Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Federal Voice to Parliament Referendum

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (14:27): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs about the Federal Voice to Parliament.

Leave granted.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: It was reported in The Australian on Tuesday that prominent yes campaign advocate Professor Marcia Langton while speaking at an event in Western Australia categorised the no campaign as, and I quote, 'base racism or sheer stupidity'.

My question to the minister is: does he agree with Professor Langton that the no campaign, and therefore those who will be voting no, are either racist and/or stupid and, if not, has he or will he publicly condemn the comments made by Professor Langton?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:27): I thank the honourable member for her question. I haven't seen the transcript or the audio of what the honourable member refers to. I did catch the news grab as it flashed up on the screen in the lift on the way down from the office. I think what I saw was 'Marcia Langton denies calling no voters racist'. I would want to see exactly what was said.

Certainly, I think this debate ought to be carried out with respect on all sides. It is not the case that people voting no are necessarily racist; that's just not the case. There are a lot of people who have concerns, and well-founded concerns. I have talked to a lot of people in the community about this referendum and there are people who do hold concerns.

It has been my experience, though, that if I have had the opportunity—whether that is at shopping centres out in the community or knocking on doors talking about this referendum where people have raised concerns—the vast majority of the time, within two or three minutes of talking about what we are actually being asked to vote on in the referendum, and that is an advisory body to government and the parliament that will help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have more of a say in decisions that affect their lives, the overwhelming majority of people who have held concerns are assuaged from those concerns after a short conversation.

As I have said in the chamber before, and as have all of my colleagues on the Labor side, we are completely and utterly supportive of this referendum. As I have said, creating a body that at its fundamental core recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution as the traditional owners of the lands and seas of this country, creating a Voice that allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives, is a fundamentally good thing.