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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1303

Senator McLUCAS (Queensland) (12:45): I am pleased to speak on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition (Sunset Extension) Bill 2015 on behalf of the Labor Party. Labor is committed to pursuing substantive and meaningful change in the Constitution—change that unites the nation and reflects the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australia prides itself on being a place of fairness and equality. However, our nation's founding document is silent on the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is an historical wrong that must be made right.

To build the momentum needed for successful constitutional change, an act of recognition to acknowledge the unique and special place of our first peoples was passed with unanimous support through the parliament on 12 March 2013. This is another step in the journey towards constitutional recognition and a reconciled Australia. We have taken giant steps together—the 1967 referendum, the High Court's historic Mabo judgement, former Prime Minster Paul Keating's Redfern speech, the Close the Gap framework, and the Apology—but we have further to go. Bipartisanship is critical for any referendum proposal to succeed, and there needs to be a strong consensus on timing and content. The timing and the nature of the change must involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders as well as the wider community. This bill will maintain the momentum towards constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as we continue to work together on a proposal for a referendum.

While I have a moment here, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Lowitja Institute and RECOGNISE Australia for the work they have done to bring together 117 leading non-government organisations that work in the health sector to join up to a commitment to recognise health. It was launched here in Parliament House this morning by Pat Anderson AO, who is the chairperson of the Lowitja Institute, along with Tanya Hosch and Tim Gartrell from RECOGNISE. This commitment was born from a conversation between RECOGNISE and the Lowitja Institute a couple of years ago, I understand, and this launch today is just their first step towards ensuring that the health sector understands that they will be part of closing the gap and that constitutional recognition is also part of the architecture that we need to progress in order to close the gap. So, I do take this opportunity to commend the Lowitja Institute and RECOGNISE for this step forward, and the document and the statement that has been signed by 117 organisations to date, with more to come.

I also have to put on record that Archie Roach sang a very beautiful song, and I had to leave before he finished, because I had another meeting, and I am very disappointed that I did not get to the end of it. But thank you. I commend the bill to the House.