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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2216


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (10:47): I thank the member for Griffith for her outstanding contribution, as usual, and her demeanour, especially in this chamber, given—sometimes—the atmosphere in the place.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Lovingly peaceful, Warren!

Mr SNOWDON: Lovingly peaceful, as we all are! I just want to remind the House that this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 5) Bill, contains two schedules. Schedule 1 amends the Corporations Act 2001 to introduce a new regulatory regime for administrators of financial benchmarks, and schedule 2 amends the Productivity Commission Act to enable the appointment of an additional commissioner with Indigenous policy responsibility. Schedule 1 of the Treasury laws amendment bill contains three parts. I won't go through them, and I won't comment in detail on the bill. That's been done with a great deal of aplomb by the member for Griffith previously and by the shadow minister sitting at the table, the member for Fenner, who knows far more about these matters than I do, I have to say.

But I did want to just in passing make the comment, given that we're talking about Treasury here, that yesterday we saw in the Northern Territory an announcement by the Territory government that it was unveiling a response to a wide-ranging alcohol review commissioned by the former NT Supreme Court Chief Justice Trevor Riley. It announced very courageously, in my view, and very importantly that it would introduce a floor price on alcohol. It will be $1.30. It won't affect the price of beer, but it will make a great deal of difference to cheap wine and mean that wine costing less than a bottle of water will effectively no longer be available and certainly not available at $3 or $4 or $5; that bottle of wine will now be $9 or $10.

It's very important that we understand what motivated this. This is to deal with the problem drinking of alcohol by some residents of the Northern Territory, and it's in concert with the demands of the Public Health Association of Australia for us to address broadly, across this country, issues to do with alcohol consumption.

One of the issues often raised is the strength of the argument for the Commonwealth government to take action in this regard as well and introduce a volumetric tax on alcohol. I'm a great advocate for that. I know that I'm at odds with some in my own party but I think it's extremely important as a public health measure that this government—or the next Labor government if this government doesn't do it—has the guts, courage, strength and commitment to the Australian community to introduce a volumetric tax on alcohol. This is an issue that has been at the front of my mind for almost two decades. I have not stopped arguing for it, and I will not stop arguing for it until it is in place.

I want to commend the Northern Territory government. They often wear brickbats, but they deserve a giant bouquet for the measures they announced yesterday to deal with the abuse of alcohol in the Northern Territory. Last week and the week before, we saw tragic episodes around Tennant Creek publicised for the nation to see. I hope the nation understands that the measures announced yesterday by the Northern Territory government will have a significant impact upon the amount of alcohol consumed by those people identified in the press over recent weeks. I commend the Northern Territory government for its courage. In particular, I commend the Northern Territory minister responsible for this, Natasha Fyles, for the work that she has been doing.

I say to the government that we do have an opportunity in this place to address issues without interventions of the type we have seen previously in the Northern Territory but by considered and coherent policy development in partnership with the Northern Territory government. In this case, in the context of alcohol, with the broader Australian community in mind, we need to understand that public health experts in this country have for a long time been advocating a volumetric tax on alcohol. We should understand the importance of that argument. We hear the alcohol industry say it is 'death by a thousand cuts' and 'the end of the world'. The problem is that we have a huge public health problem in this country around alcohol consumption and we need to address it.

Over recent years, we have seen the emergence of arguments about FASD. If the broader Australian community doesn't appreciate the impact of alcohol abuse on the fetus and on the development of young children then it needs to. We need to ensure that all measures are properly taken to address alcohol education, the abuse of alcohol and the consumption of alcohol. In the context of FASD, we need to get pregnant women not to drink; that would be a great start, because that is how it happens.

Having dealt with the first aspect of the legislation, I will now go to the second aspect, which is the Productivity Commission. We support the inclusion of a productivity commissioner with expertise and a remit on policy matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but it raises an issue which is worth discussing. We have heard the Prime Minister lambasting the idea of an Indigenous voice in this parliament. He says he would not support under any circumstances the idea of an Indigenous voice being legislated, let alone being considered as part of constitutional reform. He wants to make it an issue at the forthcoming federal election, whenever that might be—this year or next year. You might ask: what dimwit would have that view, and why would he have it? Well, he has it because he sees it as a point of division, and the dog whistling that he's doing around it does him and his government no credit. Australians across this country deserve better than we're getting from this Prime Minister in relation to advancing the cause of discussion around the developments from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including proper consideration of a voice and what a voice might look like.

