How the New Government Will Affect the Rights and Lives of Indigenous People

indigenous issues labor

NAIDOC Week celebrates and recognised the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It’s an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories. The Latch team is sharing stories to help educate, honour and guide in our continued to push for change, so be sure to find all our pieces here. Val Morgan Digital acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Look, the previous government, uh, didn’t have the best record when it came to Indigenous rights.

On their watch, we saw the horrifying continuation of Aboriginal deaths in custody, the destruction of multiple sacred Indigenous sites, and Scott Morrison telling Indigenous people that the hardest word to say is not sorry but “I forgive you.”

The previous administration failed on so many counts to protect the rights and livelihoods of First Nations people but now we have a shiny new government and everything is better. Right?

Well, not quite. Although PM Albanese has made some excellent first steps in attempting to address the issues at hand, his government has yet to follow through on many of the promises made on the campaign trail. To be fair, they’ve only been in power a month and it would be ludicrous to expect such a shift overnight, but still, there are reasons to be *concerned*.

There are some very encouraging signs that things will improve for First Nations people, there are also some worrying ones that they will not.

Here’s how we can expect the recent transition of power to impact the lives and rights of Indigenous people.

What’s Changed?

The last election saw a record number of Indigenous representatives in Federal Parliament. Four new Indigenous MPs and Senators were voted in, bringing the total to ten. Indigenous members now account for 4.4% of Federal representatives, which is above the 3.3% of the population that they comprise.

Of those ten, six are in the governing Labor Party. This is the most Indigenous people in seats of power that we’ve ever had. Out of these six, three of them have been given leadership roles in government, with MP Linda Burney and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy as Minister and Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians, and Senator Patrick Dodson as Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement.

Burney and Dodson are key here. Both have decades of experience in fighting for equality and justice and Burney is the first Indigenous woman to serve in her role. Both her job and Dodson’s will be to oversee a key reform of the Labor government: an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The Good Stuff

One of the very first moves that Albanese made as PM was to bring the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islands flags onto the announcement podium behind him to stand next to the Australian flag. It’s a symbolic gesture, sure, but it’s a powerful one and hopefully a good indicator of the approach his administration is taking.

Albanese has also affirmed campaign promises to commit to an implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, new investments in First Nations land and water management, strengthening economic and job opportunities for Indigenous people, and improving housing conditions in remote communities.

Albanese has also promised a referendum on the constitutional recognition of Indigenous people in Australia.

Burney has already been drumming up support for the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and has said that it will be a national effort to implement it.

And the Not So Good Stuff

As we said, it’s early days yet — for both the good and bad stuff — however, the following does give us a slight sense of unease.

Firstly, Indigenous Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe has requested that the Labor government withdraw an appeal to restore commonwealth powers to deport Indigenous non-citizens. Granted, the appeal was made by the Morrison government in order to deport an Aboriginal New Zealand back across the Tasman last year, but it’s worrying that Labor have yet to repeal this request.

The Guardian has reported that Labor has caught legal advice on the status of ‘non-citizen non-aliens,’ but it’s unclear if they’ve asked for advice on withdrawing the case.

Secondly, Labor seem to be hesitant to hold the referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous people. While our previous experiences of a referendum suggest that the government should probably just go ahead and do it, rather than giving divisive elements the chance to whip up bigotry, a vote might settle the matter once and for all – if it goes in the right direction of course, and there’s no guarantee that it will.

The Coalition’s shadow attorney general, Julian Leeser, has pointed out that the new government has yet to respond to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament final report, which was submitted last year, that Labor, at the time, called a “fail.”

Albanese has since hit back and said that the details need to be worked out in full or they risk confusing people at a vote but that he is keen to get moving on it as soon as possible or “momentum will be lost.”

On a bigger scale, many of the issues facing Indigenous people in Australia will take years, if not decades, of sustained focus and financial support. While more Indigenous voices in Parliament and the halls of power is definitely a good thing, real meaningful change is going to take a long time — ie, more than a single term of a Labor government.

Sitting and waiting for these issues to be resolved isn’t really an option, but it’s the only one that seems available to many of us. Just this week, new data from the Productivity Commission found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have moved backwards in early development goals since 2018. Progress on issues like this is vital to closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and it’s clear the government needs to get working as soon as possible.

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