“Australia first, everything else second” my father would say to me growing up.
Dad was born and raised in a time when his Aboriginality was not something to be celebrated, but was shunned and this was a thinly veiled effort at minimising the role our family – and all Indigenous people – played in this history of our nation.
Thankfully times have changed, the culture of our First Nations people is not only welcomed, it is celebrated.
However a question remains just how important Indigenous Australia is to our national identity and direction, a question that we’re going to see answered at this election.
This Saturday, on May 21, we all have a choice to make about the future of our country, about what we value, what we want to see protected and those aspects we want to see reformed or improved.
Across the spread of the issues, what stands out is that key aspects that matter to the future of Indigenous Australia have gone somewhat wanting.
At the outset let me say I think Mr Albanese and the Labor Party should be applauded and recognised for their commitment to the Statement from the Heart.
Whilst I think we should see more detail (think timeframes, the question and detail), it is at the very least a heart-warming position for the party to take.
I saw a campaign video for the Labor Party rally in Queensland, and the way in which the Opposition Leader talks about Indigenous Australians builds a sense of pride in place and purpose.
The question remains, how much of this is just nice talk?
You only need to look at Labor’s justice reinvestment policy to see that we’re getting pretty light detail on a very serious issue.
Labor is putting aside $79 million to fund 30 communities to come up with local strategies to reduce incarceration rates.
There are more than 200 remote communities in WA alone, so whilst the talk sounds nice the lack of detail and action is concerning.
So then the question rightly turns to my side of politics.
Where the Liberal Party stands on not just constitutional recognition, but the more acute issues impacting Indigenous Australians.
This is where I genuinely believe the Government has taken action, with substance over spin.
They don’t promote it as much as they should, nor do they herald their achievements in this space, but they’ve done a great deal to further the cause of Aboriginal resilience and identity.
With Ken Wyatt as the Minister for Indigenous Australians, this statesman of Western Australia is someone you can look to as an icon for quiet yet meaningful progress.
Money set aside to build up grass roots support for recognition? Done with millions set aside to continue the process.
Record funding to help Close the Gap? Done by the billions of dollars.
At smaller and targeted levels we’ve seen the government take action, led by Ken Wyatt whether it’s investments in teaching Indigenous languages through to reducing youth incarceration, slowly and steadily more and more has been done to prioritise Indigenous people.
My father would always remind me that it is Australia first, and maybe that’s still true to an extent, but Indigenous Australia looms large in the consciousness of our political parties and that is a great change.
At this election, whoever is elected (and for the record I very much hope Ken Wyatt is returned), they will be building on decades considered action to further the conversation, and address the issues impacting First Nations people.
If it’s the Labor Party, I hope they can put more meat on the bones and drive the agenda forward, and if it’s a re-elected Liberal Party, I expect that we can continue to see Ken’s legacy continued to be built on for the betterment of all.
- Zak Kirkup is of Yamatji heritage and is the former leader of the Liberal Party in Western Australia