Member for Isaacs

Constitution Alteration Bill Joint Media Conference

31 May 2023

SUBJECT: Constitution Alteration Bill.




SUBJECT: Constitution Alteration Bill.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Today we took another big step towards Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through a Voice to Parliament. The change to our Constitution will rectify over 120 years of explicit exclusion and omission in Australia's founding document. We know that we can only have better outcomes when we listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We know that too often the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not heard. Enshrining a Voice in the Constitution will ensure that it is an enduring institution that can represent the views of First Nations people at the national level. I now look forward to seeing the Constitution alteration pass in the Senate. The Australian people will then have the opportunity to accept the invitation in the Uluru Statement From The Heart, an opportunity for our nation to do better, to come together and to walk towards a better future.

MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS, LINDA BURNEY: Thank you Attorney and I'd like to recognise my colleague, Marion Scrymgour, the Member for Lingiari, who has been such a tower of strength throughout this process. I also recognise, of course, the traditional peoples of this part of the world. Today, the House of Representatives passed the Constitution Alteration without amendment. Today, we are one step closer to a referendum. Today, we are one step closer to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution. I want to start by reading out a short statement from Senator Patrick Dodson, the Special Envoy for the implementation of the Uluru Statement. Patrick, of course, can't be with us today but he is certainly watching on and he has sent this statement.
This morning's vote is a positive step towards the referendum, which will bring the nation together and set us on a new path, a new path to deal in a focused manner through the Voice with the social ills which beset Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The legislation is now in the hands of my colleagues in the Senate. I hope the debate there will be informed and enlightened and will help us understand why a successful referendum is important.
Last week Malarndirri McCarthy and I were at Uluru where we recommitted the Australian Government to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And the first part of that Statement is, of course, a Voice to the Parliament. Friends, we are so close. We have left base camp at Uluru and we can see our goal on the horizon. A Yes vote at a referendum later this year will move Australia forward for everyone. It will be a new chapter in our country's story and the Yes vote will make a practical difference. I can't stress that enough. The Voice will make a practical difference because the solutions to so many of our challenges can be found in the knowledge and the wisdom of local communities.

REPORTER: Mr Dreyfus and Ms Burney isn't the greatest challenge for you at the moment that when Australians go into the ballot box on referendum day they won't understand how the voice works?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that everybody needs to not lose sight of what this is actually about. The referendum is about two things. It's about recognising, it's about listening, and that's what Australians are going to have in their minds when they go into the ballot box. They will know that it is about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of this country, with 65,000 years of history and continuous connection to this land, and they will know that it is about listening to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when it comes to laws and policies that affect them. And all of the distractions and misinformation and disinformation that's been presented over the course of the last couple of weeks in this Parliament, that's not going to be what Australians have in their mind when they come to vote at the referendum later this year.

REPORTER: Over the weekend, Lidia Thorpe with said it's been difficult to consult with you throughout this and that her plan is to abstain from the vote in the Senate. Are you doing anything to potentially change her mind ahead of that discussion? And also, Minister Dreyfus, she said that she wants the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommendations implemented, along with the Bringing Them Home report, are you doing anything around that?

BURNEY: My role in this is to be is to be a unifier. My role in this is to talk to as many people as possible, which is certainly what I'm doing, including Senator Thorpe. my role is also to make sure that this debate is conducted in a civil way, in a respectful way, and in a positive way, and that's what I am focused on. When you think about the level of support out in the community, for the Voice, it is huge. It is huge. You've got the NRL, the AFL, the ARU, Olympic Committee, Cricket Australia, the Netball Association, you've got the churches, you've got the union movement, you've got civil society, you've got the business community and just yesterday, you had Qantas come on board. Every day there are new groups putting their hand up to support this campaign. And I can assure you that going to the supermarket is just this wonderful approach of people saying, keep going, we are with you. You catch a plane, you get the same thing. So I wanted just to show all of you in the media, that the campaign that we're involved with is positive, is about taking this country forward. And I know the Uluru dialogues are doing some wonderful work with their Start A Yarn program, as well as Yes 23 is coming together in terms of door knocking and community activities right across this country. We will focus on those things and that is why I have every faith in the Australian people that this will be a successful referendum.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And just in answer to your question, of course I've talked to Senator Thorpe about black deaths in custody. It remains a matter of concern for our government. It's something that's on the agenda at the Standing Council of Attorneys-General, which I've reestablished on us coming to government. I'm looking forward to, relevantly, real time reporting of black deaths in custody commencing after July this year, which is a very important matter. And we're going to continue to look at those recommendations. Some of them concern the states and territories. We're going to continue to work with the states and territories to reduce, and do what we can, about black deaths in custody.

REPORTER: Just on Julian Leeser's amendment, doesn't he have a point? Aren't you potentially sacrificing some support in the community? I'm kind of curious about this by keeping it as it is and not accepting these changes?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No. It's vital that the Voice be able to make representations to the executive government. It's also vital that the amendment, on its face, make clear that this is about the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia. We respectfully don't agree with Mr. Leeser's amendment at the same time as expressing real appreciation for the principled position that Mr Leeser has taken throughout and we're looking forward to him expressing his support throughout the campaign because to be clear, Mr Leeser has made it made it completely plain in the Parliament today that he will be giving his full-throated support as a Liberal to the Voice.

