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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 3177


Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (19:36): I am pleased to rise on this amendment to the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 5) Bill 2017, which puts in place an Indigenous Productivity Commissioner, announced more than a year ago. The post, alas, is yet to be filled. The concern Labor raised was that for decades Indigenous Australians have been identified for administrative purposes using a three-part modern definition covering descent, self-identification and community recognition, but this bill maintained the use of an old-fashioned, outdated, race based definition. When we raised this with the Treasurer's office, they indicated they were amenable to using a modern definition of Indigeneity. By contrast, Senator Scullion accused us of 'disgraceful politicking'. There's nothing disgraceful about updating a definition of Indigenous Australians to reflect the modern way in which Indigenous Australians are referred to for administrative purposes. As Senator Dodson put it:

These changes in terminology are not minor … They are part of our nation maturing and moving towards a more enlightened approach to how we deal with people from different cultures. Race is no longer accepted as a meaningful category to define our human species.

Senator Dodson went on to say in the other place:

On the longer term question of how Indigenous peoples want to be defined and how they want to be known—this is a matter that we should be consulting First Nations peoples about, rather than retaining the colonial process of attributing definitions to First Nations peoples that go way back to the old 'stud book', as it was called, or the various other ways in which derogatory language was used in relation to First Nations people.

Members of the House will be aware the studbook was used in the 1930s to 1950s by the so-called 'Keeper of Aborigines' to measure Indigeneity by things such as blood content. Senator Dodson continued:

… there is a need for us as a parliament to come to terms with this and to engage with First Nations peoples on how they wish to be identified. Secondly, we have to remove the concept of race. It's a big exercise—I understand that—and a huge legacy, but, as a mature nation that seeks to uphold international standards, we ought to be moving further towards a recognition of the common nature of our humanity, rather than distinguishing people on the basis of race.

I'm pleased to say the government has seen reason on this and agreed to omit the old-fashioned definition of race. This could have been done many weeks ago, but we are pleased the government has finally seen sense and updated the bill so that it doesn't use that outdated definition.

In this place we often do our work supported by staff who go unseen, but in this particular instance I do want to acknowledge a member of staff in my office, Nick Green. He is one of many thoughtful and talented advisers on both sides of politics in the building, but I'm not aware of another staffer who is more engaged, more creative and more idealistic than Nick Green. He is detail focused and he is hardworking. I am grateful for his very careful and principled work on this important matter. As we as a nation continue to mature in our approach to our First Nations people, it is important that we get this right. I put on record in this place how grateful I am to Nick Green, who while dealing with this has also been dealing with about 50 other taxation matters, using his enormous brain in order to work through many of those issues, engaging with stakeholders as he does.

I have also very much appreciated the work of Senator Dodson and his staff. We've finally arrived at the right place on this bill, omitting the old-fashioned definition. We hope on this side of the House that it is possible in future to go one step further and begin incorporating into future pieces of legislation of this kind the three-part definition used in administrative practice. I commend this amendment championed by Labor to the House.

Question agreed to.