Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Summing Up Speech, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012


Speaker, it is an honour to be commending this Bill to the House today.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the debate.

Five years ago, in this place, we wept together.

And we began to heal together.

In the years since that momentous Apology, we have been able to begin a new conversation.

To progress the work that still needs to be done.

Towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our constitution.

We appointed an Expert Panel – made up of respected and accomplished individuals – including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and community leaders.

They travelled the country and gathered views and advice.

And for the first time, we now have meaningful proposals for change.

Speaker, I would like to again thank the Expert Panel for their hard work and dedication to constitutional recognition, many of whom are here today.

Today, this House takes up that work.

With an Act of Recognition, acknowledging the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of our nation.

And with support across the Parliament for this Act of Recognition, we continue to build the momentum we need for successful constitutional change.

We do not intend the Act to be a substitute for constitutional reform.

To maintain momentum towards a successful referendum, a sunset provision in the Bill limits the effect of the Act to two years.

Speaker, we expect this will also provide an impetus for a future Parliament to assess how the campaign for change is travelling, and the appropriate timing for a successful referendum.

The Bill also provides for a review to consider and advise a future Parliament on proposals to submit to a referendum, taking into account the valuable work that has been done by the Expert Panel.

We know that legislation is not the appropriate forum to make all the changes we want to see.

These changes must ultimately be made in our nation’s foundation document.

Speaker, on this important day, I again make it clear that this Government is committed to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.

We believe the Australian Constitution should:

  • recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their unique history, culture and connection to this land;
  • reflect our country’s fundamental belief in the importance of equality by removing all references to race; and
  • acknowledge additional effort is needed to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in this country.

And we are determined to continue working to achieve this change.

This Government is committed to building stronger relationships with Indigenous people based on mutual respect.

As well as a reconciled future where all Australians are equal partners, with equal opportunities in shaping the future of our country.

We know that the momentum for a successful referendum will build not only from those of us here in the Parliament, but from our wider community.

In conversations in workplaces and around kitchen tables.

This morning, I was pleased to join with the Prime Minister to meet the young campaigners who are helping to spread the word about recognition.

To spark the conversations that we all need to have.

The Australian Constitution is the foundation document for our laws and our government, but it is silent on the special place of our first Australians.

Today, those of us here play our part in recognising this special place.

I commend this Bill to the House.