REPORTER: Don't you think that making those changes would have potentially got more people on board?

BURNEY: Can I make a point? We have been extraordinarily careful and consultative. In relation to the question and the amendments, we have had First Nations Working Group, we've had a First Nations Engagement Group. We've also had the involvement headed up by the Attorney of our legal expert group, some of the best Constitutional legal minds in the country. So this has not been some flight of fancy. This has been an extremely positive, incredibly consultative and careful undertaking.

REPORTER: Minister, when you hear comments from the Opposition, as we've heard over the past week, that the voice would give, I suppose special privileges to Aboriginal people that other Australians don't have. First of all, is that true? And secondly, as an Aboriginal woman, how do you feel when you hear those arguments?

BURNEY: I'm going to tell you a story. I used to be the Director-General of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in New South ales, and the receptionist bless her, her name was Gayle, and she had the experience that I think is an absolute answer to your question. A woman rang her late one afternoon, and has just said I had found out I've got Aboriginal heritage, what can I get? And she said, well, you can get crowded housing, you can get your kids going to jail, you can get poor health outcomes, you can get a short life expectancy. And I think that's what answers that question.

REPORTER: I think we saw with the vote this morning, it looks very much like the official No case is going to be shaped by Queenslanders and Western Australians. You've lost I guess a great advocate in Mark McGowan, who obviously had personal popularity, but was also a strong supporter of the Voice. How concerned are you about, first of all the loss of McGowan in the debate, would you seek to recruit him otherwise, and where the position is in most of the space?

BURNEY: All First Ministers have committed to supporting the Voice including Jeremy Rockcliff and then Dominic Perrottet in New South Wales. I don't expect there'll be any changes at all. In relation to that we certainly see that that Chris Minns is very supportive and I have no doubt that the new leader of the West Australian party will be as well. You know, our role is to focus on what this is about. Our role is to focus absolutely, on the recognition of First Peoples of 65,000 years, something that we can all be proud of every single Australian in the Constitution. And also, very importantly, the focus, as the Attorney General has said, on the practical difference are made to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That's our focus, and will not be distracted from that.

REPORTER: Are you at all concerned about the state of the essays in the official pamphlet, following on from Katina's question, and would you have any spiritual guidance for the Yes and No case about what will be put to voters?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Liberal Party asked for this pamphlet, and we're now going to have 2000 word essays, one on Yes and one on No. As the legislation requires, it's going to be written in the case of the Yes essay by those who have voted yes in the parliament and for the No essay, those who voted no in the Parliament. I'm looking forward to making a contribution, as is my colleague, Linda Burney, and all of those who voted yes to the Yes essay that will be sent to every Australian household. And I'm not going to comment on how that No people are going to resolve what are apparently a huge number of differing opinions, indeed a muddle, that make up the No case at present.

REPORTER: Following on from that sort of topic and mindful of your earlier answer about the referendum on the principle rather than the detail of what the Voice would look like. I think we're getting to the pointy end now and people might be sort of tuning in, for the first time trying to learn about what the Voice is and what it would do and that sort of thing. Obviously, the Referendum Working Group and the Government released those design principles a while ago. Do you anticipate releasing any further details of what the Voice might look like, and obviously pending your long-standing position that there will be six months or so consultation period after the referendum? I mean, it will be this government that implements the Voice if the referendum is successful. And I think Minister Burney I think you told a forum this week that you'd sort of turn your mind to how the Voice might operate in practice. Will Australians be getting more information about the Government's ideas on the Voice before the referendum?

BURNEY: I think if people took the time to have a look at, and also the Uluru dialogues, and the Yes 23 websites, they would have an enormous understanding of what the Voice is, what a referendum is. Remember, we haven't had a referendum in this country since 1999. And of course, there are many reports that exist as well. I will be guided by the Engagement Group, the Referendum Working Group, and, of course, my colleagues on what information is available. But let me assure you, for those people that are saying that there is not enough information out there, I just wonder whether or not they have actually taken 15 minutes to look at the information that is publicly available.

REPORTER: On the campaign itself, Minister Burney you outlined before there's a lot of corporate support out there, but we still know that there's a lot of undecided people, and that the polls are trending downwards. Do you have any concerns about where the Yes campaign is? At the moment the non-government Yes campaign and their ability to actually convert those undecided voters into Yes?

BURNEY: I have absolute faith in the campaigns. I hear the doomsday people but I know the work that's being done. I know many of the individuals that are involved and coming on board. And like we've said, this is where the rubber hits the road. This is where the campaign actually gets into full swing. We in the Parliament have done our job or when they Senate passes this piece of legislation have done our job. We will now have the campaign going forward. I have no doubt it will be absolutely positive and it will be something that Australians will respond to. Remember, we've got several months to the referendum and there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to have a successful outcome.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much.