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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2530


Ms BURNEY (Barton) (16:18): I welcome this motion. This committee will provide us with an opportunity to come together in a spirit of bipartisanship and with the goodwill to constructively realise the aspirations of first nations peoples outlined in the Uluru statement. It is clear that the first nations people want a greater say, involvement and participation in the decisions that affect them. I particularly welcome the terms of reference and recognise that the committee will be established with co-chairs—one from the government and one from the opposition. We on this side of the House anticipate that Senator Dodson will be one of the co-chairs.

The establishment of this joint select committee is very important for this parliament. It recognises that there will be consideration of the outcomes of the Referendum Council and the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It also recognises that we will be looking at things like the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous Australians.

It is important that the work of this committee has legitimacy in the Aboriginal community. Let me tell you: the expectations are very high. There is great scepticism in the community about the way in which the issues of the Uluru statement have been handled, but this committee, among other things, will be able to examine that in the way in which it needs to be examined. This committee will be made up in the way in which these committees are constructed—members of the government, members of the opposition and two members of the crossbenches. The terms of reference will engage key stakeholders, both first nations peoples and other organisations, plus individuals. That's a very important place for this to be. The committee will advise this parliament on possible steps towards referendum and the chances of success. It will also have strict reporting dates, which will become evident as the work of the committee goes on. The committee will travel to communities, as well as engage, as I said, with key stakeholders from both the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal community.

Can I also say that the most important thing about this is that the outcomes of this committee must have broad community support. That support will be gained by the committee conducting itself in the appropriate manner, by making sure that we reflect honestly and clearly the aspirations of first nations people and, of course, the aspirations of the broader community when it comes to this particularly important topic. The issue of constitutional recognition is something that has been the aspiration of first peoples for a very long time. But I say clearly that it is also important not just for first peoples—it's important for the broader community as well. It's important for us as a nation to realise the truth of this country's history and also, as I said, to realise the aspirations of first nations people.

The committee will be beginning its work very quickly, and we anticipate that a similar motion to this will be moved in the other place as soon as is practical. Once that happens, we would be anticipating that the co-chairs of this committee would meet and work through the body of work that needs to be undertaken. I do not underestimate the amount of work that this committee will have to undertake, and I do not underestimate the complexity of this task. But the complexity of this task is something that we as members of parliament will take on board. As I say, the outcomes have to be extremely legitimate within the Aboriginal community.

This committee will also have the power to appoint subcommittees and make sure that those subcommittees are appointed in the way in which the terms of reference anticipate. Can I also say that the committee will have the power to call witnesses to attend and for documents to be produced, to conduct proceedings at any place it sees fit, to sit in public and in private and to report from time to time in order to progress constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The committee is a joint committee, which is incredibly important, which means that all of us in this place will have a say in relation to how it operates, where it will operate, what it will examine and what its outcomes will be.