Policy promises evaporate in post-election pact

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“There are promises made by the coalition partners before the election that are either not mentioned in the parliamentary agreement or are given no priority,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE.

I WROTE in “CityNews” last week in praise of the ACT Greens’ suite of First Nations’ policy commitments for the recent election.

Jon Stanhope.

The praise was warranted and I have no doubt the policy would have had an influence on the voting decisions of people for whom the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents of Canberra is a priority issue.

Therefore, I was surprised and a little concerned on reading the “Parliamentary & Governing Agreement” entered into by the ALP and the Greens to formalise their coalition and also set out their individual as well as the government’s agreed priorities for the next four years, that a significant number of the Aboriginal-specific election promises made by the ALP and the Greens do not rate a mention.

The relative paucity of Aboriginal-specific commitments is even more surprising, in light of the claim in both the agreement and the joint press statement from Andrew Barr and Shane Rattenbury, which accompanied it, that “closing the gap for First Nations peoples” was one of the “fundamental challenges” that the government would focus on in this term.

Appendix 1 to the agreement is prefaced as being the outcome of “detailed discussions” between Labor and the Greens that the parties held “to agree on particular policy issues of interest” to the parties.

It contains a total of 63 policy issues that Labor and the Greens jointly identified as of “particular interest”. These are presented as the government’s “core” or highest priorities for this term of the Assembly.

Of these 63 core policy issues of “particular interest” to Labor and the Greens only one is Aboriginal specific, namely that at Part B (1) (vii) : “In close partnership with the community and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, supporting the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-controlled community housing provider.”

There it is. The one and only Aboriginal-specific “core” commitment in the parliamentary agreement – the establishment of an Aboriginal community-controlled housing corporation. Hardly, I would have thought, a commitment reflecting a determination, as claimed, to close the gap.

Appendix 2 to the “Parliamentary & Governing Agreement” sets out the “priority legislative, executive and administrative reform agenda over the coming term”, subject to budget funding.

Appendix 2 contains a total of 35 such priority reforms. Of the 35 areas of priority legislative, administrative and executive reform none are Aboriginal specific.

Appendix 3 to the agreement contains, to quote: “The key priorities ACT Labor will progress this term” from the totality of the promises and programs it included in its 2020 election manifesto.

Appendix 3 contains a total of 74 of Labor’s “key priorities” that while not, apparently, considered by Labor or the Greens as worthy of inclusion in Appendix I as items of “particular interest”, Labor will nevertheless seek, time and budget etcetera permitting, to progress over the next four years. While these issues have been characterised as “key priorities” they have nevertheless been assigned secondary status. John Howard would, I am sure, have labelled them “non-core” promises. Of the Labor Party’s 74 key priorities five are Aboriginal specific. 

Bizarrely one of the Labor Party’s key priorities is a promise to not abolish the ACT Reconciliation Day public holiday. I trust that the fact that this particular commitment has been described as a key priority does not mean that those public holidays that have not been so identified, for example Christmas, are in danger of being cancelled.

Appendix 4 to the parliamentary agreement mirrors Appendix 3 in providing the detail of the key priorities that the Greens will seek to progress over the next four years. It contains a total of 111 “key priorities” or as I note above non-core promises. Of the 111 priorities 12 are Aboriginal specific. 

To its credit, as I acknowledged last week, a number of the Greens’ Aboriginal-specific priority commitments are of significant import and I, for one, sincerely hope that they are in fact progressed. Having said that there are a number of promises made by the coalition partners before the election that are either not mentioned in the parliamentary agreement or are given no priority.

One such example is the Greens’ promise to: “Fund a dedicated community controlled medical withdrawal service for First Nations people in Canberra.” So far as I can see, this promise has disappeared.

The six elected Greens are part of the ACT government and constitute one third of the cabinet. Their promise to fund an Aboriginal-specific detox centre should they gain government was unambiguous and unequivocal. 

Unfortunately, anyone reading the parliamentary agreement has no option but to conclude that this promise, and others, have within two weeks of the election, and for five of the Greens a mere two weeks since first being elected to the Legislative Assembly, been broken.

It would, therefore, be helpful if both Labor and the Greens would publicly confirm that they will keep their word and honour all their promises.

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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.

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