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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 359

Australian Constitution


Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (14:58): My question is again addressed to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister work with me to advance the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution in a way that's consistent with the principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart?


Mr MORRISON (CookPrime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (14:58): I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. He and I met yesterday and we have discussed on earlier occasions, since the last election, this matter, and there is definitely a spirit of cooperation which we are seeking to establish when it comes to advancing these issues. We had the historic recognition at the opening of this parliament, not only of the fact that the first cabinet minister was an Indigenous Australian but, indeed, that the first Minister for Indigenous Australians was an Indigenous person and the unique opportunity that is presented by the fact that the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians is also an Indigenous Australian. This gives us a great opportunity and we shouldn't limit our options in how we continue to progress this. The government, before the election, had endorsed and adopted the recommendations of the bipartisan joint select committee on constitutional recognition, and we are going to continue to implement the outcomes of that report and the recommendations it provided. We have agreed to work together with the opposition to that end, but all parties—all members of this parliament in this and the other place—I would say, are seeking a non-partisan, an a-partisan, perspective on this, not just a bipartisan one. We welcome everyone to the table in seeking to advance this agenda. We've allocated $7.3 million for a co-design process to improve local and regional decision-making and develop options for constitutional recognition. We've set aside $160 million in the contingency reserve for a future referendum once a model has been determined, so we are serious about progressing this matter.

The ultimate models and the ultimate options that are considered by the government will be a process of this ongoing consultation and the work done by the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the shadow minister. They will do that work independently and they'll do it together. The Leader of the Opposition and I will follow that same pursuit. But I will also say that, as important as this issue is, the priority for my government, right now, is addressing the terrible curse of Indigenous suicide in remote and Indigenous communities. This is heartbreaking. The rates of Indigenous suicide in remote and regional communities is just unthinkable, but it is real. The program we have announced to address that and funding that we have provided in the budget, I know, are supported by the opposition. I also thank the former Leader of the Opposition for his support on these initiatives. We will continue to work each and every day towards zero. That must be our goal. The fact that young Indigenous Australians see taking their life as the way forward is heartbreaking for every member of this chamber. There are the challenges of Indigenous education, there are the challenges of Indigenous health and there are the challenges of Indigenous employment. These will always be front and centre in my government—our government—and, I believe, our parliament.

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition on indulgence.