This election we need to see real change for First Nations communities

23 May 2022

Many people are feeling disillusioned, fed up and downright defeated at the state of politics in this country. There are about 800,000 First Nations people in this country and yet our voices are not a priority.

The narrative of the 2022 federal election is that we are all doing it tough. It suggests that we are struggling equally to afford childcare, fuel and our daily groceries – to get and keep the very roofs over our heads while dealing with war in Europe, a pandemic and rising inflation.

The question of this election is: who are the best ones to manage these competing and intersecting interests? Either those who have been in charge of the nation for the past decade – the self-declared “bulldozer” Scott Morrison – or, as he’s been called by undecided voters, “the untried, untested and unknown” Anthony Albanese?

That’s up to the Australian people and soon we’ll have an answer.

But the seldom-told narrative is that for us – for many First Nations people – it’s much harder.

Under the current circumstances, we are more likely to earn less for those rising necessities, less likely to own a home, more likely to rent, less likely to have stable employment, more likely to be on (punishingly low) income support, sicker and with greater burdens of disease and more likely to be incarcerated – all painful realities born out of colonisation and dispossession.

Our issues haven’t made much of a dent in the headlines or taken up grabs on the news in mainstream media – it’s too often been silent.

The election promises don’t seem to get sweeter for those at the bottom with fears, regardless of who is elected, that their lives won’t get any better – and it’s not for a lack of trying.

Many people I’ve spoken to over the past few days, weeks, months and years say they feel invisible, forgotten and sidelined: “Our interests don’t matter – why would they care about us?”

It’s met with a shrug of the shoulders: after all, you are only 3% of the Australian population!

Climate change is a big issue among many First Nations people across the country – in regional, remote and urban areas – with the bitter memories of blackened skies, ash and devastating floods all serving as a stark reminder for the consequences of inaction.

On a recent trip to Queensland, I met with First Nations people from the Torres Strait desperately trying to push for greater action from their longtime local member, Warren Entsch.

The lapping seas inching closer to their homes in Warraber haven’t made many headlines during this election campaign. This is despite the UN’s global report clearly outlining First Nations people globally are bearing the brunt of climate change.

First Nations’ solutions can be part of the answer to rising temperatures, seas and ravaging fires. There have been few election pledges promising investments, mitigation strategies – just infighting about net zero by 2050, which many experts fear is too late.

On the campaign trail the messaging has been the same: employment, rising costs of living and the rising inflation rate are the other “big issues”.

For mob, it’s employment, cost of living, education, safety and wellbeing, climate change and access to the the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

It’s also the appallingly high rate of incarceration and Aboriginal deaths in custody, one of which – Veronica Nelson’s terrible and painful death in the face of apparent indifference – has been detailed throughout this election campaign.

While out on the campaign trail I asked Morrison what he would do to bring down these costs if he was re-elected. Labor leader Anthony Albanese was asked the same thing.

The prime minister argued that cost-of-living prices in the bush and food security was a priority but said relief was on the way with the Coalition’s one-off payments for those on government income support.

“Those $250 payments, they are going out right now, they’re going to people in Indigenous communities … they’re going to people who need that support right now to deal with those rising prices,” Morrison said recently while in far north Queensland.

‘Our ancestors are in the rocks’: Australian gas project threatens ancient carvings – and emissions blowout.

There was no commitment to bring down the soaring living costs in remote and regional communities, despite a parliamentary inquiry in 2020 which recommended a suite of solutions including real-time price monitoring and improving infrastructure (such as long stretches of dirt roads) – and perhaps was a harbinger of things to come in the towns and cities.

Labor, meanwhile, said housing was one of the biggest pressure points, recently making a pledge to pour $100m into Northern Territory homeland communities to upgrade homes.

“The highest priority when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is to do with the housing crisis,” shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said. “We made an announcement about remote housing, which is a very important place to start.”

Many people are feeling disillusioned, fed up and downright defeated at the state of politics in this country. There are about 800,000 First Nations people in this country and yet our voices are not a priority.

An enshrined Voice to Parliament to advise governments on laws and issues affecting us has been agreed to, disagreed to, called a third parliamentary chamber and become a political football to divide and conquer. No wonder so many people I speak to feel disillusioned and wondering if casting their ballot will bring substantial change.

But there is also a call for action, for our voices to be heard, and optimism and an urge for better, and that remains steadfast despite neglect.

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