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Shorten's treaty talk reflects impact of Indigenous activism

  • 22 June 2016


For the first time ever since I have been enrolled to vote in this country, I got the sense that political views on the importance of Indigenous issues had shifted.

Yet the reason I felt this way was not due to an increase in Indigenous voices in the political discussions nor was it because either of the major parties announced a policy which I found remotely inspiring.

Rather it was because, under the glare of the camera, the leaders of the two major parties both attempted to show a greater understanding of the Indigenous political agenda than they have before.

It is fair to say both failed in their attempts. Bill Shorten, while on QandA, shocked both the audience and the show anchor Tony Jones when he plainly stated that the future ways forward for the Labor Party could include a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Shorten, however, stumbled when talking about whether Australia was 'invaded' or not while also only referring to the concept of treaty as something to come after constitutional recognition.

Picking up on Shorten's stumble, Malcolm Turnbull declared in a press conference the following day that Australia was indeed invaded, and there was no question of this.

Turnbull then stumbled when he accused Shorten of putting the push for recognition in jeopardy by talking about treaties. This directly contradicts the government-funded Recognise campaign's own assurances that both these things can exist side by side.

Last election constitutional recognition was about the only issue either party wanted to talk about when it came to Indigenous affairs. Anything else wasn't even on the radar. 


"It makes practical sense to see our rights protected before we consider any potential move to write us into a document that was built around our exclusion."


The fact that politicians are using terms like 'treaty' in public forums while also decolonising historical understanding says something has shifted. That showing a greater commitment to Indigenous affairs beyond symbolic recognition is deemed to be a popular move at this time and could in fact change votes.

A lot of this shift is, I feel, down to the activism of the Indigenous left over the past few years. Anyone who has been watching knows that constitutional recognition has been a contentious topic within the Indigenous community, bearing little resemblance to the apparent consensus successive governments have stated. The success of the Stop the Forced Closure rallies are a product of this, for what is