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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2220


Ms BURNEY (Barton) (11:01): I rise to join with my colleagues in making comments about the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 5) Bill 2017 and ASIC Supervisory Cost Recovery Levy Amendment Bill 2017. I completely endorse the comment made by the shadow minister and by my colleagues who have spoken in the debate so far. I've listened carefully to what they have had to say and I completely endorse their comments. In particular, I have just listened at length to the member for Lingiari and his comments around the actions of the Prime Minister and the importance of a first nation voice in this parliament and the reasons why it should happen. I completely endorse what he has said.

The shadow minister has outlined clearly what Labor's position is on this piece of legislation. As we have said, we will support this bill in the House but reserve our right to put forward amendments in the other place. We do not have any issue with schedule 1 of the Treasury laws amendment bill. I think that that has been outlined clearly. But, as Labor speakers have clearly outlined, our issue is with schedule 2 of the bill. Schedule 2 goes to some extremely important, straightforward issues that I thought had been resolved. For some reason I understand that the Prime Minister's office has decided to take issue with what has been, as the member for Lingiari said, the administrative definition of Aboriginality that has existed since the 1980s within the Commonwealth, in state instrumentalities, in Aboriginal organisations and also in many instrumentalities, including universities, across this country. I know this because I have been involved in these discussions, particularly with land councils in New South Wales that have the responsibility of providing certificates of Aboriginality. I can assure the advisers in the box and I can assure the government that those certificates of Aboriginality, which are often required by government, are based on the administrative definition—that is, the three-part definition that my colleagues have spoken about. That three-part definition is: (a) that you are of Aboriginal descent; (b) that you identify as an Aboriginal person—in a sense, self-identification; and (c) most importantly—and what's been left out of this, incredibly, and, I understand, accepted by the Treasurer's office and not by the Prime Minister's office—that you're accepted as an Indigenous person by the Aboriginal community. In a moment, I will explain why that third part is so important.

By way of background, schedule 2 provides for the appointment to the Productivity Commission of a commissioner who possesses extensive skills and experience in assessing policies and programs that have a particular impact on first nations people. This proposed commissioner would review the decisions and actions of government, non-government and private sector policies and programs. So it is an incredibly important position. It not only will review and evaluate initiatives or measures that specifically target first nations Australians but also would assess those which, while not necessarily designed to affect first nations Australians, affect first nations Australians nevertheless.

We should be asking what is working and what isn't. Moreover, this proposed commissioner would have experience in dealing with one or more communities of first nations peoples. The schedule will increase the maximum number of commissioners, not including the commission chair, from 11 to 12. That's all by way of background, but let me go to the heart of why the definition that's being used is race based, which is one of the arguments why there should be changes to the Australian Constitution—which, in this day and age, has race based definitions in it. But I will leave that aside for a discussion for another day.

Labor does support the inclusion of a productivity commissioner with the expertise and role that I have already outlined. As the explanatory memorandum to this bill and this schedule acknowledges, there is a clear and established need for greater evaluation of the impact that policies, programs and initiatives have on first nations people. I have served in other parliaments, I have been the director-general of a government agency and I've run non-government organisations. I have followed very intimately the reports of the Productivity Commission and I understand very clearly the impacts those reports have in terms of describing what the situation is for first nations people and others, but also, of course, the way in which those issues are used for governments to set agendas, to set targets and set policies. So we understand the importance of that position, and I'm sure the member for Fenner would agree with me.

Dr Leigh: Yes.

Ms BURNEY: But the remarkably stupid thing—if I can pick up on the comments from other speakers—is that the definition being used is a race based definition. Schedule 2 defines an Indigenous person as a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia or a descendant of an Indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands. This is so far removed from the accepted definition that has been around, as I said, from the 1980s and which is used by universities, government agencies, the Commonwealth, the Aboriginal community and, in particular, land councils to provide certificates of Aboriginality. So there is quite a serious edge to this, and I want to make sure that people understand.

