According to the word count on my computer program, Kevin Rudd’s speech at the Labor Party’s campaign launch today contained four thousand, three hundred and fifteen words – slightly fewer than the four thousand four hundred and four words in the corresponding speech by the Prime Minster two days earlier.
The only specific reference in Mr Rudd’s speech to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people was in the following paragraph:
If we are elected in ten days time, I want to be a Prime Minister for all Australians. A Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia. A Prime Minister for rural Australia, where so many of our fellow Australians are going through such tough times with the drought. A Prime Minister for our regions that stretch so far beyond our magnificent cities.
Mr Rudd’s speech listed a range of “new challenges that we face in the future”, including climate change, water, the digital economy, the rise of China and India, the challenge to fix our hospitals, “and above all, the challenge to transform our education system.”
Maybe challenges such as the seventeen year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians didn’t get a mention because it has been around for so long that it can’t be called a “new challenge”.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh – one can’t mention every issue in a 4000 word speech. But it’s hard not to think that addressing the massive and entrenched inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians just isn’t a priority for the leader of either major party.
The official ALP website details two “official election policy documents” under the heading of Indigenous and Reconciliation – one on jobs and economic development for Indigenous communities, which has the faces of Jenny Macklin, Kim Carr and Warren Snowden, and one on boosting health services in the Northern Territory, which features the faces of Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon, Warren Snowden and Trish Crossin. Their formal Indigenous economic development statement is in the names of Jenny Macklin and Warren Snowden. It’s good these policies and statements are there – as far as I can see, the Liberal Party has yet to release any policy specifically relating to Indigenous issues in this campaign – but the absence of Kevin Rudd’s, or even Wayne Swan’s, face and name from these documents just gives me the impression that these remain second order issues for Labor.
I emphasise this not to score political points, but because I am convinced that until the leaders make clear these issues and challenges are top priorities for them, we will continue to fail at removing inequalities, such as closing the disgraceful gap in life expectancy.