Indigenous Affairs

Policy analysis by Associate Professor Mark McMillan, Faculty of Law

Aboriginal flag painted on wall

When it comes to Indigenous Affairs within the context of the current federal election campaign it is obvious that all sides of politics still fail to grasp basic concepts of ‘being in relation with’ Indigenous Australians.

Each Party’s Indigenous policy platform includes feel good statements about working with Indigenous peoples and organisations to achieve the lofty ideals of equality and opportunity – for all.

What all party platforms fail to recognise, as well as embrace, is how Indigenous peoples have fallen into the position of complete and utter disadvantage.

Embedded in this lack of recognition is the policies that remain in place are, already, NOT working.
The policies are - from my perspective – just more of the same. They will not work in fact because they are essentially about what government can to Indigenous people.

To state how they [the political parties that actually form government] are going to change - in real terms - the lives of Indigenous Australia also suggests something about how each of the parties engage with (and within) the Indigenous space. It is in this space that some ideologies - not working with Indigenous peoples - have proved to be a disaster for Indigenous peoples. 

Moreover, what are Indigenous peoples’ demands of all parties in this election? The Indigenous affairs portfolio has every facet of Indigenous affairs capacity to engage with government about outcomes. Whether it be education; health; land; culture; law and justice… Indigenous peoples have service delivery capacity, advocacy capacity and every other capacity to work with any government formed after the election. So what are Indigenous peoples saying TO the parties in this election?

Working with Indigenous Peoples

One area of difference between the parties (Labor, Greens, Liberal and National) is the concept of representation over mere advice.  

In particular, the Labor party and the Greens have stated their intention to restore funding to the only national Indigenous representative structure – the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. (I have to state that I am currently a Board member of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.)

The Liberal party has retained an ideological adherence to hand picking their advisors. This is the pivotal difference between the parties likely to form and influence government - the benefit of representation to achieve better outcomes in law and policy for Indigenous peoples.

The key in this analysis is how are any party are developing within their policies of working with Indigenous people to achieve their policy objectives.

What Indigenous Australians need

A gathering of nation Indigenous representative, service delivery and advocacy bodies occurred on the 9th June 2016. These organisations were from across all sectors.

The Co-Chair of the National Congress – Dr Jackie Huggins delivered the ‘Redfern Statement’ on behalf of all the organisations. She called on the next federal government to:

1) Conduct meaningful engagement around National Representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples;

2) in the area of health and in particular the need for focus on the First Peoples Health Priorities
“All parties contesting the 2016 Federal Election must place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs at the heart of their election platforms, recognising the health equality as our national priority.”

3) Commit to better access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; to adopt justice targets; proper and adequate funding of community controlled front line services;

4) Reform the Indigenous Advancement Strategy;

5) Focusing on preventing violence through the reinstatement of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program…;

6) Focus on early childhood by providing greater access (through adequate funding and subsidies) to quality early childhood education and care;  investing in the First 1000 days program; ensuring child safety, well-being and cultural identity are part of a whole of sector response to early childhood needs; and

7) Addressing disability and access to services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities.

The Close the Gap Coalition (a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and community organisations) have also released a 2016 Federal Election position paper.

The paper strengthens and adds to the demands of the Redfern Statement. It further calls for the re-establishment of a Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in the future.

Record numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people standing for election

There are currently 15 candidates across the two chambers and across political parties – both major and minor.

They are:  Ken Canning; Ash Rose; Linda Burney; Geoffrey Winter; Patrick Dodson; Jacqui Lambie; Sharlene Leroy Dyer; Kerryanne Liddle; Johanna Lindgren; Carole Martin; Malarndirri McCarthy; Kado Muir; Tammy Solonec; Shae Taylor and Ken Wyatt.

Image credit: Michael Coglan/Flickr