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FOR – Bills — Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023; in Committee

Lidia Thorpe

I move amendment (1) on sheet 1923:

(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (after line 24), at the end of Chapter IX, add:

130 Sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Nothing in this Act shall be taken to cede or disturb the Sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples means an unceded right held in collective possession by the members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations which confers usage, access and custodianship to the lands, waters, minerals and natural resources of what is now known as Australia, and the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to exercise an unimpeded and collective self-determinate governance over their political, economic and social affairs.

We were invaded, we were massacred, and we still survive after over 200 years of oppressive regimes and of absolute torment to our families, our communities, our country, our water and our air. We are sovereign to all of that. Every living thing on these lands is our sovereignty. We have never ceded our sovereignty in this country.

The King is not the sovereign of this country. First Peoples are the sovereigns of this country. The King does not have a right over our lands, our waters and our bodies in 2023. The King doesn't even live here. How can he be sovereign? How can he call himself sovereign? The King sits in his palace from stolen wealth taken from this country.

You want to talk about people who've passed? What about the massacres that occurred when the boats arrived with the convicts and the colonisers? Let's talk about those bodies. We are still impacted today because of the mass murders that the colonisers came here to do. The murdering Cook, James Cook the murderer, told a lie to the King and said that no-one was here. He referred to us as 'wild beasts', he did. He lied to the King. He said no-one was here. How is that sovereignty? How is that legal?

How is this whole parliament legal? It is not. The parliament of what you now call Australia is an illegal occupation on stolen land. And who benefits? All you. All you. Sorry, sister; not you, and not Senator McCarthy. But everyone else benefits. Everyone benefits from my people's misery—absolute misery.

And what about the decisions that have been made since 1901 in this place? What have they ever done for First Peoples on these lands? Not one piece of legislation that has ever come out of this place has been good for us. You know why? Because it's deliberate. It's deliberate. This place is here because they need to get rid of the black problem that they have, that the King has, that the colonisers have. That's why this place is here: to continue making laws that take our rights away, that kill our people in the systems that you set up.

It's working well. It's the art of war, right? It's working really well. We have 23,000 Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, and you've been talking about closing the gap for how long? And it's just rising. You've got a government here that don't give a fruit about stolen generations or children being taken. Youse don't care, because if you did you'd implement the recommendations from the Bringing them home report. Youse are shameful and youse are gammon. Deaths in custody—over 500. Who cares? The government don't. Since 1901 the government haven't cared. Why should the Labor government of today care? They're bound by the King's direction to kill us off. Gina Rinehart's father said it: 'Get rid of the black problem; poison the waterways.'

You're not any different, to be honest. You haven't acknowledged our sovereignty. You keep coming up with gammon reasons about your deadly referendum working group, who were all handpicked by you. They are all your mates. You even have a senator's husband on there. They're all your mates. They're not grassroots people who have called for a seat at the table. You deliberately ignored those people. Six years those people have been knocking on the door. For six years you've just ignored them. It's just disgusting.

I went to the Melbourne referendum meeting and I went to the Sydney one. The Sydney one had a disabled elder taken away in a divvy wagon because he lit a fire outside in protest. The fire brigade came and put his fire out. They put handcuffs on him in front of his grandkids and threw him in the back of a divvy wagon because he didn't agree. AIATSIS staff at the time threatened black women with police because we stood in silence to say, 'We don't support constitutional recognition.' There was a convoy of grassroots blackfellas that drove all the way to Yulara for the meeting to try and protest. No-one had money to get there. We were scrounging around for grassroots mob to get to that meeting and it was hard. But they arrived. There were only a few cars. Then do you know what happened? Because I and a few others called for treaty and sovereignty to be acknowledged, we had death threats. I slept in the desert with a death threat over my head, a tribal punishment death threat, and then I had to go the next day to meet with all the senior lawmen. They were disgusted at the threat that I received, and they told me I was welcome back on their country any time because it was interpreted to them that I was standing up for their sovereign rights.

That is what this whole gammon 'yes' campaign has been about. You're not saving our souls; you're just putting everything off to a gammon voice that you are going to have total control over. So stop being gammon. Self-determination is not when you have power over Aboriginal people. We will ramp up now. The black sovereign movement will be here next week. You better be prepared because we ain't going down without a fight.

Murray Watt

Senator Thorpe proposes to amend the bill before the Senate so that the proposed constitutional alteration would insert a new section 130 in the Constitution about the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The government does not support the amendment proposed by Senator Thorpe. There is no need to amend the bill as proposed by Senator Thorpe. The Voice provision would have no impact on sovereignty. This question was put directly to the Constitutional Expert Group, and they advised that enshrining a voice in the Constitution would not affect the sovereignty of any group or body.

