Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
July 23rd 2015 print

Brian Roberts

25 Ideas Well Worth Recognising

Whatever the final wording, the proposal to acknowledge Aborigines and their culture in the Constitution will present but a single theme for endorsement or rejection. That's a pity because, with a a dash of reality on the ballot, some good might come of the exercise

recogniseOne thing Australian politics is good at is thinking up slogans to encapsulate complex ideas in one, two or three words. The possible interpretations are often so ambiguous that every group, irrespective of their ideologies, feel that the slogan speaks to them and supports their cause. In the process, individuals warm to the bland or emotive catch phrases because they’re ‘motherhood’ stuff, we’re Australian, they’re fair dinkum sentiments and we all back the ideal of the fair go.

The latest one-word concept is ‘Recognise’, originally meant to convey national agreement that the Aborigines were this country’s First People and, as such, should be acknowledged in the Constitution, the nation’s founding document. Anyone who has read the pamphlets, posters and stickers will be aware that the current goal is to go well beyond simply bestowing constitutional recognition on First People. Rather, the push would enshrine respect for Indigenous culture, language, ancestor country, myths and genesis beliefs.

Frank Salter: The Pearson Factor

Amid the predictable argy-bargy that has arisen during the quest for just the right wording it has become clear that there is much fuzzy thinking clouding the whole Recognise procedure, prompting an unholy row between clans, language groups and self-appointed spokespersons.

At the risk of being branded an ignorant outsider with no understanding of Indigenous values, culture or tradition, I suggest a new list of the things we should be given the opportunity to recognise or reject in any referendum. In an effort to gain consensus on the place and role of Aborigines in the future Australian nation, we should be asked to tick the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ boxes in regard to recognising the following concepts :

1. RECOGNISE that we were all cavemen once and that we’re all migrants.

2. RECOGNISE that Aborigines were the first humans to inhabit this continent.

3. RECOGNISE that after 50,000 years of occupation, the Aborigines were still hunter-gatherer cavemen at the time of first contact.

4. RECOGNISE that global migrations historically led to newcomers dominating original inhabitants.

5. RECOGNISE that fairness or legality were never criteria by which successful migrations by newcomers were judged.

6. RECOGNISE that advances in technical and intellectual capacity were always what characterised migrating newcomers who intervened in the original inhabitants’ way of life.

7. RECOGNISE that invaded peoples only became subservient to newcomers when they lacked the military power to resist and overcome the newcomers.

8. RECOGNISE that world history demonstrates that invasion is driven by a desire to gain new resources of many different types.

9. RECOGNISE that the march of human civilisations is based on adopting new ideas, new values and new technologies, all processes accelerated by the infusion of new cultures.

10. RECOGNISE that culture is not civilisation, that physical structures and civil organisations have arisen from a dissatisfaction with the primitive status quo and recognition of the advantages of civil advancement in benefiting both individuals and groups.

11. RECOGNISE that personal productivity in its many forms is the key to group progress and that without wealth-generation group well-being stagnates.

12. RECOGNISE that respect from others cannot be legally enforced or demanded, but must be earned by behaviour and performance which meet community norms.

13. RECOGNISE that racial separatism cannot deliver the same level of advancement as diverse unity, built on tolerant co-operation.

14. RECOGNISE that each group of migrants can maintain their identity and enjoy their culture, without losing their common national aspirations as one of the world’s most successful multicultures.

15. RECOGNISE that personal progress depends on our capacity to adapt, to change, to value new ways and to appreciate that not all our traditional beliefs are useful, appropriate or beneficial in our children’s modern world.

16. RECOGNISE that, while respect and comfort for our elders are honourable sentiments which should be preserved, it is the future of our coming generations which determines our success as a group.

17. RECOGNISE that while teaching our youth the traditional knowledge of their country can be an appropriate segment of our education policy, a mature balance between idealism and reality is required if coming generations are to develop into competitive moderns.

