Call for Indigenous state seats

by Chris Griffith
Published April 1995 in Land Rights Queensland


my face


A Queensland Indigenous research organisation has called for seats to be set aside in the Queensland Parliament to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) is suggesting up to four state seats be allotted as part of measures to be considered nationally in the federal government's social justice package.

The general manager of FAIRA, Les Malezer, said only one Aboriginal person had been elected to the Queensland Parliament - Eric Deeral, the member for Cook from 1974 to 1977.

He said no Torres Strait Islander had ever been elected to the Queensland parliament in almost a century and a half of operation.

Mr Malezer said the proposal was a natural extension of that made recently by ATSIC and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation who recommended Indigenous seats in federal parliament.

"On their own, these federal seats will not improve Indigenous participation in government, nor will they allow Indigenous people to gain better outcomes from government activity.

"State and territory governments still hold much of the responsibility and power for administering indigenous affairs in areas such as land, mining, health, heritage, policing, the justice system, prisons, criminal law, employment, education, and cultural development.

'"The Australian Federation intentionally vested states with such significant responsibilities and this leaves us with few options but to demand state government reforms."

Mr Malezer said FAIRA would include the proposal among state-level recommendations being prepared in a public submission on its planned social justice package.

The submission would be directed at government and released publicly to stimulate community debate, he said.

The federal government is currently examining reforms to be included in its social justice package, the third and final stage of its response to the 1992 Mabo High Court decision.

The first two stages saw the government enact native title legislation, and form the Indigenous Land Fund.

To assist in formulating its social justice package, the government asked ATSIC and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to submit detailed recommendations, however their submissions are nationally focussed.

Mr Malezer said the federal government already recognised social justice measures should include reforms at state level. FAIRA was in the process of framing such state-based recommendations, he said.

"FAIRA is supporting Indigenous seats in parliament provided Indigenous members are not an irrelevant minority.

"So far, there has been no discussion on the number of seats which would suit a Queensland Parliament, but based upon the Federal proposals, three or four seats would seem appropriate."

FAIRA would also recommend a state Bill of Rights, the reformation of the Queensland Upper House, and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in Queensland be administered by a state commission, and no longer through government departments.

A report by Queensland's Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, notes that former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had "seriously countenanced" Indigenous seats in the Queensland parliament, according to evidence by former minister Bob Katter Jnr.