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Thursday, 14 September 2023
Page: 72

Mr STEVENS (Sturt) (16:05): The next time that we come together as a parliament, this referendum will have been held, and we will have the results and the message from the people of Australia as to their view on this proposal that the Labor government are putting to them. We won't just have the results of the national vote or the results from the states; we'll have the results from every electorate, from every booth, and we will know exactly what our communities' view is—whether our electorates have voted for this or against it. I quite genuinely commend members of the government who are in here right now absolutely doubling down on the fact that this is the most important thing that the government that they are a member of is doing or will do, and that the fortunes of their government and a judgement about their government will be made by the people of this country on 14 October. When we're back here, we can have another discussion about the view of the communities, the view of the electorates of everyone here—what our electorates have said to us about this proposal—and whether or not our electorates support the position that we've taken or the position that other people have taken.

A year ago, when we started talking about moving towards holding this referendum, I was hopeful that something could occur that would see some unity around recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution. Regrettably, I came to form the view, through all of my observations of the behaviour of those opposite from the Prime Minister down, that the Prime Minister wanted two things: to have the referendum that we're now having and to divide and destroy the opposition in the process. He wanted to put us in a position where he would put something through to us that we could never possibly support. Indeed, he followed through on that. I suspect his judgement at the time was that he was going to win this referendum and split the coalition, and achieve two famous victories in one fell swoop. That is obviously completely out the window now.

Government members interjecting

Mr STEVENS: You'll hear from your community in four weeks time. Your communities will tell you what they think of your proposal. You'll find out, and when we're back together I look forward to talking about what your communities have said to you and what my community has said to me about this proposal. I'm not frightened of the people of this country. I hold no fear of the voters of my electorate, and you should take the message from the voters of your electorate—what they've got to say about the proposition that you're putting forward. You're going to find out, and I look forward to being back here and talking about that.

We could have made this a moment of national unity. Regardless of the result—and the result is looking pretty clear—what we are going to have is a divided nation because of this debate that the Prime Minister has put to the Australian people. That is on the Prime Minister's head. The people that will hold him to account for that will not be just the people in this chamber. It will the people of this country, because they will send a very clear message, and we will all get that message. It will be unambiguous and unequivocal. That message will need to be reflected on very deeply by the Prime Minister.

When David Cameron put a vote to the people of the United Kingdom about leaving the European Union, he went out and campaigned on it, and said, 'We need to stay in the European Union.' He put his judgement and his view to the people of the United Kingdom. When they rejected it, he resigned the next morning. That was something of dignity—to put such a totemic proposition forward. It would be an act of absolute cowardice for the Prime Minister to put such a divisive proposition to the people of this country, to divide us like never before, have that proposition rejected and continue on as Prime Minister of the nation, with the people having given him that verdict. He should reflect on that. It wouldn't be good for the interests of the referendum to put the Prime Minister's future on the line, because that will only increase the 'no' vote. But he should reflect very carefully on what he does. If he has taken his proposal, his model and his timing to the people—and made sure that it was a divisive question—and if the people don't support his position but reject it, he should do the honourable and dignified thing and resign as Prime Minister of Australia.