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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 88

Senator BARTLETT (5:54 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The document is a letter from Minister Hardgrave regarding the resolution of the Senate dealing with the opening of parliament and Indigenous Australians. This relates to the Senate’s repeated request that Indigenous Australians be involved in some of the ceremonial activities at the opening of each parliament after an election. This was something that was recommended in a report in the previous parliament, which was not accepted by the government. It was again put forward by the Senate as a resolution after the most recent election. It is very disappointing to see that the government has again rejected this proposal by the Senate that Indigenous Australians be recognised more clearly as part of the ceremonies for the opening of parliament.

I do not suggest that these things are more important than tackling the major disadvantage that Indigenous Australians face in so many ways throughout our community, but I do believe that with something that is ceremonial and therefore by definition full of symbolism, such as the opening of parliament, it is remiss not to have a more clear involvement of Indigenous Australians in some aspects of it. Clearly the Senate thinks so and has thought so a number of times, as has the committee that originally recommended it, and I urge that the government reconsider this.

I note that the minister’s letter firstly suggests that the government believes the opening of parliament after an election is predominantly about the people who have been elected. Perhaps I can understand how those of us in the parliament who have been elected might feel that that is what the opening of parliament is all about. I think it is about a lot more than that. Certainly, in the central role that the parliament plays in our democracy concerning what it is to be Australian and some of the most essential positive things about Australia, it is disappointing that the government remains averse to this idea.

I also note, however, that the minister makes the point that the current arrangements were readopted in the House of Representatives without dissent. Whilst I know that members of the opposition in the House of Representatives probably cannot be bothered dissenting a lot of the time because the result is always the same, I urge them to perhaps make their concerns a little more vocal in that chamber so that they match the concerns and views that Labor members are expressing in the Senate. It is only by making the point, even in a fairly mild way such as I am attempting now, and reaffirming it—drawing attention to it again—that we increase the chances for change. Maybe if there was a little more niggling down in the lower house, we might get a little more movement from the government.

Question agreed to.