Always was, always will be

Indigenous Australians are calling on Federal Parliament, demanding a better understanding of their principles and practices, calling for MPs to support the First Nations people of Australia.

There are currently only five Indigenous members of the Federal Parliament, with two of them representing Western Australia.

Australia has only ever had 10 Indigenous lawmakers in Federal Parliament, with the majority only joining in the past decade.

Curtin University’s Centre for Aboriginal Studies senior lecturer Julie Owen said the lack of Indigenous representation in parliament and government was a basic interference of Indigenous Australians’ human rights.

“We are struggling to be heard all over the country, we are strong, but when we keep getting silenced, it’s hard to keep fighting,” Dr Owen said.

A call for representation of Indigenous Australians. Photo: Dhanya Vimalan.

In 2017, the Australian Federal Government rejected a proposal for a constitutionally enshrined body, presented by a 16-member Referendum Council, and backed by 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

The Uluru Statement of the Heart called for the establishment of a First Nations “voice” in the Australian Constitution and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise an agreement-making process between governments in Australia and the First Nations people.

However, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the Statement as neither “desirable or capable”, and said it would be seen as a third chamber of parliament.

Professor Anne Twomey from The University of Sydney Law School said she was shocked by the government’s response.

“I was surprised that the Statement was rejected with such superficial consideration of its content and likely effects. The statements made about it by politicians showed that they had not properly understood what was being proposed and had not given it the serious attention that it was due,” Professor Twomey said.

Since the rejection of the Statement, the Australian government has continued its Closing the Gap campaign, in response to a call for governments to commit to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health and life expectancy.

The government also appointed Minister Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous minister for Indigenous Affairs, and the first Indigenous Australian to hold the role and to sit in Cabinet.

However, the Indigenous community feels that more needs to be done to support the First Nations people of Australia.

“On the ground, nothing’s changed. We’ve still got schools that don’t teach Aboriginal history, we’ve still got racism, we’ve still got segregation, we’ve still got poverty, we’ve still got all those issues that we had hundred, fifty, even three years ago when the Statement came out,” Dr Owen said.

Due to COVID-19, the NAIDOC Week 2020 celebration was postponed from July to November, to protect elders and those in Indigenous communities with chronic health issues from the impacts of the virus.

This year’s theme, ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’, acknowledges that Indigenous people were the first rightful owners of the land on which we live on today, and that they will continue to celebrate their culture in the years to come.

Curtin University’s Centre for Aboriginal Studies associate lecturer and course coordinator Max Jackson hopes non-Indigenous Australians attend the events during NAIDOC Week and immerse themselves into the Indigenous culture.

“To realise the Indigenous community’s true image from the events which will be displayed during NAIDOC Week, values such as respect, equality, healing and forgiveness provides a different version than the mainstream media’s negative narrative. This is what can change and reimagine the falsities to an image that is accurate and positive,” Mr Jackson said.

Dr Owen also believes that the theme will act as a wakeup call to all.

“The theme embraces the history and recognises that First Nations people did play an important role, and if the whole of Australia, still in 2020, refuses to accept the Aboriginal people as First Nations of this country, then the history will never change, we’re still going to have so many issues.”