Australians have been urged to back the push for Indigenous recognition, in a significant call from a new Liberal senator designed to counter fears within the Morrison government over changes to the constitution.
Andrew Bragg rejected claims that giving Aboriginal Australians a “voice” in national affairs would create a “third chamber” of Parliament, arguing instead that Indigenous people should not feel estranged from their own country.
The intervention comes after weeks of dispute among Liberals and Nationals over whether to support a referendum to amend the constitution and give Indigenous Australians a voice to Parliament.
“I will walk with Indigenous Australians on this journey,” Senator Bragg said in his first speech to Parliament on Wednesday night, backed by Indigenous leaders in the chamber.
“A first nations voice would not be a third chamber. It will not have the standing, scope or power of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
“The issue of proper recognition in the constitution will not go away. It shouldn’t.
“We want all Australians to be proud of our great nation. All Australians will always be equal but we cannot have Indigenous people feel estranged in the land of their ancestors.”
Senator Bragg also used his speech to back the case for lower income taxes, outline changes to superannuation and reflect on his time as leader of the formal Liberal and Nationals campaign for same-sex marriage in 2017.
Those in the audience for his speech included Indigenous leaders such as Cape York Land Council chairperson Richie Ahmat, Gidgee Group managing director Sean Gordon and filmmaker Rachel Perkins.
Coalition MPs have been divided on the best way to act on the Uluru Statement on Indigenous recognition and its call for the establishment of a “First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution”.Play Video
Despite their differing views, Indigenous MP Linda Burney and right wing conservative journalist Andrew Bolt have teamed up for an ABC documentary. Courtesy ABC.
“Uluru asks legislators to consult Indigenous people on the laws which are relevant to them,” Senator Bragg said.
“This is a good idea. This is a fair idea.”
However, Senator Bragg said he would not support the referendum “at any price” because it would have to meet five tests by gaining broad support in the indigenous community, focusing on community-level improvement, maintaining equality, strengthening national unity and maintaining the supremacy of Parliament.
“Constitutional recognition is both desirable and achievable if the design work reflects these principles,” he said.
Ms Perkins, the managing director of Blackfella Films and a director of non-profit group Uphold & Recognise, is also calling for the “voice” to have power in the constitution.
“Our constitution must impose upon our nation’s Parliament an obligation to ensure the voices of our Indigenous peoples are heard,” Ms Perkins told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Mr Ahmat said all sides of the debate needed to wait to hear from Australians on the best way to amend the constitution.
“At the present moment there are people jumping left, right and centre on which way we should be going,” he said before Senator Bragg’s speech.
“Well, Aboriginal people don’t tell the Parliament how to run. Blackfellas shouldn’t be told by other people ‘we know what’s best for you’ because that’s an old, sad story.”
The question of whether a “voice” is a “third chamber” has divided the Coalition after former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull used the term to reject the Uluru Statement. Prime Minister Scott Morrison used the same term last September to warn against the change.
But the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, has rejected the fear of a power that would usurp the two chambers of Parliament.
Senator Bragg’s speech add support to Mr Wyatt’s effort to gain a consensus at a referendum to amend the constitution rather than using legislation to create a less powerful “voice” to give Indigenous Australians a say on laws that affect them.