20 November 2018
(Private Members' Statement, Tuesday 20 November, Legislative Assembly, Parliament House)
Last year the vote on marriage equality said a lot about the way we cherish fairness and equality. Of course, we did not need to have the vote, which occurred while the Federal Government denied Indigenous Australians a vote on long overdue constitutional recognition. It is not widely known that the day Recognise closed down, the Yes campaign started. Under the leadership of Tim Gartrell many staff from Recognise threw their support behind efforts to ensure that Australia voted yes to marriage equality. I hope that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community embraces and supports constitutional reform for Indigenous Australians in the same way many Indigenous Australians supported the LGBTI community.
Australia cannot be truly independent without addressing how it was colonised and established. To move forward as an independent republic we must reconcile with Australia's Indigenous people. We need a renewed dialogue about constitutional reform and recognition of First People. The First Nations National Constitutional Convention's Uluru Statement from the Heart affirms the sovereignty and longstanding connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the land. It called for a representative voice to Parliament, a Makarrata or treaty through a Makarrata commission and recognition of Indigenous peoples in our constitution. It is shameful that then Prime Minister Turnbull rejected the proposals outright despite the Commonwealth Government having set up the process through the Referendum Council. In 1988 Prime Minister Hawke first promised a national treaty. Canada and New Zealand have treaties with their Indigenous people. Australia is the only Commonwealth country that does not.
While the Australian High Court has negated terra nullius as a legal framework, we have not progressed beyond it in our constitutional frameworks. There is progress on State government treaties with Aboriginal people—Victoria has initiated a process, Western Australia is setting up an Indigenous voice to Parliament, and the Northern Territory has a memorandum of understanding to develop a treaty. Sadly, the new South Australian Government put a treaty on hold. It is disappointing that the New South Wales Government has not taken a leadership role to initiate a State treaty, but I note that the Labor Opposition has pledged to proceed if it wins government.
A treaty is vital, but the process to reach it must help us better understand each other and come together as a united country. I understand that the term "Makarrata" is a Yolngu word that describes the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something wrong has been done and it seeks to make things right. The Makarrata proposed in the Uluru statement is a process of conflict resolution, peacemaking and justice. It embodies agreement-making, aspirations for an honest and fair relationship with government, self-determination and having a better future. A Makarrata can empower communities, build cultural strength and unify people through a healing process. A constitutionally entrenched Indigenous voice is needed to redress firmly the history of poor or non-existent consultation and dialogue with Indigenous communities.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the clearest expression yet of the aspirations of Australia's First People. As lawmakers, we must hear the voice and act. I call on the New South Wales Government to initiate a widescale conversation across the community about who we are and what sort of country we want to be. The dialogue should develop amendments to the New South Wales Constitution for a Declaration of Recognition, an Indigenous voice to the New South Wales Parliament and a Makarrata or treaty, with a State referendum to seek approval. The Government should urgently set up a Makarrata commission to walk alongside, to oversee truth‑telling and agreement-making, and to establish an Indigenous voice at a State level in dialogue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I ask the New South Wales Government to speak up and advocate with the Commonwealth for a process of healing and maturing as a country. As a society we must reconcile our past with our present to build a unified place and people, including formal recognition of past and present injustices. New South Wales needs to set the standard for our nation to move forward together.