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May 23rd 2015 print

Geoffrey Luck

Recognise the Fight Ahead

We've heard much about the need to amend the Constitution and thereby elevate the status of Aborigines. While we don't yet know the proposed wording, the thrust of supporters' rhetoric tells the tale: one country, two classes of citizens

flag tornAlmost 50 years ago, Australians voted to recognise land rights over terra nullius, and to outlaw the policy of assimilation for Indigenous people. Although they seemed like small changes, they provided an impetus for real change in terms of reconciliation. Now there’s a groundswell of support for Indigenous heritage to be recognised in the Constitution. Frank Brennan is a leading thinker and commentator on legal and human rights issues, and his new book, No Small Change, is a vital contribution to our understanding of Indigenous affairs.”

That’s the blurb of the Sydney Writers’ Festival for a talk by Fr. Frank Brennan in the Kogarah Library this week.  If you are not alarmed, you should be. If that is an example of mischievous propaganda we are going to see from proponents of an Aboriginal-centric referendum in 2017, we can be certain of the need to gird loins for a long fight against Recognise. Fortunately,Senator Cory Bernadi this week promised to vote against the amendment proposal in Parliament, which would trigger the requirement for the Government to publish the case for a “NO” campaign.

As everyone should know, the May, 1967, referendum said nothing about land rights, about terra nullius or a supposed policy of Aboriginal assimilation. What it did was erase discriminatory references in two sections of the Constitution, viz.:

‘the words “other than the Aboriginal people in any state” in Section 51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the Aboriginal people in any state, for whom it is necessary to make special laws. Removed the whole of Section 127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a state or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives should not be counted.

Two years away from a vote which the Prime Minister would like to see succeed, sentimentally, exactly half a century after that historic referendum, and with nothing at all agreed on the wording of amendments to be put, hysterics are claiming 75% of the population are in favour. In favour of what exactly?

On New Year’s Day, 2014, Tony Abbott said:

I will start the conversation about a constitutional referendum to recognize the first Australians. This would complete our Constitution rather than change it.”

This was sufficiently vague for many people to agree with what seemed a motherhood statement, but as soon as it was examined in relation to the Constitution itself, difficulties arose. Aboriginal leaders may argue about what the amendments should contain, but they are adamant in seeking to establish the primacy of the Indigenous tribes of the mainland and the Torres Strait islands. Unwilling to accept equality with those whose forebears came to this land more recently, they want recognition of a special “Australian-ness.”  This is not only an attempt to re-write history, but also to lay the legal foundation for special and favourably discriminatory treatment.

Father Brennan, a Jesuit, is Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University. His latest in a series of books on Aboriginal questions is No Small Change, the centerpiece of his Sydney Writers Festival speech. Brennan heartily endorses the sentiments of Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler, co-chairmen of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition set up by Julia Gillard:

The logical next step us to achieve full inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution by recognizing their continuing cultures, languages and heritage as an important part of our nation.”

But he goes further than acknowledgement. He wants Section 51(26)  amended to allow the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to the distinctive Aboriginal matters of history, culture, language and land rights. If this should happen. and Australia gains a bifurcated constitution, endorsing two classes of citizens, democracy here is dead. But before that comes to pass, an angry “conversation” will erupt around the ears of Brennan, Recognise and Aboriginal leaders. They will be reminded that white settlement of Australia was not a sin, or a “bitter historical injustice for which the Australian people must permanently atone,” but the establishment of a core identity based on civilised structures of law, science and technology.

Further, they will be reminded that being first in the land counts for nothing when the Aboriginal tribes marked time for forty thousand years. They remained a collection of disparate cultures, primitive, uncivilised, Stone Age peoples whose claim to have been “guardians” of the land is amusing persiflage. The Aboriginal people and the Recognise campaign do not want equality, human rights or relief from oppression. They want privileges, and they demand those privileges be locked up in the Constitution.

The changes sought, but yet to be defined, represent the greatest threat to democracy the country has faced since 1901. Professor James Allan of Queensland University pointed out that democracy counts us all as equals. And instead of providing certainty, amendments will invite the wandering hands of meddling progressive judges. As Allan said: “I fear that this mooted change to our Constitution to insert some sort of recognition clause might be used by latter-day judges to do all sorts of things unimaginable or pooh-poohed today.”

