This election cycle the Indigenous issue that is getting the most attention so far is whether it is more appropriate to refer to the British invasion of Australia as an invasion, settlement, colonisation, occupation, or as Tony Abbott once referred to it, as ‘a form of foreign investment’.
This issue is an important one as it speaks to how willing the wider Australian community is, and our political leaders are, to recognise the violent history upon which Australia was created and also, it speaks to levels of national empathy, respect, and willingness to accept that ‘invasion’ is not a ‘divisive term’ designed to make white people feel guilty (or whatever).
Rather is a logical perspective coming from those whose lands were invaded without consent, agreement, treaty, negotiation, reparations, or process that would give validity to using any term other than invasion. That said, it is probably not the important issue for our media to be fixating on a week out from a Federal election.
Rather than putting pressure on both sides of politics to discuss, in detail, how they plan ‘Close the Gap’, or what ‘working with instead of at Aboriginal people’ actually looks like, we are instead focusing on an issue that tries to make politicians walk the tight rope of not being too racist but not being too anti-racist either; an important line to maintain if you want to appeal to both the left and right of moderate swing voters, but not that crucial if you want to know if there is any real probability of reversing the widening of the ‘Gap’.
In this way the issue of ‘invasion’ becomes another canary in the coalmine for the age old question ‘Is Australia a racist country?’
What Indigenous led programs and organisations will be funded? Which ones will be defunded? Will the highly criticised Indigenous Advancement Strategy be scrapped, or at least reformed? What about the Redfern Statement? Will justice targets be added to Close the Gap? Which Indigenous groups will the elected government take their advice from, or negotiate with? What are the plans to address housing? Employment? Education? Health? Incarceration? Suicide? Domestic violence? Racism?
There are any number of failed government approaches in Indigenous Affairs that are desperately in need of overhaul, but very few of them are on the radar at the moment.
The closest we got to a relevant political conversation on Indigenous affairs was Bill Shorten indicating that he is not outright opposed to a potential conversation about maybe having some discussions about a possible treaty in the future perhaps.
We could, and should, have had a leaders’ debate exclusively on Indigenous issues but instead we are focusing on the symbolic issue of whether or not they think ‘invasion’ is an acceptable term to describe invasion. The irony of this is that Indigenous Affairs has for so long been focused on symbolic actions and statements rather than on policies and practices, and at a time when there are so many crucial issues to be discussed our media seems instead to have chosen sensationalism over substance.
Luke Pearson is NITV's digital engagement and editorial specialist and the founding director of IndigenousX.