Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

8:05 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening firstly to give my heartfelt thanks to the Queensland Chinese Forum for putting on a wonderful seminar, on Saturday just gone, in relation to the Voice. In particular, I congratulate the Queensland Chinese Forum on taking an even-handed approach. There were three speakers in favour of the constitutional amendment and three speakers against. Three of those speakers were from this chamber: Senator Liddle and I on behalf of the 'no' campaign and Senator Murray Watt on behalf of the 'yes' campaign. So the Queensland Chinese community had an opportunity to hear both sides of the debate. The seminar was extraordinarily well attended, and it was live-streamed, with people watching online and people being able to watch it subsequently. Hats off to the translators, who did a wonderful job in translating some of the complicated content. From my perspective, it is a good example of how the debate should continue from today up to the date of the referendum.

Now let me go to the other end of the spectrum, in terms of how the debate shouldn't be conducted. Last week I stood in this chamber and spoke about a high school in my home state of Queensland where only one side of the debate was presented to students of voting age. They weren't given both sides of the debate. I also spoke about a university student who submitted an assignment in which she had courageously undertaken legal arguments for the 'no' case and been told in no uncertain terms by the assessor that her views were not appreciated. I asked for reports of further such instances. Disappointingly, I have received further reports.

In the time available, I have the chance only to provide comments in relation to one. It relates to the University of Melbourne law school, one of our country's pre-eminent law schools. This was the faculty, the law school, that produced the likes of Owen Dixon, Isaac Isaacs and John Latham, all chief justices of the High Court of Australia. The report I've received is that 600 first-year university law students were provided a compulsory seminar which presented to them only one side of the constitutional referendum: three speakers in favour, no speakers against the constitutional referendum at the University of Melbourne law school.

Please, University of Melbourne Law School, contact me and tell me it's not so. If it's not so, I will stand in this place before the end of the week and clarify the matter. But I must say that I looked on your website today to see what the position of the University of Melbourne is, and the University of Melbourne is taking an institutional position in favour of the Voice. It also has on its website a list of expert opinions on the Voice, and every single one of them is in favour of the university's institutional position. There is not one argument against. If you want to teach first-year law students how to be lawyers, introduce them to the Socratic method for understanding both sides of an argument, for and against, and developing their own talents of critical thinking. Don't present them with propaganda, as if there's only one side to an argument. You are doing them a disservice and you are not respecting your heritage—a heritage that did produce the likes of John Latham, Owen Dixon and Isaac Isaacs, giants of the legal fraternity in this country.

Tell me it's not so. Tell me you didn't take those 600 first-year law students into a seminar and give them only one view with respect to the constitutional referendum. Contact my office and tell me it's not so, that you actually provided a seminar where both sides of the argument were put so they could assess and weigh those competing arguments as they will have to do as lawyers. Please tell me the information I have received is wrong. If you don't tell me the information I've received is wrong, I will take your silence as an admission that it's correct just as your internet site produces one side of the argument.