Legislative Council: Thursday, March 23, 2023


Referendum Working Group

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (14:34): My question is to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Will the minister inform the council on his recent meeting with the Referendum Working Group?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:34): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in this area. I would be most pleased to provide that information. On 16 March, Adelaide had the honour of hosting the national Referendum Working Group. This group is co-chaired by Minister Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, and Senator Patrick Dodson, the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and is represented by a broad range of First Nations community members and leaders from across the country.

This group has been established to provide advice to government on how to successfully implement a referendum on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice enshrined in the Australian constitution. The scope of the group includes the timing to conduct a successful referendum, the proposed constitutional amendment and question required for a successful referendum, and the information on the Voice necessary for a successful referendum.

There are 21 members from across the country, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders who have dedicated much of their lives to the advancement and progress of their communities and questions such as are facing Australia at the moment with the upcoming referendum. People on the group include leaders like Professor Marcia Langton, Professor Tom Calma, June Oscar, Noel Pearson, Napau Pedro Stephen, Professor Megan Davis, Pat Anderson, Dr Jackie Huggins and Tony McAvoy KC, to name just a few. Many of these people are leaders I have personally looked up to for much of my career in terms of the work that they have done around Australia. South Australia's Commissioner for First Nations Voice, Dale Agius, and Sally Scales, an Uluru Dialogue member, are members from South Australia on this working group.

Along with the Deputy Premier, last week I had the privilege to meet the Referendum Working Group and discuss South Australia's progress towards a First Nations Voice. I shared with the group our engagement process with our First Nations community which informed the legislation that is currently in the House of Assembly. I was able to share details of the proposed model and how it directly interacts with parliament and government.

I also emphasised the view that we have that the passing of legislation in this state, we hope, will provide some comfort to people around Australia about how a model could work in the lead-up to a referendum—that this legislation could do that and provide some comfort about how a model may be successfully implemented and cause no harm or detriment to anyone else. This is something that the working group very much appreciated.

As of this morning, and in partnership with the incredible work of that Referendum Working Group, the Prime Minister has announced the wording of the referendum question and the proposed constitutional amendment for the proposed First Nations Voice to the federal parliament. I congratulate the Referendum Working Group and their important contribution in enshrining an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Australian constitution. I have been fortunate to be able to discuss it with some of those members of the working group this morning.

This morning, in a very powerful and emotional press conference, the Prime Minister announced the wording of the question to be put to the people of Australia at this year's referendum as:

A proposed law to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?

Later this year, when there is the federal referendum, I look forward to voting yes and I look forward to campaigning for a 'yes' vote around Australia. Importantly, the exact wording of the proposed change to the constitution was outlined, and reads:

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;

2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

In my view, it's a very simple and elegant insertion in our constitution, recognising the oldest continuing culture on our planet and ensuring their voice will be heard by the federal parliament and the federal government, as our bill seeks to in South Australia. I want to particularly thank all those who contributed to this work, especially the Referendum Working Group, which was here, as I said, in Adelaide just last week.