If Aborigines are to be written into the Constitution, what is that must be added? More than that, will a few sentences of feel-good boilerplate make the slightest difference in remedying the dysfunction and abuse that marks so many Indigenous communities?
Having watched as much as I could bear of Recognition: Yes or No on ABC TV, what follows is addressed to Linda Burney, Stan Grant and everyone else, Aborigine or not, who advocate that Indigenous Australians be recognised in a revised Constitution.
Q: Is the Australian Constitution the historical record of the nation, or is it the document prescribing the rules by which Australia is to be governed?
If the former, then it is woefully incomplete, because it fails to list anything at all of the history of Australia. In that event, it must be written anew from beginning to end and it should most certainly begin with the recognition that there were Indigenous people living on this continent and its islands when the First Fleet arrived. This new document – considerably longer then the old – might be named Constitution Mark II, with the existing one left untouched to continue to serve its original purpose.
If the latter is the case, what justification is there amidst all that unrelated legalistic text to mention just one single historical fact relating to one single group? Wouldn’t that be utterly illogical by any standard?
Q: Is anyone is under the illusion that there are some in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, who are not aware of the fact – who do not “recognise” – that there were Indigenous people living on this continent and its islands when the First Fleet arrived?
If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then perhaps there is some legitimacy to acknowledging an Aboriginal presence in 1788 and thousands of years before, even if not inserting it into the Constitution.
If, on the other hand, the answer is in the negative, then what on earth is the purpose of any official “recognition” of this perfectly well-known, undisputed historical fact, especially in a legal document where it does not belong?
Q: Is it reasonable to believe that some form of official “recognition” of the fact that there was an Indigenous population on this continent when the First Fleet arrived would in any way improve the lives of Australian Aborigines?
There were similar expectations when voting rights were extended to Aborigines, when land-rights legislation was enacted, and when Kevin Rudd apologised. None of those events made an iota of difference to any aspect of the lives of Aborigines. Why expect anything different in this instance?
Q: How could the “recognition” of one specific group of Australian society not be divisive?
Human nature would guarantee that most of those belonging to a group so privileged could not avoid a sense of superiority or, at the very least, a sense of exceptionalism. How could that be anything other than divisive?
Q: Are Aborigines better entitled to regard their culture as extraordinarily special than those of different cultural backgrounds?
If so, why exactly. Why not add a further line to the Constitution, perhaps to honour the migrant waves that followed World War II?
Perhaps, in the comments thread below, Quadrant Online readers might care to react to my ruminations.