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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2531

Mr TAYLOR (HumeMinister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity) (16:24): The Referendum Council's call to amend the Constitution to provide for a national Indigenous representative assembly to constitute a voice to parliament was not something the government could support. We note those opposite do support such a change, and they're free to make their case to the Australian people. After a very careful consideration, the government doesn't believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.

Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights—all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national parliament, the House of Representatives and the Senate. A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.

Today, we seek that a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples be established to inquire into and report on matters relating to constitutional change. We hope this parliamentary process will look for where there may still be common ground between the government and the opposition when it comes to constitutional recognition, and if that common ground accords with the rest of the Australian population. As the government has previously stated, we believe the challenge remains to find a constitutional amendment which will succeed and which does not undermine the universal principles of unity, equality and one person, one vote.

We've listened to the arguments put forward by proponents of the voice and both understand and recognise the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to have a greater say in their own affairs. We acknowledge the values and the aspirations which lie at the heart of the Uluru statement. People who ask for a voice feel voiceless or feel like they're not being heard. We remain committed to finding effective ways to develop stronger local voices and empowerment of local people. Our work on empowered communities is a good example of our commitment to a place based approach to empowerment. We think it's important to examine the methods by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are currently consulted and engaged on policies and legislation which affects them, and have asked the committee to consider if and how self-determination can be advanced in a way that leads to greater local decision-making, economic advancement and improved social outcomes.

I want to reiterate the government's firm commitment to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have cared for this country for 65,000 years. We support constitutional recognition that can unite our nation, and we remain committed to finding a way forward, despite being given a 'take it or leave it' ultimatum from the Referendum Council.

Question agreed to.