Lidia Thorpe

Because they're trained by the same colonial system.

Murray Watt

This referendum is about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution as the first peoples of Australia, after more than 120 years of exclusion and omission.

This referendum is also about establishing the Voice to make representations to the parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Proposed section 129 of the Constitution would contain four simple lines. It would finally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia's first peoples in our founding legal document. It would guarantee the existence of the Voice. It would guarantee the Voice's core representation-making function. It would also confer upon the parliament a broad power to make laws on matters relating to the Voice.

Michaelia Cash

The coalition will also not be supporting this amendment. As a threshold issue, we do not believe the Voice should be enshrined in the Constitution, and there is no amendment to this bill, the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023, which can clear that threshold. Supporting this amendment to the bill would require us to support the idea that the Voice should be in the Constitution and also that the Constitution should then be amended in the manner proposed by Senator Thorpe.

We also have very significant procedural concerns about this amendment. Our criticisms of the government's process to date are a matter of public record. The Constitution alteration introduced by the government was developed behind closed doors by the handpicked referendum working group, without the benefit of a constitutional convention. It was the subject of a joint select committee inquiry that was given less than 4½ days to inquire into the impacts of a significant change to our system of government. It has been the subject of now four Solicitor-General opinions, three of which have been kept secret and the fourth of which, as we know from Senate estimates, was drafted expressly for the purposes of being made public and therefore is best understood as a very carefully curated public showpiece rather than a thorough unvarnished exposition of the risks.

This amendment does not even meet those very low standards. We are not aware of any public process that has led to the development of this amendment. It is not one of the many options considered over the course of co-design work and committee inquiry. It has not been the subject of extensive legal and academic debate, and to the best of our knowledge it has not been the subject of any inquiry at all. We don't know whether it's even been the subject of legal advice, secret or otherwise.

The risks associated with this proposed change to our Constitution are not just unquantifiable. The risks may in fact not even have been identified. We don't even know what the risks are, let alone how severe they may be. And, regardless of the content, there are no circumstances in which we could support this constitutional amendment.

Nick McKim

The Greens are supportive of the concept behind this amendment. However, we are concerned that the impacts of such a broadly worded amendment to the Constitution pose a great risk and there is a high chance of far-reaching, unintended consequences as a result of this proposed amendment. So the Greens will not be supporting this amendment.

The Greens have committed to supporting the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 unamended. The words in the bill have been subject to a rigorous co-design process with First Nations people and a committee inquiry. It does not appear that this proposed amendment has been subject to the same level of consultation and scrutiny. There is inherent risk in attempting to insert such broad changes into this bill at such a late stage, especially changes that do not have the support of the co-design group. The Greens care deeply about First Nations sovereignty. However, we are not willing to take this risk. The Greens have sought independent legal advice about this amendment, which has helped us come to this conclusion.

Janet Rice

The Greens agree with Senator Thorpe that sovereignty has never been ceded, that we're on stolen land—

James McGrath

Senator Thorpe, you were heard in respectful silence. Could you please let Senator Rice speak.

Janet Rice

The Greens believe very strongly that sovereignty has not been ceded, that our First Nations peoples are sovereign in this land. This doesn't mean that we need to support Senator Thorpe's amendment, which, as my colleague Senator McKim has said, would have far-reaching and unknown potential consequences for the Constitution.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: If no other senator wishes to make a contribution: the question before the chair is that amendment (1) on sheet 1923 moved by Senator Thorpe be agreed to.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Thorpe. So, no. Senator Thorpe, because there was only one voice, would like your position recorded in the Journals of the Senate as I'm unable to call a division without a second voice. Senator Thorpe?

Lidia Thorpe

So let me get this right—I'm just trying to understand things here. As a Gunnai Gunditjmara Djabwurrung woman, I'm calling for this parliament to acknowledge sovereignty of First Nations people and I don't have anyone in this whole place who's going to support calling a division. Is that right? I'm just calling that out for my—I'm the only person in the whole place right now who wants to divide on this. What happens there? I've got no support.

James McGrath

Senator Thorpe, I'm in the hands of the chamber. I can put your motion again to see if there is a further voice that will support your position. Would you like me to do that? You're indicating yes. So, the question before the chair is that amendment (1) on sheet 1923 moved by Senator Thorpe be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Lidia Thorpe

by leave—I ask that my name be recorded as being the only person in support of the motion, as the only person in this building who recognises the real sovereignty of First Peoples in this country.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 4:13 AM on 2023-06-16
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 41
Total number of "no" votes: 12
Total number of abstentions: 23
Related bill: Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023

Adapted from information made available by