Aboriginal issues are still not a vote-winner



Every election, when the Vote Compass quiz comes out, I rush to give it a go like just about every other sad lefty out there. The point of doing it appears to be to see just how far to the left I end up on the graph when compared to the major political parties.

A mother and daughter sitting side-by-side on a lounge. (Marianne Purdie / Getty Creative)Yet every time, I am disappointed. I already know due to sheer lived experience that the rights of three per cent of the population are a low priority in this country. But the questions around Indigenous affairs are consistently limited, and paint an inaccurate picture of the political persuasions of the Indigenous electorate.

This Vote Compass was no different. One of the two questions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights asked whether our affairs should receive more funding — a loaded question when you consider that right-wing parties often use the provision of this funding as a racist dog-whistle. The other was about whether Australia should amend the Constitution to include an Indigenous voice to Parliament. It was my answer to this question that drove my result to the right.

As an Aboriginal voter who has been engaged in the sovereignty and land rights movement, I have long been critical of Constitutional change occuring before the long overdue negotiation of treaties. The Constitution was installed with the view that Aboriginal people had no rights on the lands on which they had lived for millennia. For example, voting rights that Aboriginal men and women had held in South Australia from 1893 were stripped in 1902 when white women won suffrage.

The Constitution installed colonial rule over a people who had never consented to it. So it makes no sense to change the Constitution before addressing the ills it was installed upon. On this basis I was critical of the Recognise campaign and of parts of the Uluru Statement, and remain critical of the proposal for the voice to Parliament.

The limitations of the Vote Compass questions on these issues reflect the extent to which they are a priority, both for mainstream white Australians and for the major political parties. We can tell the Morrison government has no interest in Indigenous affairs because, apart from committing some money to suicide prevention programs (albeit less than half the amount requested by NACCHO to undertake this essential work), its last budget showed a series of cuts. When the government is looking to extend cashless welfare card trials while also removing the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program, we can assume most of its policy initiatives remain punitive.

On the other side of the aisle, the Labor Party has committed to abolishing the racist and discriminatory Community Development Program (CDP). This is welcome news, although more details are needed on what programs will replace it and how they will run for the benefit of the communities currently being disproportionately penalised under the CDP.


"It doesn't matter terribly what the parties promise; they rarely deliver, and few in the electorate bar Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will attempt to hold them accountable."


Broader than that, following the then Turnbull government's rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the ALP has announced its support of a Makarrata commission for agreement-making and truth-telling, as well as the inclusion of an Indigenous voice to Parliament in the Constitution. The Greens, meanwhile, have indicated support for both of the aforementioned items, as well as indicating strong support for treaty processes.

The process of truth-telling in Australia is incredibly important and overdue, and I don't believe many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would disagree. Constitutional change, however, remains contentious for a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as myself.

At the end of the day, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues are not a vote-winner. I can only think of one time in the entirety of my voting life where they were used as such, and that was in the dying days of the Howard government. The then prime minister declared a 'state of emergency' and implemented the disgraceful Northern Territory Intervention to make a show that he had 'done something' after years of neglect. Twelve years later, many of these oppressive policies remain in place. Considering that, it doesn't matter terribly what the parties promise; they rarely deliver, and few in the electorate bar Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will attempt to hold them accountable.

What I'd prefer to see is an ongoing commitment to working in collaboration with communities all across the country, rather than continually imposing policy on us. I'd like to see our educational, medical, legal and other initiatives properly funded so that those who are working towards solutions in our communities are respected and don't always have to go cap-in-hand. I'd like to see our sites, lands and languages protected, and our history taught. Finally, I'd like to see consultation always being a part of the process and not an afterthought, or something framed only in the terms of the white mainstream, as it has consistently been in the past.

Until all this happens, I have very little chance of Vote Compass accurately reflecting my political persuasions.



Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne, the National Indigenous Organiser of the NTEU, and a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image by Marianne Purdie / Getty Creative

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, Election 2019, Scott Morrison, Bill Shorten, John Howard, Intervention



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Existing comments

A bleeding heard story. Why do our indigoes people and supporters keep mission a serious concern. As stated they represent 3% of the population. I am a firm believer in the one nation one law constitution. Discrimination grows out of fear. Fear is fed by demands in any form for any reason that divides. Our country does not have a bill of rights. We only have the Australian Constitution. I respect our indigos brother and sisters who have moved on by empowering themselves in common society through education, employment and personal development. Discrimination only stops when we accept each other as equals and yes there is a long way to go in some area.

Edward M | 15 May 2019  

I follow your drift, Celeste, and agree there are issues to be addressed before any referendum re the constitution and/or any legislation is proposed concerning a voice to the parliament. The range of experience of Indigenous folks, from surviving remote communities to the modern day urbanised living of many, is one such issue. Is it a question of native title for those who can run with this, and then the promotion of community based aspirations for those who have more contact with the non-Indigenous community, by marriage, partnerships, and other even negative circumstances within the mutlticultural society? There is a basic need for an anthropological awareness that can build on available opportunities to build community wherever and whoever folks might be.

Noel McMaster | 15 May 2019  

Thank you Celeste. As a white well educated male I find the comments by Edward offensive and lacking understanding of the complexities as outlined so well by Celeste. Interestingly the 'bleeding heart' comment often used by such as Andrew Bolt could well refer to the Sacred Heart in the Catholic tradition. Then to imply that anyone who questions the status quo need to 'move on' fits well into the Murdoch stable.

Tom Kingston | 15 May 2019  

I have hope for the future. I have hope that we can have genuine reconciliation. But to do that, we need non Indigenous Australia to be honest. Honest about the past but also about the present. Honest about how much we've stacked the decks, how racist our policies and institutions are. Honest about what we've done. We can be better. The status quo is a cancer

Maddy | 15 May 2019  

'A bleeding heard' story??? Heard where?? Who are these 'indigoes' people who 'keep mission a serious concern'? Even the 'indigos brother and sisters' (a band??) you so 'respect', are puzzled by your response to Ms Liddell's article.. Bottom line: 3% is not nothing and proof-reading could be your friend.

Blair | 15 May 2019  

Thanks Celeste for this thoughtful piece. I agree fully that a treaty must be negotiated before any other process of "recognition" can be meaningful. And, no, I am not indigenous, just honest about this country's history.

Colin Apelt | 15 May 2019  

Thank you celesta. You words. Certainly gave me food. For thought. I voted for constitutional change, now I see some of the problems I had not der stood. Thank you. I don't know how Aborigianal and Torres Strait Islanders. Jeep struggling for justice. I stand in awe of. You courage, commitment and resilience. God bless and help us all to understand, appreciate and act.

Margaret Lamb | 15 May 2019  

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