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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1306


Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (12:59): I rise to oppose the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (Sunset Extension) Bill 2015. This bill seeks to reaffirm three statements in legislation. I oppose the bill because I believe these three statements should not be in legislation. The first statement is as follows:

The Parliament, on behalf of the people of Australia, recognises that the continent and the islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This is conjecture. Archaeologists make extraordinary discoveries all the time, and one of those discoveries could be that someone made it to Australia before the Aborigines. Statements like this belong in scholarly research not legislation. Ever since the Enlightenment we have accepted that questions of fact are resolved by evidence not by decree. You cannot legislate a fact. The second statement is as follows:

The Parliament, on behalf of the people of Australia, acknowledges the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters.

This is stereotyping. It is likely that some Aboriginal people do not have a relationship with traditional lands and waters. What is the parliament doing to these people when it asserts that Aboriginal peoples have such a relationship? It is denying their Aboriginality. The third statement is as follows:

The Parliament, on behalf of the people of Australia, acknowledges and respects the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This is divisive. It is likely that some Australians do not respect the cultures, languages or heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. What is the parliament doing to these people when it asserts that the people of Australia respect Aboriginal cultures? It is casting them as un-Australian.

This bill also seeks to reaffirm a commitment to a referendum on constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Along with the other reasons, I oppose the bill because I oppose such a referendum and I oppose such constitutional recognition. Each of us can feel that our ancestry is important and each of us can celebrate this ancestry in our own way. Some celebrate ancestors who were here millennia ago; some celebrate ancestors who were on the First Fleet; and some celebrate ancestors who came on a more recent leaky boat. But no-one's ancestry is more important than another person's.

The Liberal Democrats and our sister party in the New South Wales election, the Outdoor Recreation Party, have policies on many issues. But we have no policies specific to Australia's Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. That is as it should be. Every human being in Australia is a person, equal before the law. Giving legal recognition to characteristics held by certain persons—particularly when those characteristics are inherent, like ancestry—represents a perverse sort of racism. Although it appears positive, it still singles some people out on the basis of race. This bill offends on many levels. It should not be approved.