Aboriginal Voters’ Power Shown in NSW Election: Oxfam

Oxfam Australia

Oxfam Australia commends Aboriginal communities on the NSW south coast, who have extracted strong and far-reaching commitments from the in-coming Labor government to end the targeting of Aboriginal cultural fishers and support commercial aspirations.

In the seat of Bega, which has a 5 per cent Aboriginal population, Labor’s Dr Michael Holland achieved a swing of 17.9 per cent, the biggest of any MP in the election. In the neighbouring seat of South Coast, Labor won the seat from the Coalition with a swing of 15 per cent. In polling booths with large Aboriginal populations, there was an increase in Labor’s vote of 25-28 per cent.

Oxfam welcomes Labor’s commitment to introduce all of the recommendations of a NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the failure of successive governments to allow a 2009 cultural fishing amendment to commence. The inquiry heard evidence of systemic bias against Aboriginal fishers which had led to massive numbers of fines, prosecutions and even imprisonment. The threats to traditional fishing from government practices under the previous NSW Government meant that Aboriginal people were coming into contact with the justice system at alarming rates, which further entrenched inequality and placed families at risk of economic hardship.

Ngarra Murray, the Executive Lead of Oxfam Australia’s First Peoples program, said the strong swings against the Coalition was a lesson to political parties around Australia.

“The results show that political parties that ignore the issues of utmost importance to First People do so at their peril. We were disappointed to see that the Coalition did not engage on the fishing rights issue, and the results in Bega and the South Coast speak for themselves,” she said.

“Oxfam has been working with the South Coast communities since 2018 and we’re proud of the partnership that we’ve developed. We want to thank Danny Chapman, chair of the NSWALC, and Wally Stewart from the fishing rights group, for their efforts on this campaign. We also wish to thank Labor’s Mick Veitch for bringing about the parliamentary inquiry which has proved to be a catalyst for important change.”

Ms Murray said there was still more work to be done. The campaign also called for a substantial economic development fund to enable Aboriginal organisations and fishers to participate in this industry, and a long-term plan developed with Aboriginal people and organisations for joint management of the NSW Marine Estate, including fisheries.

“Together with our partners, we will continue to press the NSW Government to adopt a long-term, transformative agenda for the South Coast peoples,” she added.

Data provided by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that since 2009, 80 per cent of people jailed for fisheries offences identified as Aboriginal people, and they accounted for 50-60 per cent of non-custodial sentences.

Oxfam Australia, together with a coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and groups, supported a campaign that called on political parties to support a set of economic justice reforms for the South Coast peoples. Oxfam supported two election forums in the seat of Bega which were attended by candidates from Labor, the Liberal Party and the Greens.

The recommendations supported by Labor called for:

  • Ceasing all surveillance, compliance actions and prosecution actions against Aboriginal cultural fishers until the cultural fishing rights amendment is commenced on 30 June this year (with an accompanying regulation)
  • Reviewing and withdrawing any penalty infringement notices issued to Aboriginal individuals on the South Coast who were practising cultural fishing
  • A comprehensive training program for all fisheries compliance officers, to be delivered in partnership with key Aboriginal stakeholders, covering Aboriginal cultural fishing practices (including the trade or barter of fish for other items) and native title rights
  • The government to proactively work with the Aboriginal community on the South Coast to support applications to the Aboriginal Fisheries Business Development Program, or other programs, to give them greater opportunities for commercial fishing businesses
  • An independent review of the culture and regulatory practices of the compliance division of the Department of Primary Industries Fisheries, to identify any systemic cultural problems and implement changes which will lift the cultural capability of the organisation.

The campaign was also supported by Tony McAvoy SC, the Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Regional Health and Community Services, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

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