• Sarah Maddison. (The Point)Source: The Point
Australia could form an Indigenous political party as the number of politicians grows, says political expert Sarah Maddison.
NITV Staff Writer

The Point
12 May 2016 - 8:44 PM  UPDATED 12 May 2016 - 8:44 PM

“It certainly could, and I would say should, be a part of our political landscape to have a nationally recognised and known Indigenous political party,” Professor Maddison told ‘The Point’ on Wednesday.

A record number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates will stand for the 2016 federal election, which could provide the drive to create one, she says. 

So far, 11 candidates have put their hand up across the country - with six in Western Australia alone. 

An inability to subscribe to all policies of the existing Australian Labor Party could propel further momentum, she adds.

Professor Maddison says, "as a Labor parliamentarian you are bound by the caucus. and you are bound to support the policies of that party.” 

“That's a very tough call I think for people whose views sit starkly at odds with the party. There has to be a very, very deep belief in the merits of the party overall to be able to suspend one's values in a particular area.

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“And I do think that is a particular challenge for Aboriginal people who can see particular policies impacting on their people in some very damaging ways.”

Professor Maddison cites mounting dissatisfaction with the once-popular Labor Party, which became popular during Gough Whitlam's administration between 1972 and 1975.

Mr Whitlam formed initiatives that helped Indigenous Australians gain more rights, such as the Woodward Royal Commission into Aboriginal Land Rights that led to the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Northern Territory Act, legislation that restored more than half of the Northern Territory to its traditional owners.

Policies such as the 2012 Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act under former Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin, were “deeply unpopular and resented by Aboriginal people,” she says.

The government says it formed the legislation to support Aboriginal people lead healthy lives. But rights advocacy groups including Amnesty International criticised it for disregarding international human rights obligations. Amnesty said the act dictated “punitive” measures such as providing welfare payments according to how many times children attended school.

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Dame Tariana Turia formed New Zealand's Maori Party in 2004 after resigning from the Labour Party to uphold Indigenous values including compulsory heritage teaching at schools.

But Professor Maddison says it may be hard to follow in the track of Australia's eastern neighbour.

“To get the kind of primary vote required to actually get funding from the AEC [Australian Electoral Commission], which is how all political parties are funded in Australia, would be a very big ask for a party representing such a small group of people in the wider Australian population.”

Indigenous Australians comprise 2 per cent of the total population.

The next challenge is forming a party from a population that is “geographically dispersed, which doesn't necessarily map onto a widespread representation in the different lower house seats, more effective in the senate,” she says.

If it did occur, it would be the third attempt in the country's history after the Australia's Indigenous Peoples Party was established in 1993 and folded in 1999, and Australia's First Nations Political Party formed in 2011 and collapsed in 2015.