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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1408

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (13:00): I make it clear that I support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012, but I also think we should be going much further much more quickly. I believe our laws and our Constitution, the supreme law under which our government operates, should apply equally to all.

A century ago, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were excluded from shaping our Constitution. Indigenous Australians were not even considered citizens until 1967. We cannot go back and right the wrongs that have occurred since European settlement but we can make a change today. Our Constitution currently excludes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and as a result our nation has failed to acknowledge their role and the fact that they are the first peoples of this nation. It is a basic fact, but a brutal flaw. I find it hard to believe that anyone could think that we need to take more time before we decide to take action. It is time to move on from the politics of this issue and take it to the Australian people. My preference is that this matter should go to the Australian people at a referendum. I think there is enough understanding in the community and enough compassion for a change of this sort.

There is no question we have come some way. In 1988, the landmark Mabo case gave recognition to native title in Australia for the first time. In 1992, then Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered his historic Redfern address—and I note that Senator Singh made reference to that. Keating poignantly argued:

We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through 50,000 years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology to Indigenous Australians for the stolen generations—a significant, watershed moment. We have come some way, even in the last few years, but I think we ought to go further.

I understand there is a fear that if a referendum were held it would not succeed. My view is that with good will and bipartisanship such a referendum could succeed. Simply having a review at this time is not the brave course to take forward. We need to be brave; we need to take a step, to make a move, to hold a vote. I usually believe that when it comes to change you have to work on bringing people with you, but I think we have brought people with us over the years. We need to have a vote on constitutional recognition sooner rather than later. A review, whilst welcome, does not take the step we ought to be taking. I only hope that what this bill represents will be the beginning of change that is long overdue.