There was little or no attention paid to Indigenous issues over the election campaign, as noted by Sarah Maddison from University NSW. It seems we voters are blind to Australia’s greatest failing and, of course, the First Australians don’t live in marginal seats and represent only 2.5% of our population.
Our finely-tuned marketing/political leaders see Indigenous issues as
‘politically risky, tapping into a deep vein of complex feeling among voters about our colonial past and the disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous people in Australia today’, as Sarah observes.
The Howard Government’s NT interventionist approach was continued by the Rudd Labor Government despite considerable domestic and international criticism.
“Despite the fact that controversy over this policy has burbled away uninterrupted since 2007, there will not be any debate on this issue in this election campaign. Both sides of politics are in complete accord on Indigenous affairs, and both believe there are no votes in black politics.
Thus far in the campaign the only policy ‘initiatives’ that have been announced come from unexpected sources and are unlikely to attract any serious attention. Who could have predicted that Rod Evans, a candidate for Pauline Hanson’s former party, One Nation, would be calling for reserved seats for Indigenous people in the federal parliament?
And who would believe that controversial National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce would decide to use the election campaign to call for a ‘tax holiday’ for Indigenous people in regional areas in order to stimulate employment and investment? Joyce’s call was quickly dismissed by Tony Abbott’s office, which declared it ‘not policy’.
What is interesting to note during the general campaign silence on Indigenous affairs is the extent to which this differs from the constant ‘white noise’ the rest of the time. Rarely a day goes by in Australia where Indigenous issues are not subject to media scrutiny and public debate. Except, it would seem, during an election campaign.”
Sarah has just returned from a Churchill Fellowship-funded trip to Canada and the United States. She found :
“One striking difference in North America is the extent to which Native American and Canadian Aboriginal affairs go under the radar. Unlike in Australia where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues remain a constant ‘hot button’, in Canada and the US Indigenous affairs are rarely, if ever, front page news.
Of course, the other difference in North America is that Indigenous peoples have a stronger legal foundation upon which to base their relationships with government. Whether it be constitutional recognition in Canada or a range of treaty arrangements in the United States there is a strong sense that greater legal certainty and a higher degree of autonomy are allowing native North Americans to get on with the job of improving their own lives and the lives of their children.
Driven by strong tribal agendas and recognised by Government, these organisations believe that self-government is the only way forward for Indigenous peoples. They are not front page news and they are quietly getting on with the job of managing and improving their own lives.
In light of these observations Sarah returned to Australia and to an election campaign in which Indigenous concerns barely rated a mention.
“This is a great shame. The other important commitment made by both our previous prime ministers in the lead up to the 2007 election was to work towards the constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. It is time we saw that commitment honoured.”
Associate Professor Sarah Maddison is the research director of UNSW’s Indigenous Policy and Dialogue Research Unit, based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Do our leaders listen to our academics I wonder?