Second Reading (Part One) - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012

Monday, 25 February 2013

(18:43): I acknowledge the words of many of the previous speakers in the debate on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 in this chamber. In many cases, they have made compelling and salient points about the importance of this piece of legislation. I want to say from the outset from a personal perspective that I very strongly support the bill and support the constitutional recognition for our first peoples that this bill will, with the passage of time and much more debate in this nation, hopefully bring about. I am confident that with cross-parliamentary agreement and with cross-political support, we can realise this objective to give our first peoples recognition that they absolutely deserve.

Just briefly, the coalition has a long and proud history of advocating for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians.

With other senators from this chamber who have both spoken in this debate—Senator Siewert and Senator Thistlethwaite—I attended a recent Recognise event here in Canberra just two weeks ago, held in conjunction with GHD and Carey engineering, at which these issues were much discussed. I want to commend the work of Recognise—the organisation that was formerly known as You Me Unity. The work they are doing now and the work they will do for some years into the future in relation to the question of constitutional recognition is very important. It is important that it is community based, it is important that it is community networked and it is important that it is recognised as such.

Recognise itself is part of Reconciliation Australia. As was recommended by the expert panel report, it was given the very fundamental task of raising awareness amongst community members and building community support for the constitutional recognition of Australia's first peoples. To date they have worked extremely diligently to promote the cause to Australians. Their activities include but are by no means limited to recruiting over 125,000 Australians who are supporting this recognition, holding street stalls in every major capital city, spreading the message to thousands of Australians in that way, and funding over 100 community groups to run public awareness campaigns of their own. They have generated media coverage across print, radio, television and online platforms, and they have developed a schools kit that was distributed to every high school in the country.

I think the work of Recognise matches well with the longstanding commitment of the coalition to bring this issue to a referendum and to gain the necessary support to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Constitution. As other speakers have indicated and as the shadow Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, did in his contribution to the second reading debate earlier today, it was the coalition government that was responsible for the historic 1967 referendum, with a result of just over 90 per cent in that case. That was a watershed achievement in this country. It received support from all sectors of the community and political parties of all colours. As I mentioned at the Recognise event the other week, who could forget the black and white photographic images of young campaigners like Shirley Peisley pinning their 'vote yes for Aborigines' badge onto the suit jacket of Senator Reg Bishop on that referendum day? I suspect there will be many more similar photographs—but in colour—across social media of all forms and in traditional forms of media to mark the progress of this bill and ultimately a referendum as well.

They have a huge impact. To actually meet Shirley Peisley, as we did on that occasion at AIATSIS recently, and to compare her smiling face with that seen in the photograph from 1967, and to think that she and members of her generation are in a position of still waiting for this next step, is actually quite confronting—for me personally, at least. As I think Senator Stephens alluded to, when you discuss it with young Australians—and, as desperate as I might be to include myself in that group, I am not completely delusional!—and they say, 'How is it possible that we are at this point and this next step has not been taken?' and then to be able to see that photograph from 1967, to meet Shirley Peisley today and to know that with the will of an Australian community united together on this issue she will be able to see that next step is a particularly important thought that I hold as we continue these discussions.

As I said, on that day just over 90 per cent of Australian citizens voted yes in the referendum. I want to see that extraordinarily positive result repeated, preferably exceeded. But we must work together to get this particular process right, to get the question right and to ensure that, above everything else that we put before us, we ensure that it is indeed a unifying moment for the nation. This is not something with which to take political risks. It is not something with which to play political games. It is in fact a very serious engagement by the Australian people as the referendum process, which is outlined in part in this bill, continues.

The current proposal for Aboriginal reconciliation came initially from the coalition, who first raised it in 1999, when the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, penned and advanced the preamble, which was considered at the 1999 referendum.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Mark Bishop ): Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.

Senator PAYNE: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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