An equal voice for all Australians is the bedrock of our liberal democracy.
It was at the heart of the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which gave women the right to vote. It was at the core of Menzies’ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962, which gave Indigenous Australians the right to vote.
In my maiden speech to Parliament, I highlighted that, in relation to ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes, “our work is far from done in achieving some semblance of equality”. As I said then, we can, and we must do so much better.
However, I do not believe the proposed Constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament will achieve that end.
Today, the Parliamentary Liberal Party said yes to constitutional recognition. We said yes to engaging with local and regional Indigenous bodies to shift the dial on entrenched disadvantage. We said yes to enabling Australians to have their say at the referendum. We said no to enshrining the Voice in our Constitution because we believe that doing so would fundamentally change the way our nation is governed.
After thousands of emails, letters, survey responses, and phone calls, it is clear to me that the people of Fisher share a similar view. They have conveyed serious concerns with the Government’s proposal and, in particular, with their lack of detail around the Voice’s function and purpose.
When it comes to crucial issues of our national character such as these, we must acknowledge the diversity of opinions and lived experiences which inform both sides of the campaign.
We all want to see better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Most Australians want to see their rich heritage and ancient culture acknowledged in our Constitution. But we do not need to fundamentally change our democratic system to do so.
We cannot let the cause of reconciliation be hijacked by those with the loudest voices. We need to listen to the voices of women and children in remote communities who are crying out for law and order, alcohol bans, and income management. We need to listen to the voices of teachers and early childhood educators who tell us that they need resources, protection, and support.
We need to listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who have, for too long, been shut out of the conversation by a privileged few with the loudest voices.
We need determined, inclusive and local action, across party lines, to truly close the gap.
Australia’s first Indigenous parliamentarian, Liberal Senator Neville Bonner challenged us to, “Stop this senseless division. Let us work together on the real issues…Let us unite this country and not divide it ever!”