Federal Election 2010: The Platforms and Policies of the Major Parties

As soon as Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought to have writs issued for an August 21 Federal Election the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council wrote to the leaders of each of the major political parties.

Letters were sent to Ms Gillard and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the Leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown.

They were sent on July 26 within days of Ms Gillard's visit to Government House.

The letters sought copies of any fresh policy proposals, if any, the respective parties planned to release to further address the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people in the lead up to the 2010 Federal Election.

The letters pointed out that NSWALC was seeking to inform members of the land council network, and the wider Aboriginal community, in NSW of such policies ahead of the August 21 poll.

NSWALC put the view it was in a unique position to do so as it represented the interests of more than 20,000 members of 120 Local Aboriginal Land Councils across NSW.

We have yet to receive direct responses from Senator Brown and Mr Abbott, despite the fact the election campaign is entering its final stages.

The Australian Labor Party and the Liberal-National Coalition have both released specific new policies of this campaign.

The Australian Greens are campaigning on a comprehensive policy released in May last year.

NSWALC's Governing Council decided at its meeting in Sydney this week to release to the land rights network a copy of the letters to each leader. 

Council believes this will enable LALC members to consider the requests contained within them and to compare them with the specific policy commitments, if any, which have been so far provided by the major parties.

The letters, replies, and policy and platform documents are attached to this message.

State of the Parties

What follows is NSWALC's view of where the major parties stand in their policy commitments to our people as the election campaign draws to a close.

Australian Labor

As you will see our letter to Prime Minister Gillard (copied to Minister Macklin) informed them we were aware of the general policies outlined in the Australian Labor Party's National Platform as determined by delegates to its 45th National Conference in Sydney at this time last year.

These included national commitments and long term targets in areas such as health, housing and education which are set out for a Federal Labor Government to close the gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in life expectancy and socio-economic opportunities.

NSWALC reminded PM Gillard and Minister Macklin it publicly supported those targets.

We expressed the hope they would be met.

We noted, however, that no new specific policies had so far been released, nor promises provided, during this campaign by Federal Labor to build upon a range of untimed commitments outlined in that year old National Policy Platform.

NSWALC expressed the hope some of those commitments would be addressed during the current campaign.

We noted, for instance, the National Platform commits Federal Labor to "build public support for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Labor will work towards a lasting settlement with Indigenous Australians."

NSWALC pointed out this was a major issue for our constituents, as evidenced, for example, from debate and feedback from LALCs at our last Statewide Conference.

We asked if Labor intended to set a timeframe against this commitment should it succeed in gaining a second term.

Australian Labor's election policy statement, Closing the Gap, which was released on Monday of last week, contained a vague commitment to establish an Expert Panel to "progress the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution."

No time frame was announced and no commitment given to proceeding to a referendum after consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

There was no mention of the National Platform pledge that Labor will work towards a "lasting settlement," with Indigenous Australians, i.e. a Treaty.

NSWALC further asked if Labor would be releasing any policy commitment to a Charter of Rights or what plans, if any, were being considered to enshrine in Australian law the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The policy statement contains no such commitments.

We also noted the National Policy Platform commits a Labor Government to support land rights and native title as property rights under Australian law and "will work to accelerate the resolution of outstanding land and native title claims in partnership with other stakeholders."

The Platform further states: "Labor believes that negotiation produces better outcomes than litigation and that land use and ownership issues should be resolved by negotiation."

NSWALC commended the expressed support for land rights and the commitment to the negotiated resolution of outstanding land claims but, understandably, questioned if this commitment was specific to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act which falls within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Government.

We pointed out to the Prime Minister that there are currently more than18,000 land claims awaiting determination under the self-funded land rights regime in NSW.

NSWALC and Aboriginal Land Councils, we pointed out, were being increasingly forced to resort to expensive litigation to resolve disputed land claims and protect our rights.

We expressed the belief that considerable Commonwealth Government resources could be brought to bear to assist in accelerating the settlement of our outstanding land claims.

NSWALC asked if any consideration "has been, or could be given, to assist in this regard."

The 20 page policy document contains no specific reference to land rights.

In fact, the document bears little relation to the rights-based commitments outlined in Labor's National Policy Platform and ignored by Labor during its first term.

It entrenches support for racist legislation such as that which underpins the intervention in the Northern Territory and the eventual rollout of income quarantining to other States, including our own.

