Image for Mansell welcomes Bill Shorten’s call for Aboriginal quotas - and suggests alternative idea

Michael Mansell said it was pleasing to see ALP leadership candidate Bill Shorten call for quotas as part of a drive by the ALP to give Aboriginal people better access to power. However, Mr Mansell said “Mr Shorten’s suggestion might not achieve the desired result and MR Shorten should consider designated Aboriginal seats (as in NZ) or establishing an Aboriginal Assembly”.

“Quotas do not guarantee selection in safe seats, and does not adequately deal with Aboriginal representation as distinct from representing a political party”, he said.

“Aboriginals elected through political parties to the Federal parliament (Ken Wyatt, Nova Peris, Aden Ridgeway and Neville Bonner) have not be free to represent the interests of Aboriginal people over the demands of their parties. Indeed, Neville Bonner was dumped by the Liberals in Queensland after he became too vocal about racist policies.  Linda Burney was a NSW MP and deputy-leader of the ALP.  The NT has an Aboriginal Chief Minister and several Aboriginal MP’s but all would acknowledge Aboriginal people are worse off in the NT than Aborigines in any other part of the country. Aborigines need representaion of Aboriginal people more than just getting Aborigines into parliaments.

Mr Shorten’s suggestion is encouraging, if slightly off the mark.

Messrs Shorten and Albanese should be looking at ways to guarantee Aboriginal representation so that the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people are met. After all, it has now been 225 years since the white invasion and subsequent occupation which has, over all that time, dominated Aboriginal people to such an extraordinary degree.

Designated seats in State, Territory and Federal Parliaments have been promoted by Reconciliation Australia, the 1998 NSW and 2003 Queensland Parliamentary Enquiries into under-representation of Aboriginal people in Australian democracy. The chief hurdle for designated seats are constitutional provisions which, though not insurmountable, would provide a easy way out for opponents of designated seats reform to shift attention to constitutional difficulties.

A better goal is to establish a national Aboriginal Assembly under federal legislation, which therefore avoids constitutional arguments. By 2020, all crown lands (including native title claimed but not yet granted areas) should be handed over to the Assembly for allocation to traditional groups. Since 1993, over $1b has been spent on native title claims through administrative and legal processes, funds which could have directly benefited Aboriginal land owners had the governments simply given crown lands back to the original owners. A goal should be 40% of Australia has been returned to Aborigines by 2020.

The Assembly should be based on the ATSIC model with additional authority to:
• Resolve disputes between Aboriginal groups over crown land returns;
• It must approve any government legislation that directly impacts on Aboriginal people;
• Sit at Council of Australian Government’s meetings;
• At least have local government powers over Aboriginal lands.

There are many Aborigines, including me, who would happily sit with Messrs Shorten and Albanese to work through the detail of such a possible ALP initiative.”