Thirty Labor MPs met in Brisbane this week to form a national Indigenous caucus aimed at increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s parliaments and on the country’s electoral rolls.
Among those at the meeting were federal Labor’s Senator Pat Dodson, Linda Burney and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten hosted the meeting on Monday and was joined by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, NSW Labor leader Luke Foley, Tasmanian Labor leader Bryan Green and Indigenous Affairs Ministers and shadow ministers from across Australia.
The group discussed the importance of increasing the number of Indigenous people enrolled to vote, particularly in the Northern Territory where only half are estimated to be on the electoral roll.
Other agenda items included how to encourage more Indigenous people to join the ALP and setting up a young Indigenous leaders program that would see politicians take aspiring leaders under their wing.
Following the meeting, Mr Shorten, Ms Burney, Mr Dodson, Ms McCarthy and Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health Warren Snowdon issued a joint statement calling for change.
“Having such large numbers of people off the electoral roll means Indigenous people don’t have the voice they should,” the statement said. “In some areas, more than 50 per cent of people aren’t enrolled to vote.”
The group agreed to start an enrolment drive to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, which resolved two discriminatory references from the Australian Constitution.
It also agreed to prepare a referendum on Constitutional recognition for Australia today.
A ‘Reconciliation Action Plan’ would also be developed to make sure the ALP was a culturally supportive organisation.
ALP members would be surveyed to determine the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians already in the party.
“I want people like Senator Patrick Dodson, Linda Burney, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and (Liberal) Minister Ken Wyatt to inspire a new round of young Indigenous leaders,” Opposition leader Bill Shorten said.
“If we are going to bring about that change, we need more Indigenous people leading the conversation.
“There is a massive gap and we need to do something about it.”