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Why guaranteed Indigenous seats in parliament could ease inequality

Dominic O'Sullivan writes in The Conversation (20.3.17) that guaranteed parliamentary representation for Indigenous Australians would reduce the distance between policymakers and the people for whom policy is made.

'New South Wales Greens MP Dawn Walker used her inaugural speech this month to argue for guaranteed Indigenous parliamentary representation. The argument for designated seats is not a new one. It was considered and rejected by the Carr state government in 1998; Indigenous people would continue to compete for democratic voice like other minority groups.

'Walker’s concern is for a secure and “direct [Indigenous] voice in our democracy”. New Zealand’s Indigenous population has had this voice since 1867.

'In 2017, New Zealand’s unicameral parliament has seven designated Maori seats. From 1867 to 2017, Maori have almost always had cabinet membership and a recognised capacity to influence policymaking.

'... Australia’s democracy is not well equipped to consider the implications of prior occupancy, culture or colonial legacy. Democratic structure determines whether public decisions are the outcome of an inclusive political process. It determines whether people have had equal opportunities to contribute to decision-making, and it is reasonable to expect Indigenous people to require some benefit in return for recognising the legitimacy of the state.

'Guaranteed parliamentary representation is not the only mechanism for ensuring Indigenous political voice. It may not, ultimately, be one that Indigenous Australians choose to pursue. However, it is one that has served New Zealand Maori well for 150 years, and is worth considering [in Australia].'


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