Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (10:47): On the weekend, 60.59 per cent of Australians voted to keep Australia united. They voted against the referendum proposal. In South Australia, 64.6 per cent voted no. In my electorate of Grey, 78.4 per cent voted no. There have been 44 referendums in Australia’s history prior to this one. Eight have been successful. None have passed without bipartisan support. One would ask the question why the Prime Minister decided to plough ahead regardless on a referendum which has undoubtedly divided Australia. I note more division in the community at the moment than I’ve seen in perhaps two or three decades. It will take some time to bring us all back together.
But I don’t think there’s much doubt the Prime Minister sought not to reach a bipartisan position. I think he saw this as a political opportunity, looking at the polls—65 to 35—and thought, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ He never reached out to the coalition to find that common ground.
An honourable member interjecting—
Mr RAMSEY: If the member from Queensland interrupting there thinks that there was a reach-out, he is deluding himself. It was deliberately designed to put the coalition on the other side of the argument and, thus, the Prime Minister thought he would bury the coalition on the wrong side of history. Well, he backed the wrong horse. The reason it was the wrong horse is he was never able to adequately explain to the Australian public, firstly, how this new body would achieve change and, secondly, what the ramifications of that change would be. There were plenty of conflicting legal opinions all over Australia telling us all kinds of different outcomes.
This has been a poor exercise. It has cost a lot of money and it has brought Australia to a poorer position than where we started. From here, we have to work to bridge that gap. There’s a very interesting article in the Weekend Australian which shows where the disadvantage sits within Indigenous communities. In Australia, 37 per cent of Indigenous people sit within the bottom quintile. In the next two quintiles are 60 per cent of Australians, living in suburbia and the larger centres and actually enjoying a lifestyle very similar to the rest of Australia. So there is no good argument that they need another Voice in parliament. It is that bottom quintile—many of which live in my electorate and many of whom voted against this proposal—that we need to concentrate our efforts on to bring about change for them.