Politics Analysis

Coalition and Dutton must pay price for destroying Indigenous aspirations

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Cartoon by Mark David/@markdavidcartoons

Outrage at the Opposition’s referendum "No" campaign should motivate dire political consequences. Alan Austin shows what might be achieved.

THE FAILURE OF THE 14 October referendum proposed by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention has caused profound hurt and dismay to many Australians. Here was a golden opportunity for a low-cost major advance in the centuries-long quest for justice for the original inhabitants. One leader chose to squander that chance purely for political advantage.

Responses to the Coalition destroying this endeavour by Indigenous organisers to achieve practical outcomes from the Uluru Statement From the Heart range from sorrow, disillusionment and despair to righteous anger and potent rage.

For those motivated to action in response to this tragedy, there are options. They require clear thought, precise objectives and dedicated implementation.

Cause of the loss of the Voice

There is no doubt culpability rests entirely with the Coalition parties and their leader Peter Dutton – who gave no consideration whatsoever to what was best for Australia’s Indigenous people – but saw a chance to chalk up a win against Anthony Albanese, and took it.

Understanding how Dutton doomed the referendum is not difficult. The first group he shifted immediately to the "No" camp were rusted-on Coalition supporters. These, fortunately, are not many. Liberal Party members number between 70,000 and 80,000, with Nationals far fewer.

The second group were those consciously or unconsciously white supremacists who believe Indigenous people should abandon all cultural identity, including languages, dance, songs and cultural traditions.

The third group, larger than the previous two, are those who give no thought to any other culture and are occupied solely with their own situation.

A small percentage of these three groups would have voted No even if Dutton and the Coalition had supported "Yes". But the majority of all three groups would have happily joined the "Yes" camp, if it was clear all leaders were in accord.

Bipartisanship essential for reform

Advancement for Indigenous peoples has only ever been achieved collaboratively. The 1967 constitutional amendment to recognise Aborigines as citizens had the support of Liberal PM Harold Holt and Labor leader Gough Whitlam. It passed with 90.8% approval, with only the hard-core racists holding out.

Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam together fixed the Land Rights Act 1976 (NT),  despite their bitter disputes in other areas. John Hewson and Bob Hawke collaborated through the 1980s to get the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission (ATSIC) up and running. The 2008 formal apology was delivered by Kevin Rudd with Brendan Nelson’s support.

Since Federation, 45 nationwide referendums have been held, with eight having bipartisan support. All eight were won resoundingly, the other 37 all defeated miserably.

Dutton’s plan worked

The referendum loss which Dutton engineered succeeded in generating negative press for the PM, as was always inevitable.

Jubilant emails The Spectator sent out last week crowed that ‘in Question Time, the PM looked like a lost sheep, trying to find his way back from the rocky wilderness into which he had foolishly strayed’ and ‘Albanese is a rotting fashion accessory that’s ruining the whole outfit’ and ‘If the Prime Minister got it so wrong on that Voice thing, what else is he getting horribly wrong'?

The PM got nothing wrong. His role was to usher the proposal from the Indigenous communities into the Parliament, which he did. Ushers at the cinema have an important role. But they should be unobtrusive. And however well they do their job, they don’t get their names on the credits.

The treachery by Dutton and company was not against Albanese. It was against the most marginalised Australians.

The pathway to prevent such action by these malicious actors next time is to eliminate them. This can be done.

Vulnerable federal Coalition seats

The Coalition holds seven House of Representatives seats with a two-party preferred (2PP) vote between 50% and 52%. They are Deakin, Menzies and Casey in Victoria, Sturt in South Australia, Moore in Western Australia and Bass in Tasmania. All are vulnerable at the next election.

If just 188 voters in Deakin had switched votes at the May 2022 election, that seat would have gone to Labor. The numbers are 509 in Sturt, 689 in Menzies and 693 in Moore.

Peter Dutton holds Dickson in Queensland with the slender 2PP majority of just 51.7%. If 1,682 fewer voters had supported him last year, he would have lost. It is likely now after his cynical manipulation of the referendum that at least that number will switch votes in an electorate of 113,000.

The Coalition won another 12 seats with 2PP votes between 52% and 55%. These are also vulnerable next time. In fact, Aston, which the Liberals won in 2022 with 52.8% of the vote has already been snaffled by Labor, whose candidate won the by-election in May this year with 53.6% of the vote.

Practical strategies for ejecting Coalition MPs

Those 19 Coalition seats – in all six states – will switch if grassroots campaigns are effective. Supporters of Indigenous aspirations across Australia can offer their support to the non-Coalition parties and independents in all those electorates.

It doesn’t matter who wins from the Indigenous perspective: Greens, Labor, Teals, other independents or minor parties. The objective is to eliminate Coalition members.

Campaigning will involve leafleting, door-knocking, letters to local papers and fund-raising. Some of these require physical presence in the electorate. Others can be achieved remotely.

Not all 19 MPs will be turfed out in one election. Some will take two or more election cycles to remove. But that’s okay. The destruction of Indigenous aspirations and the continuation of severe health, economic and imprisonment outcomes resulting from Dutton’s opportunistic "No" vote will be felt for decades. The responses in outrage should also continue for decades.

If enough Australians get to serious work, the nation will not suffer such a day of shame again.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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