Another problem that we have with this definition is its preoccupation with race and descent. Labor notes that the most widely accepted definition is about descent, identification and acceptance. This is also internationally accepted. I have participated, as other members have as well, in forums within the United Nations specifically to do with first nations people, and this is the definition that is used. That makes this one of the most ridiculous arguments I think I've heard in this place. There should be no issue at all with the government accepting its own definition. Why it's digging its heels in about this suggests to me nothing other than wedge politics and a waste of people's time. Maybe there is nothing else the government has time to spend time on. Oh, that's right—drug testing! We'll talk about that down the track.

The definition defines an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander as a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as being from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin and who is accepted by the community. The member for Jagajaga's in the chamber. If there's anyone in this place, along with the member for Lingiari, who understands the importance of this, it's the member for Jagajaga. One of the things that very much engage the discussion is people who claim Aboriginality but are not accepted by the community and, in fact, in some cases, are not Aboriginal people. That is why that third part of this definition is so important—that the person is recognised by the community as someone of first nations descent.

We're not trying to make problems here. We're trying to fix up a potential problem that the government is making for itself that it actually doesn't have to have. There's absolutely no controversy about this. I think the wise thing for the government to do would be to take a breath and, particularly for the men and women sitting in the advisers' box, to listen to what we're saying. I don't want to have a fight about this. It shouldn't be a fight. It is the accepted definition. So just go back and fix it up—it's really easy—and you'll have no problem from the Labor Party in relation to that.

The focus on and preoccupation with race and biology is particularly backwards, and I think other people have outlined that. The old view of how we thought about multiculturalism and social inclusion is reflected in this race based definition. It is not reflected in what everyone in this chamber who has an interest in this believes. If I said to most people in this chamber, 'Tell me what the definition of Aboriginality is,' they would tell me the three-part definition. They wouldn't tell me the two parts that are part of this legislation.

The race powers featured in sections 51(xxvi) and 25 of the Constitution are reflected here, and the so-called race powers are underpinned by strong racial connotations. That is another consideration that I would like people to think about. This is taking us backwards 40 years, and there is just absolutely no need for it. I really urge the government to reconsider its definition and to consider what the conventional definition is when we proceed with our detailed amendments to the Senate. I cannot see what the problem with that is. There would be no fallout at all if the government has a look at that and redefines what it's actually putting forward.

Other members have talked about the Indigenous space, the first nations space, that we seem to be moving into policy-wise in relation to the Commonwealth. I hear other members reiterating in this debate the principles of self-determination and the principles of first nations people choosing for ourselves and also, in relation to working with this parliament, having a voice to the parliament. The idea of bipartisanship and trying to preserve that notion of bipartisanship is being sorely tested by the government, and that is a dangerous space for us to be getting into in 2018. It is not something I have ever contemplated in the 40 years that I have been involved in Aboriginal affairs—that there would not be a bipartisan approach to looking at the issues facing the most disadvantaged group of people within our community. Aboriginal people are saying: 'Come walk with us. We want to share what is an amazing story, and it is everyone's inheritance of 60,000 years. It is something we should be celebrating.' If we don't have bipartisanship, if we don't have an agreed way forward, then they are the things that are at stake.

The losers will not be people in this chamber. The losers will be people out in the broader community, and, more specifically, in the Indigenous community. So, in light of schedule 2, we ask the government to take the step towards giving bipartisan support to the voice in the parliament, but also bipartisan support to what is the conventional, administrative and accepted definition of Aboriginality. It just seems remarkable to me that we're even having this particular discussion.

I will finish up by saying to the government that we welcome, in principle, the purpose and function of schedule 2, but the way it is drafted now is not acceptable. We are simply saying: let's be sensible about it and redraft it. I finish up by saying, once again, that Labor is committed to bipartisanship, but it has to be a two-way process and it is not a race to the bottom.