It's in that context that we're considering this legislation about the Productivity Commission. I want to make this observation. The Prime Minister's not here, but let's imagine he is. Prime Minister, do you recall ATSIC? The Prime Minister presumably will say, 'Yes, I recall ATSIC.' Do you recall that it was an elected body elected by only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? 'Yes, I do.' Do you recall that it was set up by legislation by this federal parliament? 'Yes, I do.' Did you see it as anathema then? 'No, I didn't.' So why is it anathema now? Absurd!

Let's just take the Prime Minister's mind a bit away from the dog whistling and talk about the potential for such a structure and what it may or may not look like. Again, you might say it could be a regional structure that might have regional representatives elected to a central body, which would elect the chair of something, whatever it's called—the ATSI Voice, for the purpose of this discussion. Why would you not give it functions like those that we're giving the Productivity Commission today? Why would you not? Would there be a difficulty with that? No. I would think not. You're setting up a body that would report to the parliament, and you give it powers. One of the powers you could give it would be the role you're giving the Productivity Commission today through this legislation. Why wouldn't you? Well, you should. You should contemplate it at least.

So, imagining the Prime Minister sitting opposite me, I say: Prime Minister, will you recant and understand the opportunity and the possibilities that present themselves from setting up a voice of that description, a body which is an advisory body to parliament and which may have some deliberative functions, legislated for by this parliament—a body whose purposes are decided by this parliament? Mr Deputy Speaker, I'm sure even you can contemplate that—no, I beg your pardon. I know you can contemplate that.

An honourable member: Reflecting on the Speaker!

Mr SNOWDON: I don't want to reflect badly upon you. But it appears that the Prime Minister is incapable of doing it. That is simply sad. It is sad. Why wouldn't you come to the party and say, 'Let's have a proper discussion around the community without the dog whistling and see what might emerge as a result of discussion, whether it's a body of the type I've described or something different'? Why wouldn't you do it?

We're setting up a joint parliamentary committee which has terms of reference which, I understand, include the possibility of the consideration of a voice. Imagining the Prime Minister sitting opposite me, I say: can you and have you put aside your inane description of a voice and your dog whistling, and will you consider in a temperate way the recommendations that might come from a joint parliamentary committee without prejudging the outcomes? I can imagine him sitting there thinking to himself: 'Oh, what do I do here? We're setting up a parliamentary committee which I've agreed to. I've already said that I don't want an outcome that says there'll be a voice, but the terms of reference for this joint parliamentary committee will have the voice in them. What am I to do?' Well, Prime Minister, get off your bloody high horse and accept the proposition that it's a valid thing to do to go and consult with the people of Australia around a voice and what a voice might look like, to come back and make recommendations to the parliament, and to endorse the recommendations made to the parliament by a properly constituted committee of the parliament. I think that should be something even this Prime Minister should be able to understand. I know that he referred to my friend Joel Fitzgibbon, the member for Hunter, as a bush lawyer. I'm not sure how to describe the Prime Minister. He's not even a bush lawyer, really, even though he's a QC. I suspect he thinks he's very good, but he's not that flash.

That brings me to the issue which is of importance to us here in the Labor Party around the way this legislation seeks to define an Indigenous person. We've heard the shadow minister give a very good speech in this regard, relaying why it's important that we deal with this question. We are very much of the view that we should not be using a race based definition. We are very much of the view that we should be using the administrative definition that has so long been used across this country, even by government agencies today. That is: an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin and who is accepted as such by the community with which that person associates. It's very simple. It should not be an issue. It should not be a question which is exercising the minds of the government. They should see the merits of what has been proposed by the Labor Party. They should agree to these propositions. They should understand that it's within their province to be able to amend the legislation. We will be proposing an amendment in the Senate. We will look forward to the government accepting that amendment and saying to the Australian people, 'We think we should be following the administrative definition and not a definition based on race.'