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Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Page: 1194

Indigenous Affairs

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:13): My question is to the Prime Minister. In 2015, the Prime Minister and I tasked the Referendum Council with consulting Indigenous Australia on their preferred form of constitutional recognition. Twelve regional dialogues and a national summit later, the Referendum Council unanimously recommended a constitutionally entrenched voice to parliament. As this is now Indigenous Australia's preferred model for constitutional change, will the Prime Minister reconsider his initial opposition to this proposal and join Labor in advancing the design of this proposal?

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:14): We honour and respect the work of the delegates to the Uluru conference and the authors of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We honour them by speaking the truth. The honourable member opposite, the Leader of the Opposition, sat with me at a meeting of the referendum advisory council, as did other members in this House, and heard me say to them that I did not believe a national elected representative body available only to Indigenous Australians was a good idea because it was inconsistent with a fundamental principle of our democracy, which is that all of our national representative institutions are open to every Australian. That's the fundamental principle. I won't go into everything else that was said at that meeting, but honourable members here who were with me will remember there was some strong discussion about that. I also said, being frank and honest, that I thought the prospects of such an amendment to the Constitution being successful were absolutely zero. So that was the advice that I gave, and that is the view that I and the government hold today.

If the honourable member wants to campaign at the next election for there to be a constitutionally entrenched national elected representative assembly able to be voted for and occupied by only Indigenous Australians, he is free to do so. But it is not something that this side of the House will respect. We believe that all of our national institutions should be open to every single Australian, regardless of their background.

As to the cry from the heart, we feel it, we respect it and we hear it. We hear that. What we need to do is ensure, as Chris Sarra advised me several years ago, that we work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and not do things to them.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr TURNBULL: I hear the shouts of indignation. This, clearly, will be a big election issue at the next election. We stand for all of our national representative institutions, including the House and the Senate, being open to, filled by and voted for by every Australian citizen.

Mr Snowdon interjecting

Ms Catherine King interjecting

Dr Chalmers interjecting

The SPEAKER: The level of interjections is too high. The members for Lingiari, Ballarat and Rankin are warned.