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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1124

Ms MACKLIN (JagajagaMinister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform) (09:48): It is an honour to be commending the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 to the House today. I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate, particularly the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Five years ago we all wept together and we began to heal together. In the years since that momentous apology we have been able to begin a new conversation to progress the work that still needs to be done towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Constitution. We appointed an expert panel made up of respected and accomplished individuals, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and community leaders. They travelled the country and gathered views and advice and, for the first time, we now have meaningful proposals for change.

I would like to thank again the expert panel for their hard work and dedication to constitutional recognition. Many of them are here with us today. Today this House takes up that work, with an act of recognition acknowledging the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of our nation. With support across the parliament for this act of recognition, we continue to build the momentum we need for successful constitutional change. We do not intend the act to be a substitute for constitutional reform. To maintain momentum towards a successful referendum, a sunset provision in the bill limits the effect of the act to two years. We expect this will also provide an impetus for a future parliament to assess how the campaign for change is travelling and the appropriate timing for a successful referendum. The bill also provides for a review to consider and advise a future parliament on proposals to submit to a referendum, taking into account the valuable work that has been done by the expert panel.

We know that legislation is not the appropriate forum to make all the changes we want to see. These changes must ultimately be in our nation's foundation document. On this important day, I make it clear that this government is committed to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution. We believe the Constitution should recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their unique history, culture and connection to the land; reflect our country's fundamental belief in the importance of equality by removing all references to race; and acknowledge that additional effort is needed to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in this country. We are determined to continue working to achieve this change, to build stronger relationships with Indigenous people based on mutual respect.

As well as a reconciled future where all Australians are equal partners, with equal opportunities in shaping the future of our country, we know that the momentum for a successful referendum will build not only from those of us here in the parliament but also from our wider community—in conversations in workplaces and around kitchen tables. This morning I was very pleased to join the Prime Minister to meet with the young campaigners who are out there already spreading the word about recognition to spark those conversations that we all need to have. The Australian Constitution is the foundation document for our laws and our government, but it is silent on the special place of our First Australians. Today those of us here play our part in recognising this special place. I commend this bill to the House.

The SPEAKER: I thank the minister, and I welcome to the gallery today Indigenous leaders and elders and others involved in this process and thank them for enhancing the debate on the floor. Often we speak in this place and no-one is listening, so it is wonderful that we have had an audience to such a momentous occasion.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.