You will find no reference to self determination in the policy document or Any reference to rights in the reply to our letter from Minister Macklin's office which was received earlier this week.

The letter, and Labor's policy document avoid answering most of our questions and seeks to avoid any role in assisting us to break through the land claim determination backlog in NSW while leaving the door slightly ajar on possible future Commonwealth involvement.

All said and done, it would appear the right-based agenda for Aboriginal Affairs will be ignored by a new Labor Government as it was during the term of the Rudd Government.

Liberal-National Coalition.

The Liberal and National Coalition parties have released one specific policy document on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

As we have noted elsewhere Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's first public statements in the campaign specific to Aboriginal Affairs pledged Coalition support for a nationwide rollout of income quarantining if he is elected.

Mr. Abbott officially launched the 2010 Federal Coalition election campaign in Brisbane.

"Indigenous" people rated one mention in his speech.

Mr. Abbott said the Coalition wanted to implement a "participation boosting reform," by "breaking the cycle of welfare dependency for young indigenous people and others trapped in inter-generational poverty; provided they are prepared to renounce their welfare entitlement in return for a guaranteed job."

"The Coalition is determined to back this insight of Noel Pearson," he added, "because real leadership in the community deserves real support from government."

The land rights movement in NSW provides real leadership in the community but Mr. Abbott has never sought to meaningfully engage with us.....despite the fact we operate in his home state.

The Liberal Party has a Federal platform.

It was adopted by its Federal Council in 2002.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples rate one mention.

The platform states:

The Europeans who began to settle Australia more than two hundred years ago did not come to an empty land. For tens of thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had lived on this continent.

Their contribution to Australia's identity has been, and will continue to be, an enriching one.

The Liberal Party issued the Coalition's Plan for "Real Action for Indigenous Australians,"

eight days out from the poll..and just before mobile polling was due to begin in major Aboriginal communities.

The document foreshadows a return to the assimilationist polices of the Howard Government.

While the Liberals and the Nationals coalesce to form a National Government both normally issue separate policy documents.

In the absence of a specific National Party policy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs we again turned to the Nationals Policy Platform 2010.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are acknowledged in its Social Justice section.

The Platform notes the Nationals represent some of the most disadvantaged electorates in the country, "the plight of our seniors, carers. Those with a disability, our indigenous population and others who are underprivileged is our core concern."

Its plan for a "fair go" for all Australians contains the following dot point.

Upholding the rights of Indigenous Australians and recognising their special needs through properly resourced programs directed to promoting self help, self respect, education and job creation.

That's it!

The Australian Greens

Labor's policy document and the absence of any Coalition policy document (s) stands in stark contrast to the current policy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from the Australian Greens.

In our letter to Senator Brown we acknowledged the clear, concise and comprehensive principles, goals and measures outlined in the rights-based policy released by the Australian Greens in May last year.

It makes refreshing reading.

The three-page policy is a rights blueprint for our people.

Its language is unambiguous.

For instance, the Greens want a treaty that recognises the prior occupation and sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be enshrined in the constitution.

They want our rights and obligations as owners and custodians of our land to be recognised and respected.

They want Australia to comply with international agreements that recognise the rights of our people.

They want equality of access to essential services and development opportunities for our people within a decade.

They want equality of outcomes on all major indicators of health, education, training, housing, employment and living standards within a generation within a framework which acknowledges the diverse aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

They want the establishment of appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies elected by Aboriginal people and increased representation for our people in all levels of government and other decision making roles.

This is a just a snapshot of their policy agenda.

I'm sure everyone reading this message will agree with the aims and aspirations contained in the policy document.

Our letter to Senator Brown said we would distribute this policy throughout the network in the absence of any new specific policy proposals.

We also expressed the hope the Australians Greens would secure the balance of power in the Senate in their own right to ensure an effective break on the executive power of Government no matter which party is in a position to occupy the Treasury benches post-August 21.

In NSWALC's view all Aboriginal people in New South Wales, and elsewhere, should vote the Australians Greens to express their support for this policy in both the House of Representatives, where possible, and in the Senate.

Bev Manton
Chairperson
New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council.

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 *All relevant policies and platform documents are attached to this message.

Australian Labor
Liberal-National Coalition
The Australian Greens 

Letter from Minister MACKLIN to Chairperson Bev MANTON

*The two major parties describe their policies as detailed statements of specific programs of action derived from their platforms.

  The platforms are statements of "core" principles based on their respective political philosophies.