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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1953


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:50): With your indulgence, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I would like to hang a T-shirt over the front here, which I am sure other members participating in this debate may also like to do. It is the education campaign that is a part of trying to get constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is the You Me Unity campaign and people can go to the website to engage.

The Australian Constitution is more than 100 years old and has provided a durable framework for the governments of the nation. On the town green in my hometown, Port Macquarie, sits a bronze statue of Edmund Barton, who was the state member for the area at the time of the formation of the Commonwealth, and Australia's first Prime Minister. So I live in a community that recognises the place of the Australian Constitution and its importance to the development of Australia as a whole. However, I do think it is reflective of the time and the interests of the men who drafted it but, since the 1967 referendum, it still makes no reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whatsoever. It was drafted at a time when the legal status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was in question, so much so that some references suggest that the legal status of an Aboriginal person was no more than that of flora or fauna.

I would hope that we in Australia today can do better. We in Australia today have an opportunity to make some small changes to our Constitution and to do some unfinished business. This is not about three per cent of Australia's population making a claim on our crown document. This is about 100 per cent of Australia finding a path where we recognise our stories of the past, for good and for bad, and finding a way to form a partnership for the future. Our lead document should refer to our unique and oldest culture in the world. It should celebrate some of the extraordinary parts of that culture, whether that is Aboriginal languages, culture and heritage or whether that is, by inference, Dreaming, connection to land or connection to place. These are all part of the Australian story, not just the Aboriginal and Torres Islander story. So, again, I look for celebration through this process of You Me Unity trying to get a referendum question put to the Australian people and for a majority vote in support of the question put.

I was humbled to participate in the expert panel. The work was outstanding. The panel was co-chaired by Mark Leibler and Pat Dodson, both excellent men doing excellent work, and I thank them for the work they did. I thank all panel members for their considerations and reflections and for looking at the bigger picture when at times it would have been very easy to get lost in some of the personality clashes in a room of 22 people or in some of the conflicts over detail in what is a complex issue to try to resolve. Between May and October last year over 200 consultations were held throughout Australia in 80 locations. The panel received about 2,500 submissions. The consultation was extensive.

I take this opportunity to reaffirm to the House that this is not some elitist push; it is not some left-wing latte-drinking waste of time and money; it is a groundswell in Australia that wants this issue dealt with. Ordinary people want this issue dealt with. Communities in regional areas with quite large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations want this issue dealt with. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves want this issue dealt with. I hope we respect that and I hope we as public policy makers do what we can to put a referendum to the people and do what we can to get a majority yes vote. It matters.