Minister Shorten address at Melbourne Town Hall


BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good morning, everybody. It's fantastic to be here to represent our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. It's particularly special to me because I remember way back when I got a phone call from Earl Setches, who was the secretary of the Plumbers union, and he rings me and says, Oh Long, he's walking to Canberra. I said, Well, why? And he explained that Long, he's had enough and he's going to make his point. So I remember on that very first morning it wasn't like this. This is a fantastic gathering today. I think we had to rustle up a broken down minivan. And I remember getting a couple of my organisers. I said, Well, your next three weeks is now changed completely. But it's amazing, Michael - and we do this on the eve of a referendum and we do this because so much still has yet to be accomplished. But Michael, I know you're an incredibly modest man, but just reflect the love in this room that there is for you and the respect there is for you. And we're all here because of your courage and guts. It's such an honour to be with you today.

Someone once said that no lie can live forever. No lie can live forever. But our Constitution has an omission. It doesn't include our First Nations people, and it is up to us and everyday Australians all over this marvellous country to correct the lie. Our country is built on Aboriginal foundations. We should be proud of it and our First Nations peoples should be included in modern Australia's birth certificate and we have the chance to fix that lie. You're all here because you're voting yes. But in my brief remarks, I want to address perhaps people watching us who may be thinking of voting no. And I just say to those who may be thinking of voting no. Our Constitution was never intended to remain set in stone. Even those people who drafted it in the 1890s said there will come times when this constitution needs to be updated. So the argument that this constitution is sacred, it can never be changed is not actually true and was never intended by the designers of the Constitution. But the particular two points I want to make to people thinking about voting no, they might be people who say now is not the time. Perhaps there are better words somewhere in the ether and we shouldn't rush this. The reality is the time is not neutral. Time does not heal all. We now have an opportunity in our history where every individual can make a difference. Sometimes we watch the television or we see the debates about politics and we think there's nothing that we can ever do about where we're at. But there are moments in periods in our lives where as Australians, each individual does matter. In this referendum, we can say that we recognise that what we've done in the past, no matter how well intentioned, hasn't worked. To those who are thinking no and say we can leave this for another time or for a better idea, we are actually consigning a group of our own citizens to the repeated failures of the past.

The truth is that by voting yes, we are not giving special rights. We are not somehow elevating First Nations people to a particularly privileged position. The reality is that our First Nations people from birth to death and all of the milestones which Australians take for granted that our First Nations people start behind. People do not lose anything. We do not lose anything as a nation by saying we recognise that some Australians have greater disadvantage. We seek to merely bring them to the same starting point that we all the many of us already enjoy. So there is something called the whispering in our hearts. We know as a nation there is a dissatisfaction. We know that we're not accomplishing and delivering true equity and true citizenship to some of our fellow Australians. This whispering in our heart, this dissatisfaction with the status quo - this is the reason to vote yes. We know we can do better. We know we need to try something new.

And so when Michael and the Long Walkers set off today, he's not walking just for himself or his family or a group of Australians. Michael, you today and all of us, when we vote yes, we're not just doing it for one group of people. We are doing it because of the country we want our kids to grow up and see in the mirror - we are a generous, equal country and we fixed our old wrongs.