At the end of a long demonstration of specious logic in The Australian, the Cape York Institute’s Shireen Morris observed, “You don’t address irrational fears. You dispel them.” It’s her final dismissal of those who harbour grave misgivings about the push to enshrine Aboriginal recognition in the Constitution, not least Quadrant‘s Keith Windschuttle, whose most recent book warns of the movement’s “hidden agenda” to see the “break-up of Australia”.
Ms Morris’s thoughts appeared on the opinion page. In the news pages, however, there is another story which suggests it is Windschuttle, rather than his pro-Recognition critic, who has the real measure of the attempts to divide Australia along lines demarcated by skin colour, heritage and identity. The headline says it all: “Drive for indigenous recognition knocked off course by treaty demands“. Taken as a matched pair, both articles are something of an education.
For example, here’s Ms Morris:
Last Saturday, Inquirer ran an extract from Keith Windschuttle’s new book, The Break-Up of Australia: The Real Agenda Behind Aboriginal Recognition, which contends that indigenous activists seek constitutional recognition because it will lead to Aboriginal sovereignty. Windschuttle asserts that indigenous people think recognition will be “one more step towards” Aboriginal “sovereignty over their own separate state or nation”.
The argument is an example of an attempt to whip up irrational fear. It also oversimplifies the complex ongoing discussion in indigenous Australia.
Contrast that dismissal of the concerns of Windschuttle and others with the news that leaked from behind the closed doors of a meeting addressing how the Recognition proposal might be worded and presented. It was, one gathers, a topic that inspired a discussion that was intense, divisive and, most of all, an indication of the ultimate goal being advanced by many of the movement’s advocates and supporters:
Constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians has been blindsided by more radical demands, with an official forum in Hobart insisting that plans for a referendum must be accompanied by treaty talks.
The gathering, the first of 12 such invite-only indigenous community meetings nationwide, concluded that all delegates were “firmly committed to pursuing treaty” and that this must deal with “among other things, sovereignty, a land and a financial settlement” as well as an agreed time frame.
“A discussion of constitutional recognition (can) only take place simultaneously with a proper consideration of treaty,” states a written communique issued yesterday — and sighted by The Australian — setting the tone for fiery negotiations at the upcoming gatherings.
The key word here is “treaty”, which presupposes by definition an agreement between two sovereign entities, ie nations.
So, do Recognition supporters, such as Ms Morris, envision one nation, Australia, with a Constitution amended to include a few pious words about those whose ancestors were here to see the arrival of the First Fleet? Or is it, as noises emanating from Hobart suggest, that Recognition’s supporters want Indigenous Australia accorded the status of a nation within a nation?
If the latter, Windschuttle’s reservations about the Recognition movement and it’s ultimate goals would seem to be on the money.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online