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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1957

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (20:05): As a member of the federal parliamentary National Party, I want to put on record that the Nationals hold the strong belief that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be held in high respect by the community for the special and unique contribution that they have made to the nation, not only in its ancient history but in its current identity and its future prosperity.

The Nationals believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, like all Australian citizens, are entitled to self-determination to pursue economic prosperity and social cohesion free from constraints and without prejudice. In that vein, we believe that the Australian Constitution should make reference to Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we encourage the government, the parliament and all political parties, for that matter, to foster public discussion on changing the preamble to reflect the importance of the place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people actually hold in this nation.

But at the same time we recognise there is a need for a shift in policy direction; a shift from the old government-knows-best approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being able to take responsibility for themselves and their families. When I talk to people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent in the Mackay region and right throughout the Dawson electorate, they say to me that this is what they mean by self-determination. So while I strongly support the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in our Constitution and strongly support the repeal of any sections based on race or race powers—section 25, section 51 and subsection 25—I do not support their replacement with another clause that will simply perpetuate discrimination.

What they should be replaced with is a clause banning the federal government from actually making laws based on race. There have been many success stories in improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when they were able to gain access to the same services as many others in our society. We see our nation's first people establishing long-term employment and conducting happy family lives without the need for anything further from government when we can get them into the mainstream. I believe we have to ensure that mainstream government services are delivered in an culturally appropriate manner according to the clientele, of course. But we should begin that move to providing services in a mainstream delivery fashion rather than by the multiple specifically Indigenous assistance programs which are out there.

This will not be the outcome if we have a clause placed in the Constitution which allows governments to continue with discrimination, whether it is positive or otherwise, toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Keeping these separate systems in place is really just creating a silo for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues instead of addressing the needs of them with all other Australians, and ensuring that when government policy is directed at improving the lives of all Australians that that includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This view is partially shared—not fully I have to say—by Noel Pearson, who does say that if that section of the Constitution is to be removed and an antiracial discrimination clause is not included, then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will go backwards. Another respected Aboriginal Australian, Warren Mundine, goes further in his opposition to proposals to make laws for the advancement of Aboriginal people. He fears that that would lead to protection for predatory traditional customs such as child brides. He calls it a Pandora's box.

Before this got to this parliament, people were talking about it in the Samuel Griffith Society which I was associated with in the past. Lawyer and former Dean of the Melbourne Law School, Colin Howard, put that these sections of the Constitution should be pulled. He said that it is high time that laws based on race be recognised for the irrational nonsense that they are. In saying that while there is a lot of good, he pointed out that race as a basis for making rational law is self-contradictory, because there is only one race and that is the human race. I agree with Dr Howard that we need to erase racism and discrimination from our Constitution even if it is reverse racism. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.