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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1956

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (20:00): I would like to thank the honourable member for Lyne for putting this motion before the parliament so we can speak to it. I am very familiar with the content of the motion because it is the recommendations from the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians. I served on that panel with the honourable member for Lyne, the honourable member for Hasluck and Senator the Hon. Rachel Siewert, from Western Australia. I would like to read some of the things I said about it in a statement I made at home, in my local community. I was asked, 'What does all this mean and where do we go to now?' I would also like to talk briefly about the grassroots campaign that is starting with Reconciliation Australia.

In December 2010 I received a telephone call from Minister Jenny Macklin asking me on behalf of the Prime Minister whether I would serve on the expert panel. I said yes, feeling excited to be given an historic opportunity to be part of a process that could be of both symbolic and practical significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and all Australians and that could also contribute to reconciliation and healing. As a long-term member of the Australian Labor Party, the apology and constitutional recognition are two of the policy positions that we have debated, discussed, come to and promoted for a long time, so I felt quite privileged and quite pleased. Constitutional recognition had the support of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Independents, the Greens and everyone else in the parliament at the time, so we started from a good base, particularly with the two major parties supporting it. That was a really good basis to go into the expert panel with. Of course the debate was always going to be, and always will be, around what form that takes, which is as it should be.

There were 22 members across a spectrum on that panel. I said earlier today in another debate in this place that it was challenging. It was wonderful and it was challenging to be part of a group of such strong minded people, all with views, who have all made a great contribution to Australian life. Some of them are known and some are not so known. The co-chairs, Mark Leiber and Patrick Dodson, did a wonderful job keeping us focused on recommendations which were meaningful and which would gel with Australians but never losing sight of what we had to do, which was give meaningful recognition in the Constitution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The four principles that we adopted were that whatever we came up with had to be legally and technically sound; had to be of benefit to and in accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; had to be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums; and had to contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation.

It was no easy task to sit around and come up with something that was meaningful. There were 200 public consultations across 84 communities. Two were held in Grafton and Lismore. The honourable member for Lyne and I conducted the one in Lismore. Like anything, we started off at the time saying we wanted Rolls-Royce, which is normal, whatever it may be. But people would say, 'Look, we do want this recognition and we don't want this to fail. We want this to get through. So we want you in the parliament and you the parties to do something that actually gets through. We want this. This is the time to do it.' That was agreed by everybody in all of the consultations that we had. To achieve this, there was absolute agreement all across Australia to remove section 25. Most people do not know it, but when they do get to know it of course they say that this is something that just has to go.

I would like to commend, You Me Unity—yes, I have the t-shirts, yes I have the badges, yes I have all of those things for the great— (Time expired)