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Monday, 1 August 2022
Page: 254


Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (11:19): I rise to speak on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill. I listened very closely to my colleague over there, Senator Thorpe, and to the passion behind her speech. In earlier years, I went to Geneva to help work on this declaration under the great leadership of Madam Diaz on a subcommittee of the human rights commission. So my association with this bill goes back a long way, as do these sentiments and this declaration. I move:

At the end of the motion, add "and:

(a) the bill be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs for inquiry and report;

(b) in conducting the inquiry, the committee may consider the relevant evidence and records of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee relating to its inquiry into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia in the 46th Parliament; and

(c) further consideration of the bill be made an order of the day for the first day of sitting after the committee presents its report".

My amendment would refer the bill to the newly constituted Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

The adoption of the declaration by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017 was an historic moment for First Nations peoples around the world. It was the culmination of more than 20 years of negotiations, which included notable First Nations leaders from this country. It stands as the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of Indigenous peoples. Eighteen countries around the world apply human rights standards to First Nations peoples. It is a source of shame that Australia under the Howard government was one of only four nations to vote against the 2007 resolution in the General Assembly. It is a source of pride to those of us on this side of the chamber that in the Rudd Labor government reversed this position and formally expressed Australia's support for the declaration.

While non-binding, the declaration carries significant moral force. The government supports the aspirational principles underlying the declaration, and we agree with the intent of this bill, that we should align our actions to these principles. This bill is closely modelled on legislation that was first passed in Canada last year. That legislation provides a useful model and starting point for our country as it moves towards a greater implementation of the important principles of this declaration. But it is important to make sure that a meaningful consultation with First Nations peoples on this bill and the best methods of implementing the UNDRIP takes place in our country.

Earlier this year the Senate referred an inquiry into the application in Australia of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee References Committee. This inquiry lapsed after the last parliament but not before 992 people and organisations had made submissions, many of which supported the need for better implementation of the declaration. Those who made submissions include the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Law Council and multiple First Nations individuals and organisations. The work that has gone into these submissions deserves our attention as we consider and take the next steps towards implementing the declaration. That is why the second reading amendment I have moved this morning will ensure that a new inquiry will be established with references to these submissions and work that was done in the last parliament. An inquiry in this committee will have the ability to hear from the First Nations and other Australians directly on how they want the declaration to be implemented. Importantly, it will also be able to hear expert evidence about how the Canadian law is working in practice.

It's worth acknowledging that the Canadian act has not been without criticism from First Nations Canadians. This include the criticism that it was passed without sufficient community engagement. At the time that it was passed, Canadian academics Ken Coates and Heather Exner-Pirot wrote in the Vancouver Sun:

Properly done, the legislation could be a unifying and transformative act … Instead, this legislation was introduced in December in the midst of the pandemic, rushed through a truncated House of Commons agenda under closure, and is being pushed along with minimal public engagement or interest.

We can and should take time to ensure meaningful consultation on this bill. Indeed, this is at the heart of the declaration itself. Article 19 of the declaration states:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

This article is one of the most important parts of the declaration, and we should honour it in the way we consider the implementation of the declaration itself in Australian law and policy. This does not mean we have to, and we won't, wait to move forward on the changes that are consistent with the declaration and which improve the lives of First Nations peoples. This government has an historically ambitious First Nations agenda, and we look forward to working closely with Senator Thorpe and the Greens on that.

We have committed to policies that are intended to improve people's lives in real ways, particularly in remote and regional Australia. This includes replacing the punitive Community Development Program with real jobs and real wages in remote communities; addressing incarceration and deaths in custody through landmark justice reinvestment funding; investing in housing in remote communities, including funding for homelands to support people to have better quality of life and greater connection with culture; addressing getting more First Nations health workers and more community workers to assist women and children experiencing family violence in remote communities; and doubling funding for Indigenous ranger programs.

Labor established the first Closing the Gap framework in 2008, and we will work with the Coalition of Peaks and all levels of government to raise the ambition of the current targets. And, of course, we have committed to full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, with a great speech by our Prime Minister at Garma just on the last weekend. This weekend, I was proud to stand alongside the Prime Minister as he took the next steps towards a referendum on a voice to the parliament. He told the participants at the Garma Festival on Yolngu land:

Australia does not have to choose between improving peoples' lives and amending the Constitution.

We can do both—and we have to.

Because 121 years of Commonwealth governments arrogantly believing they know enough to impose their own solutions on Aboriginal people have brought us to this point.

This torment of powerlessness.

Implementing the Uluru statement in full will be a significant step forward in the protection and upholding of the rights of First Nations people. The words the Prime Minister has proposed for the Constitution are derived from the work done by many committed Australians: First Nations and non-Indigenous people. This includes some of the same leaders who represented Australia in the international negotiations that resulted in this declaration.

The proposed words for the Constitution are simple and straightforward, and I take the opportunity to repeat them in the Senate chamber today:

1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to Parliament and the Executive Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

These provisions would be accompanied by a simple question:

Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?

As elected representatives, we have a chance to bring our communities together in this historic moment to answer that question with a resounding yes. I urge everyone in this chamber to come with us on this journey. I urge you to accept the hand of the First Nations peoples as generously as they extended it in our direction. I urge you to walk with us in unity to a better and more reconciled future, to realise the hopes and aspirations that Senator Thorpe and others have spoken about.

We are in a very exciting time. We have got many challenges, but we have got serious reforms to make. I look forward to working with all of you in this chamber on both goals: getting a successful referendum to establish a voice in our Constitution and working to make sure that, through the committee's work, the principles of the declaration will deliver the positives that we all hope for.