Second Reading – Constitution Amendment (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Mr PITT: We are one people, we are one country and we are all equal, for we are one and free. I will be voting no to this legislation, the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023; I will be voting no to the proposed changes to the Constitution; and I will be campaigning for the ‘no’ side of the case. For me, this is a values based decision. I believe all Australians are equal, not that some Australians should have a different level of democracy or a different approach to democracy, not that one group of Australians has different rights to others. It is a fundamental tenet of this country that we are all one people, and those values are what I have used to make a decision in terms of this legislation and the proposal that has been put forward by the Labor Party.

We recently ran a survey in my electorate. We are still accumulating all of the inputs from the many thousands of responses, but, to date, when asked whether they would support this proposition, 62 per cent of respondents said no, 27 per cent said yes and 10 per cent were undecided. I would say to the Prime Minister and the Labor Party: the voters aren’t mugs. They are not. They want to see the detail. They understand that this is a significant change to the Australian Constitution. It’s not just a piece of legislation, it’s not a code of practice and it’s not a guidance note. It is a significant change to the most important document in this country, and they genuinely want to know. They want to know what difference it will make. They want to know what it will cost. They want to know how it will work. They are not willing to vote on the vibe, on the feeling, on how it will make them feel on the day that they take the decision. They absolutely want to see the detail. That detail is simply not being provided.

This has been a topic of great interest right across the country. I talk to a lot of people, as do others. I met with a constituent named Peter—I don’t want to identify him in total. Peter is an incredibly successful local businessmen and in fact runs multiple businesses in one of my regions. I didn’t even know he was an elder of a particular tribe. I simply didn’t know. He was just a guy who ran this business who I got on with well. He came in to have a chat about this issue and some others. His advice was really straightforward: we just have to work together. He is opposed to the Voice. He won’t be supporting it. It’s as simple as that. We have to work together because we are one people. How on earth can you not create division, which is exactly what is happening right now?

A lot of speakers already have spoken about the 1967 referendum. That was two years before I was born. I wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye at that stage, so I thought I should probably do a little bit of research and see what it was about, and I’ve done that. In my view, there are some incredibly powerful images associated with the 1967 referendum. In some of them they were holding signs like this: ‘Count us together. Make us one people.’ ‘Give us equal rights throughout Australia.’ Those signs are held by young individuals. How is it possible that there is now a proposal to divide the nation, to make one group of Australians different to others? I find it unacceptable that the Australian people will make that decision. I want them to be informed. I want it to be an informed decision. It is up to them. Like everyone in this place, I am just one vote, but this is an incredibly important decision.

As I’ve said, we continue to see division, and it is growing division. I refer to a report in the Australian, an op-ed by Noel Pearson on the weekend, on 20 May. I want to quote a couple of lines from that op-ed:

“The boomer readership of this paper is of course antipathetic to recognition. They are mostly obscurant and borderline casual racists in their views.”

Seriously! It continues:

“The change that is needed to secure recognition of Australia’s First Peoples is happening beyond that group of boomers who want this to be about the culture wars. The problem is that too many party activists and parliamentary candidates and members of the Liberal and National parties want to recreate America in Australia.”

Nothing is further from the views of the Australians I know. They are incredibly proud of our country. They’re proud of our history, they’re proud of our culture, they’re proud of where they came from and proud of how they arrived here. So, no matter what your connection is to this country, whether it’s a cultural connection, whether you have relatives on the First Fleet, whether you were born here, whether you arrived last week or whether you took the oath of citizenship yesterday, we are all Australians and we are all equal.

The idea that we have sporting bodies, for example, telling Australians how to vote—I don’t think they’ll wear that. They know this is important. We have Marcia Langton saying that if you don’t vote yes there’ll be no more welcome to countrys. I’m not being facetious—I have no particular view—but I saw an inrush of calls and correspondence saying that’s fantastic, because they are over it. The mob are over it. They are quite happy for, where there is a culturally significant event, these to occur, but the idea that it’s at every P&C, every meeting and everything else—it’s just too much for them. They actually warmly welcomed that, which was quite surprising even to me.

If we look at the legal opinions—I’m not a lawyer, but many of us in this place have dealt with legal opinions over a long period of time—they are costly, generally they are different, and quite often they’re not right. There is a broad range of views on what the proposed changes to the Constitution will do and how they will change the way our nation operates and the government of Australia manages this country. I am particularly concerned about the proposed changes that include the executive. Having been a member of the executive and seen what happens when activists—how people utilise the legal system to shut down important projects in this country, I am very worried. As many of us know and has been outlined by any number of well-recognised specialists, that won’t be determined until there is 10, 12, 15 years worth of case law. In the meantime, the country will be absolutely held up, held back at a time when we need to be strong and we need to move forward.

The budget is 346 million over three years. Most of the Australians I know would say, ‘Why don’t we take that $346 million to Alice Springs and help them with what is happening there, which is absolutely terrible.’ It is awful. There is youth crime, lawlessness and unlawful behaviour. They are desperately crying out for help. Instead, $364 million will be spent on a referendum asking the Australian people to do something which splits the nation. It won’t unite us; it will divide us. I’m very, very disappointed about that.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Member for Cowper; Senator Jacinta Price in the other place; and others who have been working incredibly hard. Like everyone, I recognise that there will be different views. It is the purpose of the referendum. They’ve been involved in the committees. They’ve been involved upfront. There will be different groups with different ideas for different outcomes, but ultimately, it’s a binary choice. You will vote ‘yes’ to change the Constitution, and entrench all parts of what’s being proposed—not what’s been advertised, not what’s been seen on TV, but all parts of all words that are in this bill—or you will vote ‘no’ to remain united, to remain one country, to remain one people. That is why I am so strongly supportive of the no case. I think it is just so critical that we do not divide the nation. If we go back to 1967, that was the ask: count us together; make us one people.

For those of us who live in the regions, Aboriginal people are part of our local community. We don’t see them separately. We don’t see them as different. We just see them as part of everything that happens every day. While there are significant challenges, particularly in remote communities, that is not all Aboriginal people. Most are incredibly successful. They work hard, they get wages, they pay their taxes, many pay wages and many are in business. They’re no different to any other Australian. But I am absolutely opposed to the idea that the nation will be separated because of an outcome of this referendum. But it is up to the individual. It is up to the Australian people. It is up to them.

The voters of Australia are not mugs. They want the detail, and if it’s not provided then suspicion will win. They will vote no. They will. The voters of Australia want to see what the change will mean. They want to see what it will cost. They want to see how it will be implemented. They want to see what difference it makes to the nation. The idea that you should vote ‘yes’ on a feeling is the wrong approach to a referendum, which is why, in my view, it is likely to be defeated.

The Australian people will make this decision. We will all play our parts. We will do so with respect. We will be very, very careful. But I continue to be concerned about the division that this will place on our nation. We see it over and over. I will leave my remarks there, assuming the honourable members are ready. But to all Australians: we are one people, we are one country, we are one and free. Vote ‘no’ at this referendumM

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