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Julian Hill MPFederal Member for Bruce

Julian Hill MP

The case for 'yes' is overwhelming and the 'no' case is based on lies, misinformation and disinformation.

Referendum mythbusters

House of Representatives - 25 May, 2023

The Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 bill is indeed historic. Later this year every Australian will have the right—not just the right, actually; the responsibility and the obligation to cast their vote in the referendum to recognise Indigenous heritage in our country and give it a voice in the Constitution. That's a big thing. That's our modern nation's birth certificate, our foundational law which constrains and empowers our parliament, the courts and our system of government.

We've been talking about this a lot in my community in the electorate of Bruce in south-east Melbourne. Voting yes will affirm and weave together the three great strands of our national story. Firstly, modern multicultural Australia. The Greater Dandenong and Casey councils are the most multicultural parts of Australia.

Ms Fernando: Hear, hear!

Mr Hill: The member for Holt, in front of me, hails from this turf; my neighbour. There are people there from more than 150 different countries, speaking well over 200 languages, with more than 100 different faith groups every day. It's a modern miracle. There are few places like it on earth. If you doorknock a street, you can go to 20 houses and find people from 20 different corners of the globe living peacefully and harmoniously side by side. It is sad and pathetic that the great hope of the Liberal and National parties and the 'no' campaign is to spread lies, misinformation and disinformation in multicultural communities. They've said it publicly. That's part of their plan. What I pick up at citizenship ceremonies, events, temples, churches and mosques is respect and support for the 'yes' campaign.

Secondly, the other great part of our national story, is where we are, our Westminster democracy, from British and European settlement, our very system of government. Those core parts of our national character: equality, decency, a fair go for others. Thirdly, our Indigenous heritage. The world's oldest continuous culture, with 60,000 years of human history and connection to this land. These can't just be words that we say. They have to mean something. We should be proud as a nation. We should read our country's birth certificate in the Constitution and see this recognised; see it given voice.

The Aboriginal people of our lands have asked for this change to the Constitution to recognise their heritage, their culture and the fact that there were people here first before all of us, and to give a voice to parliament and government on issues that affect them. That's important because that exposes the first big lie of those opposing this step, that its 'Labor's referendum', 'Albo's plan or 'the Prime Minister's referendum'. That language is a nasty, cynical political tactic. This flowed from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, from years of constitutional conventions right across the country. That request was made to the Australian people six years ago now, and it is time for every Australian citizen to have their say and to vote for whether we choose to accept this invitation to meet that request from Indigenous Australians and vote yes.

This change is both symbolic and practical. Symbolism matters. It's symbolic because it will end more than 120 years of exclusion of First Nations people from our Constitution. This also matters, I believe, for the moral fabric of our country. It's not about feeling guilty or ashamed of our history. I'm proud of our country. But Australians are decent and fair-minded people. We can recognise our history and reconcile our past. Symbolism matters as well for the dignity of Indigenous people. It does impact wellbeing. It does impact mental health. It does impact practical outcomes. It also matters for how others in the world see us—our neighbours in South-East Asia, the Pacific island states—where every bit of research and professional foreign policy advice says how our Indigenous people in this country are treated, how they are recognised, how they are respected, and directly impacts our nation's prospects, our standing in our region, our influence.

This change, though, is more than symbolism. It's about making a practical difference for Indigenous Australians. For far too long, governments have been telling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people what's good for them rather than listening to what they actually need. If you listen to people, you get the results. This referendum is not about guilt or shame. We can't change our history, but we can change our future. It's a fact that Indigenous people in our country have never had a fair go. In order to improve their lives, they need a voice, a guaranteed voice. Frankly, if none of that persuades people, who really loses from this? We tried everything else for over 100 years. 'We're going to do more of the same.' That's the answer of those opposite.

It is incredibly disappointing—not surprising, given their leader, but unfortunate—that the opposition have decided to turn what should be a unifying moment for our country, accepting this invitation from Indigenous people, into a partisan political debate by campaigning for 'no'. It's the truth. It's made it hard. There's never been a referendum in our country that has succeeded without the support of the Prime Minister and the opposition leader. Of the 44 put, through our history, only eight have succeeded, and never one where the opposition leader hasn't supported it. History is against us, but we have to make history.

I believe in the decency of the Australian people, that they will do that. I'm optimistic. We heard it from speakers before: 'Well, there is no detail.' The detail is all there. It's been there for years. They resort to making stuff up, and just because they say it in a reasonable voice doesn't make it true.

I'm going to finish with myth busters, to rebut some of the myths. The Voice to Parliament will not be a third chamber of parliament. It will not have the power to veto legislation or government policy. Its function is solely an advisory body, to provide advice to government on matters pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The government doesn't have to accept the advice, nor does it have to do anything the Voice advises it to do. The Voice to Parliament will not be a Canberra voice. It will not be another bureaucracy. The Voice will have representatives from all states and territories as well as remote representatives and Torres Strait Islanders. Representatives on the Voice won't be appointed by the government; they'll be elected by Indigenous people for fixed terms.

The Voice to Parliament will not cause a deluge of litigation, nor will it clog up the courts, nor will it set interest rates or determine foreign policy or direct the defence forces or any of the other stupid things we've heard over recent months. The sun will come up. The Voice doesn't give First Nations people special rights compared to the rest of the population. The Voice is about recognition and consultation. Nothing more. Nothing less. The Voice won't divide our nation; it will unite us as we take a crucial step towards reconciliation. It will send a powerful signal to every Australian from every Australian. It will show that the Australian people want their governments to listen to them and work with First Nations people to finally close the gap.

In 1993 Paul Keating spoke of the fundamental test: our ability to say to ourselves as a people and to the rest of the world that Australia is a first-rate social democracy, the land of the fair go and the better chance. I have every faith in the Australian people that they will take this opportunity, take it seriously, and make the decision to vote yes to this historic change.