Malcolm Turnbull should listen to Indigenous Australians

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A debate is now raging about what sort of government Malcolm Turnbull should lead. Photo: Peter RaeAfter acting like a sook on election night, Malcolm Turnbull re-emerged this past week as something more akin to a statesman or Indigenous elder.
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He said he was touched when Bill Shorten rang to concede. Turnbull was carrying his young granddaughter on his hip. It was a “beautiful reminder” that politicians are “trustees” for future generations. He might just be preoccupied with personal legacy but I’m taking hope from this.

Indigenous Australian have long been trustees, and storytellers as they hand down wisdom to generations to follow. NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It was fitting that this year’s NAIDOC celebrations focused on “songlines” in the same week that a marathon count decided who would govern us and shape our story.

Turnbull’s grandchildren won’t think twice about opening school assemblies and parliaments with a “welcome to country”. Yet until the arrival of Kevin Rudd nine years ago it didn’t happen in parliament and often didn’t happen at schools. They will probably not think twice about recognising Indigenous peoples in the constitution. In just a few generations we have moved from seeing Indigenous Australians as backwards to seeing them as custodians with something to teach.

In declaring himself and all parliamentarians “trustees” Turnbull is positioning himself as part of a continuum.

Here are some things he could also take on board from an ancient culture:

Over time our way of doing politics should go deeper into the conceptual framework of Aboriginal Australia, melding Indigenous concepts with those from Western democracies to make something truly our own, and to shape modern songlines befitting a mature opal-hearted nation. Tell me, “I’m not dreaming”.

Toni Hassan is a Canberra writer and an adjunct research fellow with the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University.