The "White Elephant" in the House 13 Feb 2008

While it got off to a great start, the newly sworn-in Federal Parliament does not contain an indigenous Member of Parliament, nor an indigenous Senator. That was the “White Elephant” in the House on 13 February.

After two centuries of colonisation, and after more than a hundred years of the Commonwealth of Australia, there are no individual indigenous representatives – let alone any culturally appropriate form of indigenous representation for First Peoples’ voices – in the Australian law-making body.

While the need for a bi-partisan approach to indigenous affairs is long overdue – looking back at the history of failed attempts by non-indigenous people to ‘manage’ indigenous affairs – one of the first items on the agenda has to be how to overcome this lack of representation for Australia’s First Peoples.

The newly announced bi-partisan commission announced in Parliament by the Prime Minister and endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition must include provision and recognition of the stake of the main party to any deliberation on indigenous life – Australia’s First Peoples themselves.

Getting Indigenous voices into the Houses of Parliament is far more important than housing – if we are to get the solutions right given the new beginning. Alternatively, it is just another case of trying to force indigenous lives into Western boxes – which leads all to soon to the coffin-box.

The new bi-partisan approach must very quickly move to show that it contains a spirit of cultural partnership, and is not merely another non-indigenous ‘control’ trip engaged in a mono-cultural monologue.

In any new “bi-partisan” arrangements, recognition of First Peoples as key stakeholders in their own affairs is a good indicator of the presence of this spirit – as is the funding and resourcing necessary for effective indigneous epresentation vis-a-vis those powerful few who continue to oppose recognition and full well-being for Australia’ s First Peoples.