When Kevin Rudd announced that the ALP would spend $260 million to improve the health and education of Indigenous children if it wins government, the first thing that passed my mind was “here we go again, another bidding war between political parties on our futures”.
While these promises are undoubtedly a good start, the political will to create change will require more than money and national symbolism.
I’m hoping to hear of a more holistic political approach that transcends political opportunism and commits to developing a sustainable, longitudinal approach to Indigenous affairs and wellbeing. For too long we have been a political football on a political football field upon which we never asked to be kicked around on in the first instance.
It is the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, and it is often forgotten that this moment in our history gave impetus to a political movement, which in turn gave rise to the establishment of services run by Aboriginal people and which attacked discrimination in all its forms. It also gave rise to recognition of some land rights and it mobilised and raised the consciousness of Aboriginal people nationally to understand that racism was not the norm and that rights were worth fighting for.
It also gave birth to a much needed national political movement. The post 1967 referendum political agenda was firmly focused on improving the lives of Aboriginal people first and foremost in all social indicators.
It gave meaning to the existence of ordinary Aboriginal people at the grassroots. It provided a sense of unity that contributed to collaboration in addressing community issues. Remote people collaborated with urban people and rural people. With some freeing up of the missions and reserves family members were reunited, common causes were identified and coalitions for action emerged.
National leadership also blossomed, healthy debate ensued and it nurtured new understandings by white Australians about the history, culture and diversity of Aboriginal peoples.
What then will Labor deliver in terms of national leadership should it win government?
Moreover, where is the united Aboriginal voice leading up to this important federal election?
Twenty years ago the likes of Robert Riley, Colleen Shirley (Mum Shirl) Smith, Mick Miller, Charles Perkins and many others would not have stood for such an impotent national voice leading up to a federal election. Are our own leaders so politically divided that they cannot stand together and declare some common policy in relation to the aspirations of their own people?
The demise of ATSIC should alert leaders to the need to be more vigilant and inquisitive about Labor’s intentions before the next federal election and their promise of creating a new elected national Indigenous body. What will it look like? Who will it speak to? Who will be appointed to it? No one seems to know.
Important questions need to be asked of Kevin Rudd and Labor’s policy machine about their secret model for National Indigenous representation.
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