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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 814

Ms SAFFIN (PageGovernment Whip) (17:13): I rise to speak in strong support of this bill and it pleases me that it has come before the parliament. Having served on the expert panel, and now being a member of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Islander Peoples, I have been deeply involved in this issue for quite some time. The contribution I make tonight is a rather small one because of the continuing work that I will be involved in to advance constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This bill is a landmark piece of legislation. It may be that it is only for two years, and some people have asked me about that. They have said, 'Why couldn't it last permanently?' I have said that the bill is put here. It is an act of faith. It is an act of faith by this parliament to say that we will work together in a spirit of cooperation with the communities, and have full consultation across the community of Australia with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to advance the question of constitutional recognition. It is an act of faith, but it is a landmark in what it does for recognition.

It is one of our shorter bills. There are not too many short bills that get put through this place. They are usually longer and far more complex. But it is one of the shorter bills. It is one of our most easily read. It is also one that is easily understood, and it gives expression to that recognition.

One of the other issues that I wanted to talk about was everybody involved with the expert panel, my parliamentary colleagues the honourable member for Hasluck, the honourable member for Lyne and the honourable Senator Rachel Siewert from Western Australia. The four of us worked together in a very cooperative way to ensure that we were able to have input into the expert panel with all of the other members and say, 'We're putting forward the views of representatives of the parliament and also of the major parties, minor parties and Independents.' We were able to do that. The work that came out of the expert panel is a fine piece of work, and it gave the parliament, the government and the opposition something to work with. And it also, for the first time, presented and gave us a way forward with mechanisms for that recognition in the Constitution. It fleshed out all of the legal issues and other issues around it.

In working on the joint select committee on constitutional recognition, chaired by Senator Crossin, we approached our task, our work, in exactly that same way; in the spirit of cooperation and the spirit of working together to advance constitutional recognition. We have had a hearing, we have prepared a report and we have had our meetings and that spirit has prevailed, and that is the spirit that prevailed with the expert panel. The way forward relies on us working to come up with something that is absolutely satisfactory to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That is essential. That is fundamental. That is a first and something that the Australian people can vote yes for.

We, the expert panel, had a methodology. The methodology that we used had four planks to it. It was to contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation, to be of benefit to and to accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums, and to be technically and legally sound. The work the panel was able to do was across those four planks, including being technically and legally sound. We had the time to do that. I know that that sort of methodology, that approach, will be required to continue to make sure that we get to where we want to be, where I want to be and where I know a lot of people want to be at the end of this process.

As tempted as I am to crow about who did what first and who was better at it, I do not want to impart that into this debate. I do not think that is helpful. I just think that we need to put our heads down and get on with the task we have been set. It is one of the most significant tasks that members of parliament and this parliament have been set in terms of an advancement in the relationship among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and all Australians. With those words, I commend this bill to the House.