The fightback has just started.

Geoffrey Luck, a frequent Qiadrant contributor, spent 26 years as an ABC journalist.   

Comments [9]

  1. Davidovich says:

    The moves to gain the changes to the Australian Constitution are also being assisted by at least one State Government which is proposing to amend its Constitution to recognise occupation of Australia prior to the arrival of British settlers. Unfortunately, unlike the Australian Constitution which requires a referendum for change, State Constitutions can be amended by simple Acts of Parliament. Whilst the fightback may have just started, the “recognisers” are also fighting on other fronts.

  2. Peter OBrien says:

    This referendum is doomed to fail and, in doing so, will poison the relationship between ‘Aborigines’ and the rest of Australia for years to come. I wonder if Tony Abbott has considered the cost of failure?

    • Jody says:

      I think he’s misguided because he does have a genuine interest in Aboriginal issues and has spent lots of time ‘on the ground’ with them in their communities. So, Abbott has skin in the game but his real interest in this constitutional issue will be inevitably hijacked by others with a different agenda.

  3. en passant says:

    I believe this has been put forward as “The Perpetual Victim Referendum of Unforeseeable Consequences”. As a political thought-bubble it has sufficient inbuilt, breathtaking stupidity that (thanks to the other “Law of Event Improbability” – which states that the more unlikely an event is, the more likely it will happen – so don’t give it a million to one chance or it will inevitably succeed!) enough idiots might be persuaded by endless government sponsored propaganda to unthinkingly vote for it – especially if a yes vote guarantees the government will issue a stuffed Korean-made koala bear to everyone in Oz.

    Over the years I have had a lot to do with aboriginals. Unless I was in the far outback no more than 20% of those I met were full-bloods and one (with whom I was good friends for three years) I failed to recognise as aboriginal at all, until one day he casually mentioned his grandmother was aboriginal and his grandfather an itinerant white stockman. It changed nothing between us, and he was seeking neither therapy, nor compensation. Instead he thanked her for giving his mother to a mission to raise. His father was a white tradesman working on the mission. They married and the family left the mission so that D and his siblings could obtain a good education in a city. He was not told the family history until he was 21. It was just an interesting story and his life went on until he married a girl from Germany.

    So, define ‘aboriginal’ for me? Be careful, because I might want to get on the gravy train myself if the definition is broad enough and if my blue eyes are no hindrance

    Ah, the great feel-good “Father Brennan, a Jesuit, is Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University”. Is this the soon to be renamed Chan-Sukumaran Catholic University Faculty of Law, and are they also holding open faculty titles for other luminaries (currently under investigation by either ICAC or a Royal Commission) who are too many to mention.

    Actually, I fully understand the aboriginal plight as I am a victim myself. Every day I wake up and cry as I remember that terrible night in February 1692 (you read right) when some of my ancestors were massacred in Glencoe. Not all of them, fortunately for Oz, otherwise I would not be here, but enough to traumatise me for the 18-20 generations since that awful time. Naturally, as this predates the ‘discovery’ of Oz, my trauma has had longer to fester, so I also demand special recognition, compensation money and a pension for life just because … whatever.

    Am I racist for opposing this political feel-good thought-bubble?

    No, I am exactly the opposite. I was born and raised in one country, but my genes tell me I am a mongrel (then again many people who do not know my ancestry have also told me that) with 7-8 ethnic strains in my blood. I chose Oz and I am thankful I did, because I owe this country for the opportunity it provided. Oz has repaid me for my efforts to build it. My wife is a real refugee with four ethnic backgrounds in her genes. She is even more thankful than me to be here and loves Oz. Oh, and our puppy mongrels, well they are truly the definition of real Australians through and through.

    Maybe the ‘aboriginal victim industry’ should look, not at themselves, but at their children and future generations and seek to seize the opportunities offered, rather than sit, drink, whinge and destroy the future of the generations to come. To remain an unemployable, non-contributing ‘victim’ seems to me to be no future at all.

    VOTE ‘NO” TO THIS RACISM.

  4. Keith Kennelly says:

    En p

    I’d sort of made up my mind to vote no on the basis reasonable people with reasonable attitudes would understand we are not two separate classes of Australians.

    Your augments have caused me to reconsider … who are reasonable and what are reasonable arguments. I don’t think I could align with many of your positions.

