The head says that this election — for Indigenous Australia at least — is not about who wins government, rather it’s about who wins control of the Senate. After all, in the spirit of “me too-ism”, Labor has promised to match all the rights-eroding election policies of the Coalition.

While we all hope and pray that Peter Garrett was actually telling the truth when he said “We’ll change it all when he get in”, for safety’s sake Black Australia will be hoping the Greens seize the balance of power.

The head also says that this election is about:

  • Health. Neither party has promised to end the $460 million annual shortfall in Indigenous health funding. Let’s hope the Greens can block the next budget so that everyone gets a taste of what under-funding feels like.
  • Education. Under the Liberals, Aboriginal people have walked away from universities in droves, thanks to the policy of gutting ABSTUDY. Let’s hope someone puts forth new legislation that better funds Indigenous education and actually assists people according to their need, rather than their electoral address.
  • Housing. The shortfall nationally is at least $3 billion in today’s terms. Neither party has made any commitment to seriously address it. Let’s hope the Greens can force some sort of accommodation in the Senate (although I’m not sure your average blackfella would like living in Canberra!)

Now here’s what the heart says: this election is really about John Howard, or more precisely, John Howard’s political annihilation. Because that’s what 99.9% of Indigenous Australians and their supporters will be rooting for tomorrow.

Howard is to black rights what Paris Hilton is to modesty. No Prime Minister in history has misused his power to the extent Howard has when it comes Indigenous Australians. Most Prime Ministers – like Hawke, Keating, Fraser, Whitlam, Holt and even Menzies – have used their time in office to advance black rights, albeit to varying degrees.

Howard, by contrast, has used his time in office to hurt Aboriginal people. The “sorry” debate is the classic example. It would have cost nothing to apologize to members of the Stolen Generations. Instead, he saw an opportunity to exploit mainstream ignorance. I doubt Howard stopped even for a second to contemplate the damage his actions might do to Aboriginal people.

Lest we forget the Rodent’s very first act as Prime Minister was to announce a cut to the ATSIC budget of more than $400 million. And yet today, he still tries to pin the parlous state of Indigenous affairs on someone else.

Ironically, one of his last acts as Prime Minister will also, hopefully, be about race, although Howard is on “the receiving end” this time. He spent yesterday’s Press Club address defending the Coalition from claims of entrenched racism after senior party members were caught skulking around the dark streets of Lindsay handing out fake “race-baiting” election brochures.

Howard’s denial is not surprising. This is the same man who refused to accept that Australia might have a problem with racism after 5,000 Australians gathered for the “2005 Cronulla Riots-Cultural Festival” and chanted “F-ck off Lebs”.

The same guy who said that Australian army personnel who dressed up in KKK outfits were “just letting off steam”. The same guy who headed the 2001 Tampa election campaign with the slogan “We’ll decide who comes to this country and circumstances under which they come”. The same guy who withheld a national apology to the Stolen Generations and refused to participate in the 2000 reconciliation bridge walks. The same guy who, while in Opposition, claimed Australia was letting in too many Asians. The same guy who… well, I think you get the point.

To so many Indigenous people and their supporters, Howard represents the worst parts of Australia. The ignorance, the indifference, the denial (quite the schizophrenic, he is). And he represents nothing that’s right about the nation. The compassion or the “old Australian” view of equality.

I think as a nation we’ve done well economically under Howard, but we’ve lost our way morally. And I know that I speak for many, many people working in Indigenous affairs when I say that we’re all hoping to wake up on Sunday and find this 12-year nightmare is finally over.

Peter Fray

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