Federation Chamber - COMMITTEES - Constitutional Recognition of ATSIP - Report

04 December 2018

I rise to speak to the report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, a committee co-chaired by the member for Berowra, Mr Julian Leeser, and my esteemed colleague Senator Dodson. In May 2017, 250 First Nations leaders met at Uluru and called for a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament. After more than a decade of debate about what form constitutional recognition should take, representatives of First Nations people described what it looked like to them. They told Australia that, while the 1967 referendum meant they were counted, the next referendum should ensure they are heard.

The Statement from the Heart is one of the most significant documents produced in the history of reconciliation, and from day one Labor has been determined to accord the statement proper respect through consideration. This was endorsed on Friday by the report being tabled. Labor will be guided by the committee's report, and I, as a white woman standing on land that always was and always will be Aboriginal land, will be guided by my First Nations colleagues on this immense undertaking. I have no doubt that, if anyone can take on this journey for constitutional recognition, it's Senators Dodson and McCarthy along with the member for Barton, Linda Burney. I will also be listening to the views of the First Nations community in my electorate.

The Aboriginal community has always been at the heart of the identity of Batman—soon to be Cooper. It's the home of the Aborigines Advancement League, the mighty All Stars football team and Aboriginal voice radio 3KND Kool n Deadly, to name just a few. We recently celebrated the AEC's decision to change the electorate name from Batman to Cooper. For me, it was my happiest moment since becoming an MP. William Cooper was an Indigenous leader who spent his life working to advance the rights of First Nations people. The campaign for change was led by the Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta elders and communities. The AEC's decision acknowledges the intergenerational suffering of First Nations peoples caused by colonisation. It is a mark of truth-telling, respect and recognition and of a nation maturing. This change was achieved by them, and the honour belongs to them. The same will be true when we achieve constitutional recognition.

Labor remain committed to all elements arising from the statement. A Shorten Labor government will establish a voice for First Nations people and seek the support of the Australian people for that voice to be enshrined in the Constitution. We support the voice. We support enshrining it in the Constitution, and it is our first priority for constitutional change. A voice would not be a third chamber of parliament; it would be a mechanism for First Nations people to have a greater say in policy issues that impact their lives. We have nothing to lose and much to gain from working with First Nations people to address the many complex issues that colonisation has thrust upon them. Labor have made it clear that we will work with the government but we will not wait for them. If bipartisanship cannot be reached, we will look to legislate a new body as a first step on the pathway to enshrining it in the Constitution. We will move quickly, following the election, to agree on a process with First Nations people, including a clear pathway to a referendum. We will also work with them in establishing a makarrata commission for agreement-making and truth-telling. This will be a genuine process of government and First Nations working together to achieve meaningful change.

I want to finish by echoing the words of my esteemed colleague Senator Pat Dodson:

"It will take the government of the day passing a law to make possible any constitutional change. Then it will take the opposition of the day and the parties of the crossbenches to support the question and the process for any referendum. Then it will take a majority of the voters nationally and in the majority of the states in favour of the question that has to be put to the nation. This is where we, as politicians and our parties, come in—"

In the interests of the parliament as a whole, I respectfully ask: once you've had the opportunity to examine our committee's report, do you and your party want to support a referendum to ensure a voice to the parliament for our First Nations peoples? If you do, as Senator Pat Dodson said, then let's work together. But let's be clear: we in Labor can't wait for you.