Young people from the Korin Gamadji Institute are speaking out against the gross under-representation of indigenous Australians in Victoria.
After a heated debate, the KGI team passed a bill in YMCA Youth Parliament that would add a mandatory indigenous seat on every local council.
Sponsoring team member Naki Kadd said the team introduced the bill to increase environmental sustainability negotiations between indigenous and non-indigenous people.
“It will provide a positive platform for indigenous people to have a voice on issues impacting communities and decision making,” she said.
Mental illness, family violence, drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness are some of the problems that indigenous people face, according to Ms Kadd.
“I believe that depending on the severity of the problem in each community, it should still be acknowledged and passed through a council,” she said.
“And that’s why it’s important we have indigenous perspective.”
In the debate, the sponsoring team said it’s time change was enacted in Australia.
“True reconciliation is achieved not when things are done to or for my people, but with my people,” a sponsoring team member said.
But the refuting team suggested if local councils started mandating seats for indigenous people, they would have to open up to other minorities too.
“A person’s ability to engage in effective government is not determined by their skin colour,” a refuting team member said.
New Zealand has had legislation in place similar to the students’ bill since 1867, where Maori seats are set aside at a federal and local level.
But refuting team member Saxon Taylor said while the sentiment was good, the logistics of the bill needed work.
“I felt by giving indigenous members a mandatory seat, it would be like babying them,” Ms Taylor said.
“It would be like saying they don’t have the ability to obtain one on their own merit and need to be handed one on a silver platter, which I am totally against.
“They have such passion and pride in the ancestry they embody that handing them a seat like that is undignified, discriminatory and segregating,” she said.
The Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Natalie Hutchins said she would support the bill, with the necessary amendments, if it came through the state parliament and if the broader aboriginal community called for it.
“It’s certainly something that has been on the agenda in regards to discussions for treaties,” she said.
“But to date the specific discussions around something like this have been around the full time employment of an aboriginal person in each council, more than an elected position.”