Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

(Question Time, 12 October 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My question is directed to the Premier. How will voting yes for the Voice this Saturday improve the lives of all people in Australia, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

Response from Premier: I thank the member for Sydney for his question and acknowledge his support for constitutional change and a vote for yes on Saturday. I acknowledge also the previous Premier's support for constitutional change, and the Leader of the Opposition's principled, and I think courageous, support for constitutional change in Australia.

No, put politics to one side. That was not an easy decision for the Opposition to make. It was considered, and it deserves to be recognised in Parliament. In support of this constitutional change, I recognise the decision made by the Leader of the Opposition and former Premier. I make clear that this modest change will make a massive difference for Indigenous Australians. It is important to reflect on the fact that Closing the Gap data shows that in New South Wales the life expectancy gap is 9.3 years for Aboriginal males and 7.6 years for females. Despite some narrowing of the gap, this improvement to the national target of no gap in life expectancy is not on track, regrettably and shamefully, for males or females in New South Wales.

In this State, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains of the Australian Early Development Census was 38 per cent, which is well below the target of 55 per cent. It is obviously terrible to report to the House that during the period 2018 to 2022 suicide was the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children—27 per cent of deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were due to suicide. Voting yes gives Indigenous Australians a seat at the table. It means that when decisions are made at the Commonwealth level there is direct engagement with First Nations people, so we can see change.

By any objective measure—whether we speak to the Prime Minister, the previous Government or Indigenous leaders in this State and around the country—what we are doing is not working. So we must give this change a chance. The point I make about this constitutional change is that it will make no difference to our successful representative parliamentary democracy. It will not infringe on the House of Representatives or the Senate. The democratic institutions that have been built up over generations will remain in place. These are cherished institutions, and we need them in this country. But adding this Indigenous Voice to Parliament means that we would be in a position— [Extension of time]

Allowing a Voice to Parliament will mean that for the first time there will be a direct opportunity for the Government, minor parties and the crossbench—the Australian Parliament—to engage with the people whose lives, in many respects, depend on government support, government policy and changes in directions. We can all admit that the status quo is not working. There has been a lot of debate about whether this is a big or a little change, whether it is very significant or minor. I would say that for the vast majority of Australians it is not a big change to constitutional arrangements, but for First Nations Australians it is a massive change.

I completely respect people who have not made up their mind. It is important to have detailed and deep engagement on issues that deal particularly with the Constitution. Having a discerning attitude to constitutional change is fair enough. Far from being condemned for that, understanding, seeking information and being informed about that constitutional change before we make that decision is entirely understandable and should be appreciated by any side of this political debate. But to those who have not made up their mind, I say this is a positive vote for change that will make a meaningful difference to the First Nations people of this country.

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