The Philistine

Reconciliation at $1500 a Pop

On February 25, 2021, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade finally got with the program. That morning, the DFAT website finally endorsed the modern loyalty oath:

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respect to all First Nations peoples, their cultures and to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

This acknowledgment (preposition error included) was a deliverable from DFAT’s Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–2022 (the department’s fourth plan, and second “stretch” action plan). The public loyalty oath was supposed to be implemented by December 2019, but was delayed fourteen months without explanation. Direct complaints to the First Assistant Secretary, Soft Power, Communications and Scholarships Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, R.G. Casey Building, John McEwen Crescent, Barton ACT.

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If the DFAT acknowledgment of country seems somewhat vague (“throughout Australia”? “all First Nations peoples”?), it may be because the “traditional” custodianship of R.G. Casey Building, John McEwen Crescent, Barton, is subject to dispute. Just how traditional is a disputed tradition? That’s one for the analytical philosophers. As any sensible metaphysician knows, a tradition is what you make of it. It turns out that the traditional ownership of the Australian Capital Territory—a prime piece of traditional land if ever there was one—is the subject of intense dispute. In 2002, the ACT government decided to recognise the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of the entire territory, much to the chagrin of their local arch-enemies, the Ngambri. Thus Australia joins Israel as the only two countries in which the national capital territory is the subject of a sovereignty dispute.

It is not immediately obvious what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—an organisation that is, after all, mainly concerned with foreign affairs (and trade)—ever did to alienate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with whom it now plans to reconcile, never mind what horrific actions in its past could require the completion of four successive Reconciliation Action Plans (two of them “stretch”) covering a period of fifteen years. Nor is the fourth plan slated to be the last. The department’s fifth Reconciliation Action Plan is due in April. How many more plans will be required before Australia’s diplomats finally achieve reconciliation with the country’s indigenous peoples? Mathematicians have a word for a series of numbers that starts small but increments at fixed intervals forever: infinity.

The five ministers responsible for DFAT are Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, the Hon. Dan Tehan MP, Senator the Hon. Zed Seselja, the Hon. Dr David Gillespie MP and the Hon. Michelle Landry MP. They are, of course, not mentioned in the department’s fourth Reconciliation Action Plan—notably, its second “stretch” action plan in a row. No signature, no photo, not even an acknowledgment of ministership. One wonders if they are even aware that their department has a Reconciliation Action Plan, short or stretched. Senator the Hon. Marise Payne in particular might want to take a look at her department’s website. Not content to merely acknowledge “Custodians of Country throughout Australia” (at least they capitalised Australia), the bureaucrats at DFAT chose to pay their respect to “all First Nations peoples” … everywhere?

To which “Nations” (capital N), specifically, does DFAT pay Australia’s respect? All of them? Even if they are not recognised as “Nations” by their host … nations? In paying respect to them as “First” nations, does DFAT mean to imply that they have legitimate prior claims to the territories of their host societies? In referring to them as “Nations” (a dignity it noticeably does not accord to Australia’s mere “Traditional Custodians of Country”) is it implicitly endorsing indigenous sovereignty claims against foreign governments? Are the Pueblo the “First Nation” of the American South-West? Or does that title belong to the Apache, who conquered them in the twelfth century? Or to Spain, or to colonial Mexico, from which the region was taken by the nascent United States? Are the Ukrainians or the Tartars the First Nation of Crimea? Are the Arabs or the Jews the First Nation of Israel? Of course, DFAT does not offer explicit answers to any of these questions. Très diplomatique!

Quadrant readers will surely be the first to applaud when DFAT rolls its acknowledgment of country out on the website of the Australian embassy in Beijing, paying DFAT’s respects to the “First Nations” of China and the “Elders, past, present and emerging” of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.


DIPLOMACY, they say, is best left to the professionals. So are defence, health and of course education. The Department of Defence is now on its fourth (stretch) Reconciliation Action Plan; the Department of Health is on its fifth (innovative) plan, and the Department of Education is currently awaiting endorsement of its sixth (innovative stretch) plan. All three departments feature acknowledgments of country on their websites, although sensibly they refrain from endorsing overseas sovereignty claims. The Departments of Industry, Home Affairs and Social Services are all languishing on their third Reconciliation Action Plans, though all feature acknowledgments of country on their websites. The Department of Infrastructure is the only major Australian government department to be relegated to the “reflect” level of reconciliation planning. It is still working its way through its very first Reconciliation Action Plan. Its online loyalty oath went live only last summer.

The Australian Treasury is on its fourth Reconciliation Action Plan and the Department of Finance is now on its fifth. Both are “innovative” plans, as we would expect from the country’s top economists. But neither department has yet placed an acknowledgment of country on its website. Philistines.

