Motion: Voice to Parliament

1 Sep 2023

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This motion encouraged Australians to vote ‘Yes’ in the upcoming referendum to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament


Thank you firstly to Ms Watt for bringing this motion to the house and for her very moving and passionate contribution. As a First Nations MP in this Parliament, we are all better for your contribution and your voice in this place. On behalf of the Greens, I am proud to lend our support for this motion. We encourage Victorians to vote yes in the upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament and the long overdue recognition of First Peoples in our constitution.

As one of the first parties to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, the Greens believe that this is the first step on that journey. We need voice, truth and treaty in this country. It is what the Uluru statement called for and what we fundamentally believe is at the heart of justice for First Nations. The First Peoples of this land were colonised and dispossessed of their country, their culture and their future. We now have an opportunity to start righting that wrong.

I am a migrant to this country; this is not my land. My family and I arrived here on Wurundjeri country after having to escape the war descending upon our own lands. It was a war that had its roots in colonisation. As Tamils, we were part of the first peoples of our own land, colonised by the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British. Over hundreds of years they attempted to colonise our culture, our lives and our minds. They pitted us against each other, and when they finally left, they left deep wounds and fractures that ultimately erupted into a 30-year-long civil war. Such is the aftermath of colonisation.

First Nations of this land fought the Frontier Wars, and that war never ended. It continues to this day in the systemic injustice and racism that means First Peoples are fundamentally disadvantaged by the colonised system that was built around them and on top of them. And like the colonisers of old, the colonisers of now still try to pit us against each other.

When we arrived here nearly 35 years ago, this country was alight with a national conversation that was sparked by the historic Mabo land rights decision. In that moment, after decades of battle, the High Court overturned the assertion of terra nullius and recognised that First Peoples have native title rights – that this is their land. That Australia that we arrived to felt like a very different one to the one that we experience today. It almost feels further away from the promise that the Mabo decision allowed us to believe in, and that is why I will be voting yes.

Momentum for change has to start somewhere, and this referendum is one such opportunity. We understand and respect that some fear that this change does not go far enough or that it could undermine momentum towards truth and treaty, and we respect that it is legitimate for people to hold other opinions. Indeed this is a part of what makes the Voice so important – that we hear a plurality of voices, experiences and opinions in the political discourse to help shape better outcomes.

Over the next six weeks we are going to hear many different views, and there will be lots of questions. There is also going to be a lot of misinformation circulating. I urge people to keep talking to each other, bringing the topic of conversation up and not being afraid of engaging with the question we are being asked to answer as a country. We might not agree with each other, but we will gain a lot from taking the time to listen and learn from each other. There will also be attempts to exploit and manipulate fears.

We will hear arguments like some that we have already heard canvassed in this chamber today from those opposite – that constitutional recognition and an advisory body to Parliament will not fix the socio-economic disadvantage First Nations people are subjected to. But many of them are the very same people who do nothing proactive to fix those issues or provide any alternative way forward in other times. They seem to be the ones saying ‘No, don’t take this path that could improve things, because it won’t work’ when they have no plans of their own. The only plans they put forward are more of the same, more of the same colonial and oppressive ways that have led to the gap in health and mortality between First Peoples and the rest of the nation. Their arguments are hollow and self-serving and should be seen for what they are: ignorant and racist. Whether those arguments are conscious or not, they have the same effect, and that effect is to keep things the same and stifle any change that threatens their power and their positions.

As a member of Victoria’s migrant multicultural community, who are too often subjected to similar forms of ignorance and racism ourselves, I appeal especially to all our culturally diverse communities to stand in solidarity with so many First Nations communities who are urging us to support them. Change begins with listening. It begins with understanding and acknowledging the problems and then working together to fix them. This referendum gives us a chance to start listening properly. Let us take it.

This motion was delivered on August 31st, 2023.

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