Federal Election: A Victory for Democracy

Federal Election: A Victory for Democracy

The certainty of a hung Federal Parliament following the August 21 national general election is a victory for democracy.

It holds the promise of a timely advance in the rights and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Although the final result is still in doubt it is clear the balance of power in both Houses of the new Parliament will lie with Independents and the Australian Greens.

This will force a new way of doing business in our National Parliament.

A minority Federal Government, Labor or Liberal, will have to work with the Independents and the Greens to provide stable government or be forced back to a fresh poll for the House of Representatives.

This has never happened before.

NSWALC is particularly pleased to see that two Independents from NSW, Tony Windsor and Robert Oakeshott, are set to play a pivotal role in this regard, along with the Greens in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Mr. Windsor and Mr Oakeshott have both shown a preparedness to work with our people in NSW to advance our interests in a way neither major party ever has.

Their commitment to their Aboriginal constituents, and their advocacy on our behalf, is an example which should be followed by all Federal MP's.

Mr. Windsor, for instance, played a crucial role in brokering the regional partnership agreement between the State and Federal Government and 14 Local Aboriginal Land Councils in the Northern Region.

He was on hand when all of the LALCs signed their Friendship Treaty in July last year which reaffirms the right of all Aboriginal people to self governance and self determination in accordance with respective laws, values, customs and languages.

The signing of the Treaty-the first of its type-was described by Mr. Windsor as an "historic day."

Mr. Windsor has frequently spoken in the Federal Parliament in defence of our rights and gave a good insight into his history and some of his views in his speech on the National Apology.

He told Parliament a large percentage of the population of his electorate are Aboriginal and he had grown up "near what used to be a mission near a little place called Caroona. It is now the Walhollow Community and a great community in any right-black, white or brindle."

"It is a very good example of what can be achieved with community leadership, elder participation, particularly in relation to the strong women in that community...."

Mr. Windsor told the Parliament he opposed the Northern Territory intervention because of its blanket approach and the misconception there are massive problems in all Aboriginal communities. This was not the case.

He also demonstrated his ability to work with, and acknowledge those on all sides of the Federal and NSW Parliament, paying particular tribute to the work of Col Markham as Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs in the New South Wales Parliament.

The Member for Lyne, Mr. Oakeshott, has also demonstrated a preparedness to work with all sides of politics and to break the policy mindset of both major parties on Aboriginal Affairs.

In November last year he told the Parliament people on the East Coast of Australia and, in particular, the mid north coast are increasingly concerned, frustrated and worried about the attention going into the Northern Territory and Cape York "for all things related to closing the gap and Indigenous related issues."

"If we are serious about this topic," he added, "if we are serious about words like social inclusion and if we really want to tackle the complexities of this issue, the regionalised, urbanised coastal populations on the east coast of Australia are where the vast majority of the Australian Aboriginal population live, yet in 15 months in this place I have heard very little about them from the executive...."

He later told the Parliament he was concerned about the frequent desire by the Labor Government, the Liberal Opposition and mainstream media to "paint all the voices of the Aboriginal populations of Australia with the one brush of Noel Pearson."

"I would hope," he added, "the executive and all members of this chamber recognise that there are many voices, many leaders in Indigenous communities throughout Australia."

He urged both major parties "not to leave behind the many communities on the east coast and do not forget the complexities, the number of voices and the number of leaders who do exist within the many Aboriginal communities of Australia."

Mr. Oakeshott has also spoken about the crucial importance of land rights and native title, the backlog on determinations in both and the need for negotiated settlements rather than litigation.

He also frequently talks about the importance of the United Nations and the need for Australia to overcome the way we play "cringe politics," whenever we engage with the world.

The voices of the Independents, and the Greens, were largely ignored in the 42nd Parliament.

They cannot be ignored in the new Parliament.

The Parliament will also be enhanced by the presence of the first ever Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, Doctor Ken Wyatt, the successful Liberal candidate for the seat of Hasluck.

NSWALC intends to work with all of the Independents, the Greens and all other parties to ensure the voices of Aboriginal people in New South Wales are heard loud and clear in the new Parliament, whichever of the major parties eventually forms a minority Government.

Bev Manton
Chairwoman, NSWALC

Tom Briggs
Deputy Chairman, NSWALC