission to remove barriers for these Australians, which has already led to significant increases in enrolment. Can the minister please update the Senate on the record number of Australians now on the electoral roll?
I thank Senator Green for her interest in this area; it's a very important part of our democracy. Yes, I can update you on the issues you raised. After coming to government, the Albanese government funded the AEC to improve Indigenous enrolment. Earlier this year, we acted to remove regulatory barriers and support greater enrolment of eligible Australians.
This has been paying dividends. Last week the Australian Electoral Commission announced that enrolment in Australia has skyrocketed, ahead of the 2023 referendum. National enrolment is now estimated to be at 97.5 per cent—I'll repeat that figure: 97.5 per cent—with over 17.5 million Australians on the electoral roll.
More significantly, enrolment of underrepresented groups is going through the roof. Enrolment of young Australians is over 90 per cent for the first time in the nation's history, and more First Nations Australians are now enrolled than ever before, with enrolment at 94.1 per cent. And remember this: this is up from 80 per cent in June 2022, shortly before we came to government.
It isn't just the work of the AEC that is driving up enrolment. Australians want to have a say at the Voice referendum. First Nations Australians clearly want to have a say on the Voice to Parliament. Young people want to have a say on the Voice to Parliament, and we are committed to working with the AEC to ensure all eligible Australians are enrolled to vote. The referendum is an opportunity for all Australians to get behind the Voice to Parliament, and I encourage Australians to make sure they are enrolled to vote in the lead-up to the important referendum. (Time expired)
Thank you, President. It's clear from this that First Nations Australians want to have their say on the Voice. This isn't really surprising, since the Voice is an idea that came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and is widely supported by representatives of First Nations Australians. Can the minister please outline what the government is hearing from representatives about their wish to participate in the Voice referendum later this year?
Yes, I can, and I thank the senator for the opportunity to further expand on First Nations enrolment. As I outlined, enrolment of First Nations Australians is now at a record level because First Nations Australians clearly want to participate in the referendum on the Voice. This is no surprise, as the Voice came from First Nations Australians and is widely backed by First Nations Australians. We keep hearing from First Nations Australians who are ready to get behind the Voice. This includes Adelaide Crows legend—listen to this, Senator Birmingham—Eddie Betts, who has said:
I know the Voice won't fix everything overnight but I feel like it's the opening of a pathway to make sure we are included and respected in decision-making on issues that impact us.
The minister outlined that, in addition to record levels of First Nations Australians enrolled to vote, enrolment of young Australians is at record levels. I know from listening to young people in my state that they are ready to get behind the Voice at the ballot box. Can the minister please outline what the government is hearing from representatives of young Australians about their enthusiasm to participate in the Voice referendum later this year?
I thank Senator Green for her second supplementary question. The Albanese government has taken action to improve enrolment of all Australians, and I'm pleased to say that young Australians aged between 18 and 24 are now enrolled at record levels. Members of this cohort of young Australians are eager to have their say in the first referendum in their lifetime, and I'm confident that young Australians are ready to get behind the Voice to Parliament. In the words of Uluru Youth Dialogue Co-Chair Allira Davis:
… more than 73 per cent of young Australians support the Voice. We know young people want to make sure this happens and see a successful referendum.
I encourage all Australians to enrol to vote and get behind the Voice.
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Wong. On at least 34 occasions, the Prime Minister has committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. In 2017, on the ABC's Q+A program, Noel Pearson was asked to explain the Uluru statement and expressly said there would need to be 'a framework agreement nationally'. This morning on Radio National the Prime Minister was asked on seven occasions whether he supported a treaty. He refused to give a direct answer. Does the government's commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full include committing to a treaty?
This government does support bringing Australians together, and that is what makarrata is about. That is also what the Voice is about. What we know is that those opposite want to talk about everything other than what the referendum is about. That is what they want to do. Really, it reflects upon them that this is the approach they choose to take on an issue that is so important to the heart and soul of the nation. Senator McGrath knows that the referendum is not about the matters he mentions in his question. He knows that the government's policy is a constitutionally enshrined Voice to achieve better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health, education, jobs and housing.
I'll take the interjection from Senator Cash, the chief fearmonger on that side. You want to talk about everything other than how a voice might help First Nations people in this country. Regrettably, what this opposition continues to choose to do is to talk about everything else but what the Voice is, what it will do and what it could do for First Nations people and for our nation.
I think Australians do want to close the gap. I think Australians know that what we have done to date, on both sides of politics over many decades, has left us with a gap that is unacceptable. People should be clear that we want to implement the Voice that First Nations people have asked for, because we believe that when you listen to people you get better outcomes. We want to close the gap between our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of Australia. (Time expired)
Back in 2017 only the first page of the Uluru Statement from the Heart was released to the Australian people. The full statement has now been released under FOI. It discusses the priority between treaty and constitutional reform and explicitly says a treaty could cover matters such as reparations and a financial settlement such as 'seeking a percentage of GDP'. Minister, what percentage of GDP does the government consider would be an appropriate amount for Australians to pay as a financial settlement?
Honourable se nators interjecting—
I think we have again on display the same tactic which I referenced in response to the primary question. You want to talk about everything but the Voice. You want to talk about what Mr Pearson said. You want to talk about some documents that you've now found—in relation to a statement that you used to support. I will make this point, because those opposite want to talk about treaties: what has happened since 1986 is that treaties and agreements are already underway in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory. You know what? At the time and, I believe, subsequently, those processes were supported by the Victorian Liberal and National parties, the Queensland LNP and others from the parties of those opposite. I actually wasn't sure that was true, Senator McGrath, and I went back and asked my office to check: 'Is it really true the Queensland LNP did support this process?' They did, which shows what you are doing now. (Time expired)
Minister, on 20 February you made a statement on social media saying '#VoteForTheVoice #VoiceTreatyTruth'. Doesn't your own statement confirm that the Albanese government intends to begin negotiating a treaty should the Voice referendum be successful? Or was your statement supporting a treaty just a throwaway line?
Honourable senators interjecting —
I would say this. I would say that the Voice is nothing to be afraid of. I would say that the Voice is nothing like the sorts of political bogeymen that those on the other side wish to keep utilising. I would also make this point to those opposite: I believe that there are some things bigger than politics, and I would ask those opposite to reflect on whether they really want to use the soul and fabric of this nation as a political battleground. The Voice is not about Mr Albanese or Mr Dutton. It's not about Liberal and Labor. It's not about politics in this place. It is about the aspirations and hopes of our First Nations peoples as they have articulated them to us. We have an opportunity to bring the nation together. There are some things above politics.
Honour able senators interjecting—