    • Bill Martin says:

      Keith, why not just leave the matter at what you stated in your first sentence: “…we are not two separate classes of Australians.” What is there to reconsider about that, regardless of the above article?

    • en passant says:

      Keith,
      Which of my arguments do you strongly disagree with?
      Just answer one question: what constitutes being an aboriginal? Is it bloodline – and how much blood does it take (50%, 25%, 3%)?
      Is it living a traditional stone age life style of hunting & gathering with no wheels, no power, no metal tools, no currency, no land ownership, no medicine, no writing? If that latter option is the case then no money is required, just a large tract of semi-desert and let them go to survive or die as they always have.
      Surely, moving forward as a fully-fledged Australian is the answer for the children and future generations, no matter from where or when your antecedents arrived in Oz?
      I mentioned Glencoe and the rose-coloured view portrayed of Clan life. Watch the movie Rob Roy as a social history, then ask yourself if you would like to see the clans re-established so you could live in a cold Highland Glen muddy floored bothy … Well, Yes, I would, but only if I was the Chief as for everyone else life was short, brutal and miserable. Just a cold version of traditional aboriginal life.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    “Recognise”, such innocuous, innocent term, isn’t it? But recognise what? That Aboriginals were here when captain Cook arrived? What is there to recognise about an incontestable historical fact? Is the Constitution to become a record of historical facts? If so, how far into the past should it reach? Perhaps all the way back when early humans claimed down from the trees?

    No, this campaign has nothing to do with recognising anything. The term is a reassuring camouflage of a perilous adventure to make it appealing to good, unsuspecting people of good intent and thus suck them into the abyss. It is a particularly attractive term to the hordes of the ” useful idiots” mainly cluster around the Greens but also Labour. Of course we should “recognise” aboriginals, after all, they were here before us. What’s the harm in that?

    It is going to be a very, very difficult fight but one we must win in order to preserve Australia as one of the very few genuine democracies in the world where everyone is treated equally, regardless of their acestry.

    Bill Martin.

  6. bullockornis says:

    This whole Aborigine thing is an awful mess.

    Would it help at all if the aborigines were made aware of what their cultural heritage really is and what its value is, today?

    I don’t mean bark paintings and corroboree. I mean ‘culture’ overall. The nature of their human lives within their hunter gatherer style.

    Contrast it with our ‘culture’ in order to see what I mean. Our ‘culture’ in this sense is mindless worker bee in the service of money, greed. Growing daily more humanly sterile. We seek to breed children and educate them to be only good slaves to the machine which grinds onward of its own accord, without sensible direction.

    All the ‘human’ aspects of humanity have been left behind with peoples such as the old aborigines.

    We need them.

    That’s the value they have. Had and have.

    They lived to laugh and love, play. Anyone seeing a bunch of aborigine kids in a community now can see that. Even now.

    They lived with consensus, I believe, rather than at the dictate of a minority power group.

    They were not ruled by the clock. What makes us abdicate our humanity in order to be eternally clock scheduled creatures?

    They all participated in the work of all. Whereas my children cannot join me at work, nor can I join a fellow in his work. We are compartmentalised away from our children and from each other. Where is the humanity in this?

    They didn’t begin to educate children until age 10 or so (according to a book about the Anbarra I’ve read). We being to ‘educate’ (for which read ‘program’ and ‘indoctrinate’, ‘mutate’) even before kindergarten.

    They did what needed to be done and then relaxed and enjoyed. We are increasingly told the situation is forever getting worse – there’s never any time to relax, we never ‘get there’, the nation is always in dire straits, we are always going to have to increase productivity and make sacrifices….

    That’s the kind of thing I am thinking of.

    I am suggesting their memory (it would be little more than a memory now) holds the key to the essential traits of humanity and real human life. The seeds there of a possible sustainable future for billions of humans who can’t possible all share a future with the current level of material goods and consumption.

    They are, they were, US. That is, was and will be their value. We need them. We need those values. The memory of them, the rehabilitation of them.

    Could it be that if this was all seen and recognised it would be easier to have a democracy where everyone is really equal and treated equally because we’d all have an equal measure of self respect?

    For isn’t it true that currently we don’t only see the Aborigines as having nothing but as never having had anything? And haven’t we got them hoodwinked into thinking this about themselves? And isn’t that the crux of the problem?