Statement - Responses to Questions

14 June 2023


In the debate this evening and over recent days on the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023, much has been said about the amendment before us, the nature of it and the detail within it. I don't intend to use my time this evening to go through that. What I want to say tonight to everyone in this chamber and beyond is that history is calling us now. History is calling us, and we have an opportunity to make it. We have an opportunity ahead to respond to a generous offer that came out of one of the most extensive consultations we have seen in this country—a generous offer to walk together towards a more united and reconciled future. We have an opportunity before us to be part of a story that will mark a step change in the way our country chooses to heal itself, and we need healing. If we're all honest with each other, we know we need healing.

The Voice won't always be easy to listen to. It will lead to some uncomfortable truths. That's the whole point here, because if the things we know we need to do to fix the challenges before us that we're all aware of after year after year of Closing the gap reports which have told us these truths—the work to fix those challenges—were easy, then it would have already been done, because I don't think there's been any shortage of goodwill in these chambers or in government. There's been no shortage of good intent or good people. But it hasn't been enough. We all know that. We all know that that goodwill, that intent and every investment that has been made haven't been enough. It's always easy to talk yourself out of acting and out of change. There are plenty of reasons we can all find in life to not do something, particularly something hard. Change takes courage, and we need to have some courage here because we know what the risks are, indeed what the consequences are, of not acting.

We know what inaction looks like. It looks like continuing to let Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children down in the worst possible ways. It looks like far too many Aboriginal people incarcerated, far more than the rest of the population. It looks like our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters dying almost a decade before the rest of the population. And it looks like everything else we read year after year in the Closing the Gap reports. We can no longer accept this. In good conscience, we cannot accept this.

I genuinely believe that in their hearts Australians want to move forward together towards a more united future, a more reconciled future, because we know that our past has darkness within it. But our future can be lit up with lights. We can do that if we choose to walk together on a different journey on a different path. We can do that if we open our hearts and minds, if we respond to the deeply generous call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart to Voice, to treaty and to truth. This bill starts us on that path. I commend this bill. I support Voice, treaty and truth, and I want to use this opportunity to encourage every Australian, as they come to a decision later this year on the referendum, to be guided by open hearts and open minds.

Together we can do better. We can do better to right the wrongs of a history past. We can do better to take a different path towards a more reconciled and unified future. But we cannot do that without a step change. There is a generous offer on the table to do different—open hearts, open minds, hand in hand—to light up a different and better future for this nation but only if there is change. I commend the bill.