At least forty-eight Commonwealth government entities have filed Reconciliation Action Plans with Reconciliation Australia, the registered charity that endorses these plans—or sends them back for revision. Only two of the government’s plans have achieved the highest level of distinction from Reconciliation Australia, being endorsed as “elevate” plans: the ABC (of course) and Services Australia (who knew?). Action plans can be filed at any one of four levels: reflect (stand in the corner), innovate (step out of the corner), stretch (reach for the stars) and elevate (you are a star!). Only the first three levels have published qualification criteria. The requirements for an “elevate” plan are more bespoke, involving “unique requirements, expectations and processes in order to qualify”. Is that a euphemism for blood money? You’ll have to apply to find out.

One prominent Australian organisation that notably has not filed a Reconciliation Action Plan is the University of Sydney. With the University of Melbourne preening at the “elevate” level, it’s got to hurt. Maybe the fees were too high. Whatever the reason, instead of going with Reconciliation Australia, Sydney decided to go it alone. Its “One Sydney, Many People” strategy represents a “whole-of-University commitment to journey together, valuing, respecting and celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s knowledges and cultures”. Whole-of-university started at the heart of the university, with the planting of a native flame tree to complement the famous jacaranda tree inside the university’s historic Quadrangle. It continues at the library, where anyone consulting the online catalogue must read an acknowledgment of country while waiting for search results to appear.

Given the university’s extraordinary (if a bit lonely) commitment to building “a stronger and more accountable partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”, it is a bit embarrassing that the New South Wales Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council has complained to the Independent Commission Against Corruption about the university’s indigenous admission and hiring practices. The story was completely ignored by the Guardian, the Herald, and the ABC, so Sydney should be able to tough it out. If things get too hot at the university’s annual Reconciliation Week smoking ceremony, Sydney can always start over by submitting a “reflect” Reconciliation Action Plan to Reconciliation Australia. The reconciliation journey may never end, but like any journey worth taking, it starts with a single $1500 filing fee.

Australia’s reconciliation journey originally was supposed to end more than twenty years ago. In a unanimous act of collective self-delusion, Parliament voted in 1991 to embark on a ten-year journey to achieve reconciliation “by the year 2001”. Accordingly, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 (passed in the days before Torres Strait Islanders got to share top billing) had a baked-in sunset clause. The eponymous Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, of course, thought differently. Before disbanding, its leaders set up Reconciliation Australia, commending the new organisation to the Commonwealth for perpetual support. Good thing, too. A triennial Reconciliation Action Plan lets government bureaucrats assuage their guilty consciences for $1500 a pop, and the acknowledgment of country is free. Virtue signalling has never been so cost-effective.

14 thoughts on “Reconciliation at $1500 a Pop

  • NFriar says:

    Thank you Salvatore – the long march!

  • rosross says:

    While most of this is excellent I believe you err in your Israel comparisons.

    You said: Are the Arabs or the Jews the First Nation of Israel?

    Arab is a cultural label and Jew is a religious label. Either compare Arab indigenous Palestinians and European Israeli colonists or compare Jews with Christians and Muslims. Apples with apples.

    Palestine is a country and a people which has never had the chance to become a nation because it has been and remains occupied. You cannot talk about a nation of Israel which is 74 years old without also talking about a nation of Palestine which is a country with a 5,000 year history. Although there is no doubt that the historically recent concept of nation, has not applied to Palestine but was a reality when Israel was set up in Palestine in 1947. Neither Germany or Italy were nations until the mid 19th century and yet, like Palestine they had been countries for thousands of years.

    You said: Thus Australia joins Israel as the only two countries in which the national capital territory is the subject of a sovereignty dispute.

    This is a very poor comparison because Israel was invented in 1947 with the help of the UN and one of the conditions of the UN in partitioning Palestine to allow a State called Israel to be set up, was that Jerusalem remain an international city. East Jerusalem is beyond the UN Mandate and definitely in Occupied Palestine and Israel, while never having its Mandate borders legitimised, certainly has no right to East Jerusalem, or indeed, Jerusalem as its capital.

    In addition, Australia gave citizenship and rights to the Aboriginal peoples not long after the British arrived in 1788 so any ‘disputes’ are later inventions. While Israel occupies all of Palestine, far beyond UN Mandated borders and denies justice, freedom, reparation, compensation and civil and human rights to Palestinian Christians and Muslims because they are not Jews.

    There is much of value in your article but bringing Israel into the equation is historically inaccurate, invalid in today’s world, and not a comparison you would want to make for Australia. We do not crush our indigenous people under a military boot, denying them their rights and justice.

  • DougD says:

    Where can I find a description of reconciliation that will enable me to know when it has been achieved? Or is the lack of any accepted definition strategically ambiguous and permits Reconciliation Australia to charge $1500 [adjusted for inflation?] per RAP registration?
    Is there any parliamentary authorisation for departments spending public money on RAP registration fees?

