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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1307


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (13:03): The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act 2013, or the act of recognition, will sunset on 28 March 2015. The parliament is working towards a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution. The sunset extension will ensure that we have the time needed to get it right. Allowing the act to lapse would be a step backwards on the path to recognition of our first peoples and would distract us from the ultimate goal of a constitutional change. This extension will ensure that parliament's recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continues up until that time. The extension is in line with the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act of Recognition Review Panel's final report, tabled on 19 September 2014. The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples also recommended an extension to the sunset date, in its progress report of October 2014.

I am actually quite proud to commend the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition (Sunset Extension) Bill 2015 to the Senate today. I thank the senators for their contribution to the debate. I would like to particularly acknowledge Senator Siewert's contribution. You have the benefit of wisdom I do not have, in the sense that you are on the committee. I thank you for updating us about your particular views, and I am sure they are, in some ways, a reflection of that committee.

Senator Leyonhjelm, your contribution was, I guess, in some ways, no surprise to me. I mean no offence, but you have a very clinical view to legislation, and I respect that. But I would say to you, Senator Leyonhjelm, that, for those people who have no doubt listened carefully to your contribution, I think in finding a balance one of the things to do is to listen carefully to some of the issues Senator Siewert has uttered. I think it is a reflection of much of the evidence—which I know you are very interested in—of the connection between the health of a demographic of Australians and how these people feel connected to the community. Their mental health can have very deleterious consequences on their lives. In fact, these people often end their lives—factually, based on evidence—far earlier than those who are not in that particular demographic. The evidence shows the connection between the mental health of those people and the number of these people who take their own lives. This is peer assessed evidence and is not conjecture. So if we can, in a minimalist sense, amend our Constitution in a way that assists young boys becoming men and young girls becoming women, I think that is something we should support.

I am very glad that we have worked together in a multipartisan spirit to extend the sunset date of this important legislation as we move closer to a referendum on Indigenous recognition. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.