The failure of the Voice to Parliament referendum has exposed Anthony Albanese’s commitment to racist policies and severe neglect in Indigenous Affairs.
Months on from the referendum he has done nothing to advance Indigenous rights.
Many Indigenous people and supporters are still despairing after the Voice’s defeat, seeing it as evidence of racism and indifference.
But Albanese glibly declared in an interview on 2GB that, “I am not Indigenous so it wasn’t a loss to me”.
The Voice was always a way of the government creating the appearance of action for Indigenous people in order to avoid demands for real change. It would have enshrined a simple advisory body without any power to force governments to act.
Albanese now says he is looking for “new ways” for the government “to close the gap in education, in health, in housing”.
But the actions needed have always been clear.
Indigenous people still face huge levels of social deprivation and disadvantage as a result of colonisation. But instead of the funding and community control of services needed to address this, governments continue to remove kids, lock people up and punish communities.
Prior to the 2022 election, Labor promised to make the Income Management system that targets Indigenous communities in Northern Australia voluntary. They have now reneged on this and are also refusing to act on a promise to introduce a new publicly funded employment program.
The Albanese government continues to back race-based alcohol restrictions introduced with the NT Intervention. And Labor is supporting resource companies like Santos and Woodside to push ahead with destructive developments against the wishes of traditional owners from Gomeroi country in NSW to the Burrup Peninsula in WA.
Racism and over-policing means Indigenous people are massively over-represented in the prison system, making up a third of prisoners while only 3 per cent of the population. And the numbers are only increasing.
Yet Labor state governments continue to funnel more funding into police and prisons.
In Queensland, a special police task force roaming the state is deploying extra police on arrest blitzes against young people, boasting of over 450 arrests last year. The WA Labor government is bringing on an extra 1000 police.
Aboriginal legal aid is still starved of funds, with the NT’s NAAJA forced to stop taking on new clients between 20 November and the end of 2023.
Albanese has done nothing to address the ongoing scandal of deaths in custody. Most of the recommendations of the Royal Commission from 30 years ago are yet to be implemented.
The week of the referendum 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd committed suicide in youth detention after long periods in solitary confinement on pre-trial detention. At least 20 Indigenous people died in custody in 2023, the third highest number in the last decade, including a 46-year-old man in Perth on Christmas Day.
The national housing crisis is hitting Indigenous communities hardest, who are ten times more likely to be homeless and suffer appalling rates of overcrowding.
But Federal Labor’s only housing proposal has been to float a ridiculous, failed Howard-era policy of encouraging private home ownership instead of public or community housing in remote Indigenous communities—without explaining why companies would see that as a profitable investment.
The Indigenous leaders who championed the Voice thought that cuddling up to Albanese and working with the government could deliver change. But this approach has failed.
Some are still appealing for a legislated Voice to Parliament while others want local and regional voice bodies. But it isn’t the lack of consultation stopping Albanese from acting.
It was grassroots organising and protest that ended the punitive Protection Acts in the 1960s, and put the struggle for land rights and self-determination on the map in the 1970s.
We need to rebuild a movement on the streets with clear demands that can take the fight to Albanese and drive change.
By James Supple