18. RECOGNISE that while mother-tongue language has deep emotive roots which strengthen our sense of belonging, the appropriate role and function of global language can be ignored only at our peril.

19. RECOGNISE that most health problems result from personal choices and that even expensive healthcare fails when individual responsibility fails.

20. RECOGNISE that the definition of Aboriginality is fraught and insufficient to act as a binding thread for identity and organisational purposes.

21. RECOGNISE that highly variable dominance of Aboriginal DNA cannot continue to be used as an ‘opt-in’ criterion for group membership, and because of this policy weakness, it must be replaced by the concept of need, rather than genetic association, as the basis for a supportive welfare policy.

22. RECOGNISE that for historic reasons, there is a degree of tension between the world’s races and religions, and that expecting a non-discriminatory worldwide brotherhood is at odds with human tendencies which cause common language and faith to draw individuals together.

23. RECOGNISE that we don’t need to love our neighbours but we do need to tolerate them, as they tolerate us.

24. RECOGNISE that each human group has a collective responsibility to the earth on which we depend, and for this reason population growth, pollution control and resource maintenance are everyone’s responsibility and should be taught in homes and schools.

25. RECOGNISE that group identity in most young nations is not a clear-cut phenomena, and as such, all citizens should learn to tolerate uncertainty, respect change and practice patience.

Brian Roberts has been Adjunct Professor at James Cook University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and CSIRO Honorary Fellow

Comments [6]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Considering the fact that this eminently sensible and neutral list can not be disputed or challenged by any means that is grounded in reason, the obvious reaction to it by those opposing it will be loud and frantic howls of RACIST REDNECK WHITE BIGOT! When they realise that they can not win the debate, hurling vitriolic abuse at the opponent is the standard practice.

  2. Jody says:

    26. RECOGNIZE that for some groups, not limited by race or culture, overturning the status quo can only be achieved by totally upending all the values which underpin the economic and social success and vitality of a culture – thus ensuring that if one group misses out everybody else does. Now that’s equality.

  3. en passant says:

    You have my vote, though there is some evidence that there was an even earlier ethnically different aboriginal progenitor that finally expired in Tasmania.
    Two policies that should follow are:
    Policy No. 1: Remove all race based laws, including the race-based Aboriginal Heritage Act and include such aboriginal sites worth preserving in a broad-based Australian Historical Sites Act
    Policy No. 2: Abolish the funding to all race based vested interest groups – including European and M.E. tribes

  4. gardner.peter.d says:

    Constitution articles that could possibly discriminate against Aborigines:

    ’25.  For  the  purposes  of  the  last  section (House of Representatives),  if  by  the  law  of  any  State  all  persons  of  any  race are  disqualified  from  voting  at  elections  for  the  more  numerous  House  of  the  Parliament  of  the  State, then,  in  reckoning  the  number  of  the  people  of  the  State  or  of  the  Commonwealth,  persons  of  the race  resident  in  that  State  shall  not  be  counted.’

    41.  No  adult  person  who  has  or  acquires  a  right  to  vote  at  elections  for  the  more  numerous  House  of  
    the  Parliament  of  a  State  shall,  while  the  right  continues,  be  prevented  by  any  law  of  the  
    Commonwealth  from  voting  at  elections  for  either  House  of  the  Parliament  of  the  Commonwealth.  

