The White Face of Australian Politics

Claudia Connelly explores the links between a lack of Indigenous parliamentary representation, disrespect for Aboriginal culture and environmental violence in Australia.

Photo via Shutterstock, ID: 739818898.

Never has the white face of Australian politics been as clear as it is today. With a government complacent to the ill-treatment of First Nations people and their land, it is no wonder that the Indigenous Lives Matter protests have created such a tear in the Australian political landscape. The superficiality of the Government’s respect for First Nations culture, people and land has again become clear in the destruction of the Juukan Caves, a significant Aboriginal site, during NAIDOC week. Australia’s ‘terra nullius’ colonisation history has predisposed the current political landscape, creating a deep disconnect between Aboriginality and Australian politics. The voices of Aboriginal people have little to no platform in Australian politics, meaning we lack even adequate engagement with Aboriginal issues and proper consultancy on land rights issues. We must ask why this is – why is it that companies demolishing Aboriginal sites are ignorant to any opposition?1 And how do we amplify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices? The answer lies in a national culture shift that repositions Indigenous culture, heritage and land rights to the fore of decision-making processes, in increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in politics and in engaging in genuine, equal discussion with Indigenous communities. We are at the turning point. We must take the Indigenous Lives Matter movement and run with it, make out of it an example of how we want to see our country run and tirelessly demand the reimagination of the political landscape.

“…emotion, culture and history are disregarded by politicians who operate on economic prosperity and electoral sustainability. The miscommunication between these two groups results in the former remaining unheard and disregarded in political decisions and direction.”

The cries of the Wangan and Jagalingou people of the Galilee Basin in Queensland are muffled under the government’s false promise of jobs out of the proposed Adani coalmine.2 3 The lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective in parliamentary offices sustains the ignorance Australian politics has towards traditional owners and their customs; they cannot see the song lines that run through the country and they do not value the inherent significance and glory of country as First Nations people do; nor do they respect that such relationships with country exist.4 Many First Nations people feel that the exploitation and ruination of the land is a continuation of colonisation that has existed since the 18th century.5 However, these ‘soft’ factors of emotion, culture and history are disregarded by politicians who operate on economic prosperity and electoral sustainability. The miscommunication between these two groups results in the former remaining unheard and disregarded in political decisions and direction.

This white face is particularly stark in the Northern Territory where in 2019, the three-year moratorium protecting the land against fracking for natural gas was lifted.6 Led by Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner, the decision granted energy companies Santos, Origin Energy and Pangaea Resources access to 51% of the Northern Territory to frack for natural gas.7 It should be expected that Gunner, who has sat as the NT’s Chief Minister since 2008, would be well-versed and understanding of the NT’s residents, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous; making decisions that represent the wishes of the community. Though this was not the reality, the decision saw the banding together of Indigenous communities, environmental groups and farmers against the lift.8 It is glaringly apparent that political decisions are guided by an unfulfilling ‘jobs and growth’ façade that favours corporation over the democratic representation and interests of the people.9 Australia’s white political face gives in to colonialist temptations of land and resource exploitation that are founded upon the predisposition of ‘terra nullius’ that continues to preside over Australian law and politics, justified by economic betterment and job creation that, in actuality, creates no such ends.10 11

Clearly, something has to shift. Perhaps the starting place is correcting the descriptive representation of parliament members so that representatives themselves represent their constituency. Countries such as New Zealand, Fiji and Norway have implemented quotas ensuring Indigenous representatives hold political seats and have the unconditional potential to have input in political decisions and legislation.12 In 2008, the Australian Parliament recognised what they called a ‘significant imbalance’ in the representation of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians at the parliamentary level.13 The proposed remedy was the implementation of a designated seat system for Indigenous Australians used in the aforementioned countries. However, eleven years later, this conversation is yet to transform into actuality.

Perhaps, then, the change will not come from within the system, but will be forced by those who adhere to it – Australians. 2020 has seen the insurgence of the Indigenous Lives Matter movement calling for the total reconfiguration of the Australian political landscape so that the silencing of and disregard for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and land becomes obsolete. This is the tipping point in favour of Australian Indigenous communities. The sustained rallying behind Indigenous communities of non-indigenous Australians and the amplification of the unified voice of the people will shift politics to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in decision-making processes that will aid in the protection of the land. It will take these measures to dismantle the white face of Australian politics.

1. Lawrence R. (2020). Strategic Ignorance: Rio Tinto’s Destruction of Sacred Juukan Caves. Sydney Environment Institute. Retrieved from http://sei.sydney.edu.au/opinion/strategic-ignorance-rio-tintos-destruction-of-sacred-juunkan-caves/
2. Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council. (nd). Stop Adani Destroying our land and culture. Retrieved from https://wanganjagalingou.com.au/our-fight/
3. Holden M. (2019). Adani is not about jobs, and it never really was. The Sydney Morning Herald.
4. Burragubba A. (2018). Wangan and Jagalingou law and order. Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council. 5. Ibid.
6. Bardon J. (2019). Fracking Exploration in NT to begin in ‘coming days, if not weeks’. ABC News.
7. Ibid.
8. Seed. (nd). Use your voice to tell these key leaders to ban fracking; & Staff writers. (2018). ‘Betrayed’: Aboriginal communities react to decision to allow fracking in half of NT. SBS NITV.
9. Van Onselen P. (2019). Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison: Few jobs, poor growth, no surplus. The Australian. 
10. Frydenberg J. (2015) Mining and the Australian economy: the Australian Government’s priorities for the mining sector. Melbourne, Australia.
11. Austin A. Australia’s unemployment: It’s worse than you’re being told. Independent Australia. 
12. O’Sullivan D. (2017). Why guaranteed Indigenous seats in parliament could ease inequality. The Conversation. 
13. Lloyd B. (2009). Research Paper no. 23 2008-09. Dedicated Indigenous representation in the Australian Parliament.

Claudia Connelly is a second year Politics and International Relations/Environmental Studies student at the University of Sydney. She is interested in the politics surrounding climate justice and volunteered with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, mobilising high school students to engage with climate activism and environmental politics. Claudia hopes to further her activism work in environmental justice during and after her studies at the University of Sydney.

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