The lesser of two evils

Are Labor and the Liberals distinguishable on Indigenous policy? Kyol Blakeney investigates

Since the first governments of Australia, the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has been debated more often than you’ve debated whether to walk down Eastern Ave during campaigning season. In that time, both Labor and the Liberals have overseen significant changes (positive and negative) to their positions on the rights traditional owners have on their land.

While many people may be opposed to both major parties, the reality is that one of them is going to win. But which is the lesser of the two evils when it comes to what will be done to improve Indigenous Australians’ way of life after this election?

Taking a brief tour down memory lane to set the context; Aboriginal people became Australian citizens in 1949, when a separate Australian citizenship was created for the first time (before that time all Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, were “British subjects”). Aboriginal people from Queensland and Western Australia gained the vote in federal elections in 1962. However, a Commonwealth Act confirmed the Commonwealth voting right of Aboriginal people from other states in 1949 . We got the vote in WA state elections in 1962 and Queensland state elections in 1965.

One of the most memorable moments in Australian history was the 1967 Referendum, which officially changed Section 51(xxvi) of the constitution, which had previously given the Federal Parliament power to “make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State.” Section 127, which excluded Aboriginals from the census, was also erased. It was actually the Liberal Party under the Holt Government that held this renowned occasion.

However, in the last 46 years the tables have turned and Labor has come to the fore on Indigenous rights. Both Keating and Rudd have given apologies while Howard refused to, education in remote communities has been in the spotlight and every Aboriginal four-year-old child now has access to early childhood educational facilities, $10 million has gone into the Recognise campaign, and 90% of eligible Indigenous Australians will receive funding from DisabilityCare.

The Howard Liberal Government started the Intervention, allowing the federal government to have complete control over Aboriginal land in the NT and manage the finances of Aboriginal people for them.

Because I am a thorough person who is quite objective, I did some research specifically for the Liberal side of this article. Abbott has promised to put aside $45 million for the GenerationOne Employment Model, allowing more employers to take on more employees. But this only provides one-off employment rather than actually funding the training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for those jobs. I seriously needed to find something else to make this debate a little less one sided so I called the Liberal Ministerial and Electoral Offices. They declined to comment. What can one do?

Honi Soit
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