    44.  Any  person  who  
    (i.)  Is  under  any  acknowledgement  of  allegiance,  obedience,  or  adherence  to  a  foreign  power,  or  is  a  
    subject  or  a  citizen  or  entitled  to  the  rights  &  privileges  of  a  subject  or  citizen  of  a  foreign  power:  or  
    (ii.)  Is  attained  of  treason,  or  has  been  convicted  and  is  under  sentence,  or  subject  to  be  sentenced,  
    for  any  offence  punishable  under  the  law  of  the  Commonwealth  or  of  a  State  by  imprisonment  for  
    one  year  or  longer:  or  
    (iii.)  Is  an  undischarged  bankrupt  or  insolvent:  or  
    (iv.)  Holds  any  office  of  profit  under  the  Crown,  or  any  pension  payable  during  the  pleasure  of  the  
    Crown  out  of  any  of  the  revenues  of  the  Commonwealth:  or  (v.)  Has  any  direct  or  indirect  pecuniary  interest  in  any  agreement  with  the  Public  Service  of  the  
    Commonwealth  otherwise  than  as  a  member  and  in  common  with  the  other  members  of  an  
    incorporated  company  consisting  of  more  than  twenty-­‐five  persons:  
    shall  be  incapable  of  being  chosen  or  of  sitting  as  a  senator  or  a  member  of  the  House  of  
    Representatives.  But  sub-­‐section  iv.  does  not  apply  to  the  office  of  any  of  the  Queen’s  Ministers  of  
    State  for  the  Commonwealth,  or  of  any  of  the  Queen’s  Ministers  for  a  State,  or  to  the  receipt  of  pay,  
    half  pay,  or  a  pension,  by  any  person  as  an  officer  or  member  of  the  Queen’s  navy  or  army,  or  to  the  
    receipt  of  pay  as  an  officer  or  member  of  the  naval  or  military  forces  of  the  Commonwealth  by  any  
    person  whose  services  are  not  wholly  employed  by  the  Commonwealth.  

    As far as I can see the Constitution does not differentiate in any way between Aborigines and others. It speaks of people without reference to race except as provided by state laws. It does not recognise white races any more than black races. Why should it now do so?

  5. rosross says:

    It is an excellent list and Number 1. is a good start.

    Number 2 is problematic since we do not actually know if Aborigines were the first humans as Mungo Man indicates. There is a good case that Australian Aborigines replaced, or drove out or killed, an earlier group or groups. And since we all supposedly began in Africa and Homo Sapiens appeared 200,000 years ago and Aborigines are estimated to have arrived ‘around’ 40,000 years ago, although of course it could be 20,000, then where were they for somewhere between 160,000 or 180,000 years during which time it is perfectly possible that other group or groups had settled Australia before their arrival.

    I would also question, Number 14. There only exists someone called English because people have not maintained national, cultural, religious identities and because their culture has gone into the ‘pot’ to brew alongst with the rest.

    Multi-culturalism is a deluded concept which drives nations apart, particularly young, immigrant nations. People who immigrate have to let go so that they can become something new and the nation in which they have decided to live can evolve, change, grow, develop.

    If the earliest settlers had held onto a concept such as multi-culturalism we would have pockets, ghettoes, of English, German, Afghan, Turkish, Greek, Italian etc., and we only have Australian because they assimilated and did not set up a multi-cultural nation.

    If you come to Australia you must become Australian, or at least accept that your children will. You can hold on to a semblance or pretence of the cultural identity of the nation you have left, but you will never belong anywhere. And as many have found, returning ‘home’ after decades in Australia, the ‘culture’ left behind no longer exists because people there have evolved, grown, developed and become something different as well.

    And I would add to Number 20, it is not just that ‘the definition of Aboriginality is fraught and insufficient to act as a binding thread for identity and organisational purposes’ but that it is essentially meaningless because even in 1788 Aborigines were no more one unified or defined culture, society, people than were Europeans at the same level of development and even now.

    Just as Europeans shared certain racial characteristics but had different languages and cultures, so too did Aborigines. Into that mix went the results of inter-mixing so that now we have a few, I think, very few, Aborigines who are not of mixed race and we have others who are half Aboriginal, a quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth, a thirty-second – all calling themselves indigenous but with little or nothing in common with each other and for many, nothing in common with Aboriginal culture as historically defined.

    But really, out of all the points made, these are small ‘digressions’ and it remains an excellent list and wise advice for all of us.

  6. Jody says:

    When I think that execrable Al Grassby was the ‘father’ of the multicultural project; a man (so the saying goes in Griffith) who had to sit twice for the Primary Final examinations!! I don’t think there has ever been a more stupid, vacuous and corrupt individual in our polity in my lifetime.