All Australian politicians had until the 17th of July 2023 to provide the Australian Electoral Commission with essays on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Those politicians looking to vote yes in the referendum could contribute to the Yes essay, and likewise for the no vote. In early July, Ms. Hanson had become frustrated at not being able to provide “meaningful input into the no essay.”
I rise to speak on the divisive and racist campaigns promoting the legislation of an Indigenous voice to parliament and the specific recognition of Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution. Our Constitution is a great achievement. It reflects the establishment of a great nation. The people of distant colonies gathered together in the 1890s and drafted a Constitution which has mostly served the nation very well over the past 120 years. This is remarkable because the architects of the Constitution could not foresee many of the events and developments that would shape Australia and change how it was governed. In the 1890s, travel between the colonies took days. Today it takes hours. Communication was mostly by letter, which also took days. For the majority of Australians at the time, sending a message over the telegraph was too expensive. In the 1890s, Indigenous Australians weren't recognised as citizens. They didn't participate in the constitutional conventions and they weren't eligible to vote in the referenda held by each colony to approve the Constitution.
In 1967, of course, Australians voted strongly in favour in removing racist elements of the Constitution that were specifically about Indigenous people. This historic referendum meant removing the reference to the Aboriginal race in section 51 of the Constitution and altogether removing section 127 so that Indigenous Australians could be counted in the national census. As a result, the Constitution today is colour blind. Every Australian adult is equal under the Constitution regardless of their race. That's the way it should be. Equality before the law is one of the most important foundations of a democracy. Without it, there is no democracy. One adult, one vote—it's the only way that's free and fair. There have been 44 referenda held to change our Constitution, and the 1967 referendum is the most well-known. It was a catalyst for many changes in how Australia treated Aborigines, and it was also remarkable for the 90 per cent vote in favour of change, because few referenda are ever passed.
The campaigns for specific Indigenous recognition in our Constitution threaten to undo this tremendous achievement. They place at risk the positive steps taken towards reconciliation since that historic moment. They seek to make our Constitution a racist document once more by again singling out a specific race of people to be treated differently from other Australians. That isn't progress; it's regression. Noel Pearson says constitutional recognition is needed because he believes that Australia does not recognise its Indigenous peoples. That simply isn't true. Flags representing Indigenous Australians are flown everywhere. It seems you can't even start a meeting in Australia without formally acknowledging Indigenous people, and you can't hold an event without paying for a welcome to country ceremony. Our children learn about Indigenous Australia in school, even learning to speak Indigenous languages. They're also being taught critical race theory, so they feel guilt and shame for being white. Canberra, the nation's capital, gets its name from an Indigenous word. Many other places in Australia do too. Some iconic locations have even had their names changed to Indigenous words; we don't call it Ayers Rock anymore, and we're not allowed to climb it anymore. Our anthem was also recently changed in recognition of an Indigenous sensitivity.
We have ministers and whole government departments dedicated to Aboriginal affairs. Buckets of taxpayer moneys are spent directly on Indigenous people. Government spending is round $44,000 per Indigenous Australian, while it's only around $24,000 per non-Indigenous Australian. We even have the Closing the gap report delivered by the Prime Minister each year to report on Indigenous progress against national benchmarks or, more accurately, the lack of progress despite the many billions of dollars thrown at the issue. To suggest Australia doesn't already recognise its Indigenous people is ridiculous. In fact, the Constitution itself already recognises Indigenous people without referring to them specifically. The Constitution has many references to the people and electors. Today that means every voting adult in Australia, Indigenous or otherwise. The question which everyone is avoiding is this: who will be eligible to vote for delegates in the proposed voice? Since 1971 the number of people identifying as Indigenous in the national census has risen from approximately 116,000 to 800,000. That's an increase of 590 per cent. Is that how Indigenous eligibility will be decided—by people ticking a box in a survey? Let me enlighten a lot of people about the working definition of 'an Indigenous person' used by Australian governments. 'Aboriginal' means a person who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia, identifies as an Aboriginal and is accepted by the Aboriginal community as an Aboriginal. If this is the working definition, it's no wonder so many more people are identifying as Indigenous to claim the benefit this government provides exclusively to Indigenous people. How will eligibility be defined and nepotism stopped in its tracks for electing the voice?
We must also remember that elected representation exclusively for Aboriginal people has been tried before. In my first speech in this building 25 years ago I highlighted the failures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and called for it to be abolished. ATSIC was dysfunctional, corrupt and rife with the nepotism and lack of accountability which still plague the Aboriginal industry today. It took another eight long unproductive years for the coalition government to realise these failures and abolish ATSIC with bipartisan support. To this day I'm hearing from the true Indigenous people who are crying out for the industry to be audited and held accountable for the billions of dollars it has wasted with no real tangible benefits to them or improvements to the conditions in which they live. If a voice to parliament is placed in our Constitution, Australians won't have the option to abolish it, as was done with ATSIC. It's no wonder the unaccountable Aboriginal industry is campaigning for it, but some feedback from the consultation process suggests many are sceptical that recognition or a voice to parliament will do anything to make a practical difference in their lives. Many of us want policies which deliver practical outcomes that make a positive difference for Aborigines, not more of the same failures and not more of the same useless symbolism. That's where the focus of this parliament should be.
Those politicians in this place campaigning for a constitutional voice to parliament for Indigenous people seem to forget that there are already 227 voices representing Indigenous people in this parliament, let alone those who identify as Aboriginal, including one who is the Minister for Indigenous Australians. If you think more representation in parliament is needed for Indigenous people then you haven't been doing your job representing them. You're not listening to Indigenous people or, for that matter, the rest of your constituents. They're becoming fatigued by a reconciliation progress with no real progress and no end in sight. They're tired of being unfairly shamed as racist colonists and colonial occupiers. They're becoming cynical of an Aboriginal industry only interested in money, power, division and fostering a culture of perpetual victimhood. They understand that what Indigenous people need is empowerment, not as a race but as individuals, to address their own disadvantage. This means education and opportunities which enable them to fully participate in the national economy and in Australian society. Where taxpayer support is needed to help make this happen, it should be provided based on an individual's need and not on their skin colour. It's the dream of Martin Luther King Jr that people will be judged on the content of their character, not the colour of their skin.
Finally, a note of warning: if we recognise prior Indigenous ownership in the Constitution and then one day become a republic, the High Court could be forced to rule the Crown's former sovereignty over Australia belongs only to Indigenous people as native title holders, rather than to every Australian. With 32 per cent of Australia already under native title, is that the outcome we really want? No. Australia belongs to every Australian. Indigenous people, the early convicts and settlers and the many migrants who came here from all over the world have all contributed to the success story of Australia. Australia belongs to all of us. As that great Australian export Paul Hogan said in Crocodile Dundee:
… Aborigines don't own the land. They belong to it. It's like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.
It's our nation together. That's what One Nation stands for.