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    Most people of Aboriginal ancestry in Australia today have a lot of European or other non-Aboriginal genes. Only in the far tropical North of the country, where non-Aboriginals chose not to live, are there any people of ‘full-blood’ ancestry left today.
    But the 19thC anthropologists recognised three Aboriginal ethnicities, not one, and distributed from south to north in the order 1. Tasmanians, 2. Murrayans and 3. Carpentarians. As all three groups retained their distinct ethnicities, it is reasonable to assume that there was not much interbreeding across geographical boundaries, and cross-boundary hostilities must be assumed rather than blithely dismissed.
    While the Tasmanians and the Murrayans are now extinct as ‘full-bloods,’ they have part-Aboriginal descendants living on. All three ethnicities presumably entered the continent in their order of geographical distribution: Tasmanians first and Carpentarians last.
    ‘Always was, always will be, Tasmanian land’ is thus not a bad slogan; because Australia must have one been Tasmanians coast to coast and to all points of the compass. Those claiming Gadigal, Ngunnawal and other ancestries should maybe think about that before making any further territorial claims.

  • Adam J says:

    I much prefer the First Nations rubbish to rosross wall of incoherence. She’s still getting over the fact that “fortunately for her, the Jewish members of her family left the religion”, as she said previously. One wonders how they yet remained Jewish.

    Our country is drowning in nonsense peddled by the governments. They would live in a world of their own, but unfortunately it can have very real consequences. An entire generation is being racially abused by the Left. That’s exactly what it amounts to.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Jerusalem is the authentic historic capital (not Tel Aviv) of Israel, which is an established sovereign modern country legitimated by claims far more ancient than those made by Islamic Arabs. I will leave that discussion at that; there is no point trying to wipe Israel off the map now; the Romans had a go good at that. And Salvatore is correct, territorial claims are made on Jerusalem by two ‘First Nations’ inheritors: Arab and Jew. You only have to visit Jerusalem to experience the lived reality of the daily tensions fueled by historic ‘memory’, but also to note the considerable cooperation. What is noticeable too is that Arab people live very well within Israel, with democratic rights in a democratic State. A solution will eventually be reached, but not while Hamas rules the non-negotiation and keeps Palestinians schooled in terror and Israelis fearful but ready for trouble. On this, I am looking forward to the upcoming fourth series of the hit Israeli TV series Fauda, which is, interestingly, also extremely popular in Gaza. It cleverly humanises the toll taken on both sides by this ongoing conflict and the manner in which the left encourage it.
    Australian Aboriginal ‘memory’ is still being constructed out of over 600 different and warring small-scale tribal groupings who lived at a very basic level of subsistence with limited linguistic commonality and little knowledge of each other and where traditional life rarely exists now. Such difficult and opportunistic nation-making is very costly and mostly wrong on a number of levels, DFAT and the virtue-signallers notwithstanding. We should stop it now and put the funds to better use for aboriginal advancement.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    As long as there are incentives to delay reconciliation, financial or otherwise, it will never be achieved. At present each gesture is merely the prelude to more and more demands.
    If reconciliation were genuine and reciprocal, then Aboriginal meetings would commence with an acknowledgement of the introduction to Australia in 1788 of agriculture and animal husbandry, literacy, science, modern medicine, modern education, law and order based on Christian values, permanent dwellings, roads and vehicles. I’m sure others can add to the list, but that would probably do for now.

  • saorsa660 says:

    It would appear that the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation (CHAC) in far North West Tasmania has broken the rules and are out of step by jointly signing a Reconciliation Agreement with their local council and other local bodies prior to Christmas. Apparently they prefer to work as an integral part of the wider community and not apart from it.

  • Salvatore Babones says:

    Thanks Elizabeth! And to everyone who offers impassioned corrections to my Philistine column, need I state the obvious? Humor is not intended to establish definitive judgments on history.

    Then again, maybe it is! 🙂

    Thanks everyone for reading and commenting … much appreciated. And look forward to a follow-up Quadrant Online exclusive soon.


  • pgang says:

    Love the picture.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    God knows we need some humour in these benighted times, Salvatore.
    Thank you for yours. Always a well-written and pointedly fun read.

  • Daffy says:

    As a proud Concord Parish man from the County of Cumberland (traditional owner, George the Third), I get the picture that Aboriginal Australians are fully reconciled in true Monty Python/Life of Brian terms: they happily use the roads, the cars, the mobile phone network, the Internet, the banking system, the local bottle shop, the supermarket and the public transport system. Looks reconciled to me. Some Aboriginal groups also happily outsourced their child care to the state…but some quickly unreconciled that when there was a quid (from the reconciled taxation system) to be had.

  • whitelaughter says:

    As one of the many, many Australians who are ‘Aboriginal’ based on a smidgen of indigenous ancestry, I shake my head at the whole thing. How many of these (invariably city dwelling) grievance mongers are willing to give up western medicine and other technology to avoid culturally appropriating white civilization, hmm?

    It’s a bad sign when we get antisemitic drivel on Quadrant :/ And yes, antisemitic – I see no reason why they should be allowed to self-identify as antizionist.
    The ‘Palestinian homeland’ is Jordan. Yasser Arafat was Egyptian. Most ‘Palestinians’ cannot even pronounce the word, since there isn’t a ‘p’ sound in Arabic. And anyone objecting to Britain divvying up the Holy Land is welcome to go and complain about the creation of Pakistan, done at the same time with far less justification.

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