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Wednesday, 24 May 2023
Page: 3586

Mr JOSH WILSON (Fremantle) (18:09): It's a privilege to be able to speak in support of this Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 bill, on the lands of Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, having come to this place representing Fremantle or Waylyup, the lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation.

To exist and thrive as a healthy democracy and go forward as a unified and resilient nation, Australia must have the capacity to make positive change. Every one of us in our personal and family lives will know the importance of learning from one's mistakes, of seeking to do better over time and of changing how we do things in order to respond to changing circumstances. Nations have the same challenge and they have the same opportunity.

Australia is not the country we were at Federation, let alone in the tens of thousands of years before that. We've adapted and matured. We've faced up to shortcomings and blind spots. We've tackled crises. And sometimes we've put up more sail if the wind's been at our back. In all of those circumstances, we've had the courage to change, drawing on the strength of our democratic processes and on the strength of our character.

In the 20th century we established the building blocks of fairness in things like Medicare, the social safety net and superannuation. We opened and transformed our economy. The top five export earners out of Australia today are completely different from the top five in the middle of last century. We became one of the most successful and multicultural nations on earth.

Now, in the 21st century, we're taking on the energy transformation required to reach net zero emissions by 2050 as we achieve our potential of becoming a renewable energy superpower. We're making important reforms at both ends of the life cycle, in early childhood education and aged care, and we have the opportunity to cross a landmark bridge on the path to reconciliation with First Nations Australians, on the path to deeper engagement with our oldest and most precious cultural heritage, on the path to voice, treaty and truth.

Every one of us knows someone who, for whatever reason, isn't able to take stock, change tack, and they get stuck in a rut or can't admit when they're wrong and aren't capable of self-reflection and change. Instead, they find more and more bizarre reasons to keep taking the same old ineffective approach to life. Australia cannot allow itself to get bogged down like that. We can't find ourselves in the position of being unable to learn, reflect and change, of being unable to become the better version of ourselves in order to pursue our best future. That is called the getting of wisdom. It's called evolution and renewal. It's called national maturity—and, as we seek always to be more inclusive and kinder to one another, it's called generosity of spirit.

Countries that lose that capacity will inevitably stagnate. They will fail to adapt to changing circumstances. They will fall prey to disunity and cynicism, circling down into the smallest of ambition and hollowness of national spirit. So we must as a community have the ability to resolve upon sensible well-founded and forward-looking change. That's what this bill is about. It will enable a referendum to be held, in the second half of 2023, that seeks to produce a change that is eminently sensible and a long time coming.

This bill is the second-last step on the road to fixing a serious glitch in the fabric of our constitutional democracy and to creating an effective means of hearing from First Nations Australians. Nothing is more dishonest than to suggest that the journey to this point has been rushed or that the proposition lacks details or that our purpose and objective is anything other than unifying. Indeed, we've reached this point through the most careful and thorough process in Australia's constitutional history.

The relatively recent way stations on this road include not just the Expert Panel on Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution back in 2012 but also the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition, relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in 2013, the Kirribilli statement in 2015, the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017—a process created and endorsed by the former coalition government—the Referendum Council in 2017, the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in 2018 and the Indigenous Voice co-design process from 2019 to 2021.

As Aunty Pat Anderson said of the Uluru dialogue process, in her testament to the joint select committee:

This process is unprecedented in our nation's history. It is the first time the constitutional convention has been convened with and for first peoples. The dialogues engaged 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates, an average of 100 delegates from each dialogue, out of a population of approximately 600,000 people nationally. This is the most proportionately significant consultation process that has ever been undertaken with first peoples.

God only knows why the coalition government, which created that process and committed to delivering its outcomes, then turned its back. This last weekend, at a community event on Whadjuk Noongar country in the Beeliar Wetlands in my electorate, Thomas Mayo, who was a participant and a signatory to that Uluru Statement from the Heart said, 'We didn't do all that hard work to reach that wonderful consensus to then go and take no for an answer.

There are two possible Sundays ahead of us—two starkly different or alternative Sundays in the coming spring following the Saturday referendum that this bill enables. On one of those Sundays, we wake up around Australia as citizens of a nation that has chosen to walk forward together, that has chosen to fill an aching gap in our history and our national identity and that has chosen to apply the gift of our democratic process to evolve and make positive change through reconciliation. On that Sunday, we will have achieved something at the same time simple and profound. First Nations Australians will finally be recognised in our Constitution, and First Nations Australians will have a guaranteed means of providing input and advice into matters that affect them. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be recognised and they will be heard. It is as simple as that, and yet, of course, it goes deep.

That Sunday in the spring is not far away from us now, but there is another possible Sunday: a Sunday of bewilderment and heartbreak; a Sunday in which we wake up as part of a nation that has somehow chosen to leave a great historical justice unremedied and a great historical opportunity ungrasped; a Sunday of disappointment, of disunity, of pain and, inevitably, of recriminations; a Sunday on which those who are most let down will likely experience that hurt, for the most part, in shock and silence, while the noise and even the blame, as ridiculous as that would be, will come from those who have practised cynicism and negativity.

We shouldn't accept that version of reality, and I cannot believe that Sunday will occur, because I cannot believe that Australia has lost the courage to take responsibility for things we've got wrong in the past or that we've lost confidence in our ability to make things fairer and better in the future. I can't believe that bleak Sunday will occur, because I'm convinced that the Australian community as a whole, while containing a diversity of views, will nevertheless resolve together to walk forward together. So I have faith in the bright version of that Sunday in spring, but I know that Sunday only occurs if a majority of Australians and a majority of states vote yes on the Saturday beforehand, and no-one takes that for granted. It is the outcome that we will be privileged to help make real. We have a responsibility to help make it real. It's the fair go answer to the generous offer contained in the Uluru Statement from the Heart stop.

So, if you're convinced that it makes sense, and that it has made sense for a long time, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the oldest continuous culture on earth, in our foundation document and to ensure there will always be a mechanism that allows First Nations peoples to be heard on matters that affect their lives, please do more than vote yes. Please add your conviction to the collective effort that is building in order to achieve this change. Please let those around you know. Please consider getting involved in the campaign and encouraging your fellow citizens to be part of this decisive moment and this decisive change. If you're not entirely convinced, please at least look at the information and the evidence and listen to those like Pat Anderson, Noel Pearson, Pat Dodson, Linda Burney, Thomas Mayo, Michael Long and many, many others. Please take five minutes—just five minutes—to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and, in the end, please recognise the careful and thoughtful process that has brought us this point. Even if, for some reason, you think the change being proposed at the referendum might not be entirely necessary, please let yourself be swayed by the people who speak from such long experience of what it means to not be recognised and not be heard and of the terrible impacts of that national blindness and deafness that we have suffered along with for far too long.

This bill enables a referendum that allows us to make a modest and utterly sensible change that has the most thorough foundation of any constitutional process in our history. It will only lift up the quality of our decision-making. It will only lift up our common purpose and unity and shared wellbeing as Australians.