Fifteen years ago this month I sat in this House as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the National Apology to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Labor government and of all Australia. It was my first day in parliament, one of the most significant days in the history of this nation, and still my best day in this place. For all those politicians and everyday Australians who, before the apology, opposed it—the sky didn't fall in. In fact, we were a better nation because of it, both domestically and with regard to our international standing. Later this year, Australians will again have an opportunity to be a part of history by supporting a change to this nation's Constitution. The people will decide. The referendum will be an opportunity to vote on the establishment of a First People's voice to parliament, a process then enshrined in our Constitution, a document that is modern Australia's birth certificate and also our driving licence.
Unfortunately, today, there is only one party that unequivocally supports the First People's Voice to Parliament and the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We had the Nationals out of the gate early saying they were supporting a 'no' vote. They did so because they're almost as scared of the future as they are of truth in the past. We have the Greens political party in disarray, with former Greens Senator Thorpe backing the Nationals alongside Senator Price, while, sadly, in Queensland, we hear nothing but crickets from the Greens representatives. Thankfully, Senator Hanson-Young had the courage to support her community and came out in support of a 'yes' vote. The One Nation business model entails being on the wrong side of history always—quite a skill considering they don't study history and refuse to learn from it. And, of course, the Liberals can't make up their minds about what to do. The member for Berowra might inform me after I've finished. They're neither Arthur nor Martha under their current band leader—a little bit of dog whistle here, a little bit of dog trumpet there, while they slowly slip towards supporting the 'no' campaign.
It was great to see every first minister in Australia, including Liberals, sign a commitment to support the First People's Voice to Parliament on Friday. I thank them for their leadership. I also note that Australia's first federal First Nations cabinet minister, Ken Wyatt, is urging his old party, the Liberals, to back a 'yes' vote. Unfortunately, it seems Ken, just like me, can't see this happening. At the very least, the bloke I watched walk out on the apology 15 years ago this month should at least allow his MPs and senators to campaign for the 'yes' campaign, because I know there are people of goodwill in the Liberal Party—present company included.
Another leading First Nations voice, Professor Marcia Langton, wrote a telling piece about the Voice recently in the Saturday Paper. Ms Langton had some great insights into the 'no' campaign:
There's something the 'No' camp doesn't understand—or if they do, they are worse than I think. We will never get this opportunity again. This referendum is a once-in-many-lifetimes event. That is why it is more important than the cynicism and redneck opportunism with which they have tried to frame it.
For them, this isn't about anything but dog whistling and appealing to those who don't care or understand the issues facing First Nations people and their communities. They will try anything to make sure the referendum fails. Professor Langton also pointed to the fact there have been three lengthy reports commissioned on the Voice, including the 272-page Indigenous Voice codesign process, a final report led by her and Professor Tom Calma. Ken Wyatt also said that on two occasions he brought that report to cabinet when he was minister—a cabinet of which the current Nationals leader was a member and a report that Senator Hume said she hadn't even bothered to read. It's a report that has plenty of detail; you just have to read it.
Eminent constitutional lawyer Professor Anne Twomey weighed in on the argument of there not being enough detail. Professor Twomey said all that is important at the referendum is to know 'the scope of the power' being enshrined, thus leaving the function in the hands of the parliament—the democratically elected people—with the oversight of our tried and true democratic process. This is not unprecedented. When it came into effect on 1 January 1901, the Constitution outlined in section 71 the establishment of the High Court of Australia. However, it wasn't until after the passage of the Judiciary Act in 1903 that the final bench could sit.
There are no hurdles here to stop a successful referendum except for those—many of whom were in government for the last decade—bemoaning that it won't help close the gap. We certainly ain't got it right, right now. Many governments haven't. Do you want to know the difference between good intention policies and bad intention policies? There is none. It doesn't matter. There are just bad policies. So I'll go back and quote Professor Langton again:
It is the duty of Australians who want to build a nation that recognises 65,000 years of human history …