Bennelong Papers

The Treaty Crusaders’ Sin of Omission

The socially progressive Christian organisation Common Grace recently put together a video promoting the idea of a Treaty. Credit where credit’s due, it’s a very well-produced piece which can be viewed here.  There are, however, numerous problems with the content hidden behind the slick messaging. This is not to say there are not many serious and significant issues facing indigenous communities, nor that they haven’t experienced various injustices in the past. Yet the notion of treaties between fellow Australians, quite apart from the dubious constitutionality if implemented on a state-by-state basis, is the wrong response to right problem. What follows are seven of the most significant reasons why we should question, and ultimately reject, the formation of a treaty.

First, not all Australians who identify as Aboriginal agree with the idea of a treaty. Indeed, many see it as an unhelpful distraction to the numerous social problems that indigenous people face. For instance, Aboriginal academic Dr. Anthony Dillon of The Australian Catholic University, writes:

The problems plaguing too many Aboriginal communities and people are ones that, I believe, can be addressed without a treaty. In fact, I believe pursuit of a treaty will be a major distraction from addressing the real problems, as a treaty will be seen as a magic bullet…

Dr Dillon goes on to further explain and consequently, warn:

Let’s not be distracted by symbolism and ‘quick fixes’ such as treaties, however alluring they might seem to be. Let’s focus on providing Aboriginal people with real hope and help, even if this means tackling the tough issues such as child abuse and violence, or making unpopular decisions like relocating people from dysfunctional and economically unsustainable communities to centres with facilities where they can thrive.

Aboriginal people are Australian citizens and as such are surely entitled to what Australia has to offer. But partaking in those offerings means abandoning the ‘us/them’ mentality which underpins the treaty mindset—a mindset that has  served only to keep Aboriginal people marginalised while promoting disharmony between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

Similarly, indigenous lawyer Dr. Hannah McGlade argues in an opinion piece in The Australian:

Would indigenous women and children feel safer if constitutional recognition, or even a treaty, eventuated in Australia? The ­answer must be a resounding ‘No’.

The recent and ongoing national debate on indigenous issues has featured political leaders arguing about treaties and constitutional recognition. Ignoring the plight of indigenous women and children while elevating treaties and the easing of white guilt to the top political priority during this election is deny by avoidance the horrifying levels of violence.

Second, contrary to Common Grace’s ungrounded assertion that use of the terms ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Indigenous’ only “perpetuates racism”, this is precisely how many from that particular background choose to self-identify. Common Grace would prefer the descendants of Australia’s original inhabitants be known as members of the ‘First Nations’. Yet, ironically, this is itself a Eurocentric term and concept (by way of Canada), which — according to Common Grace’s fractured logic — must itself be inherently racist!

What’s more, as is widely acknowledged by all genuine historians, Aboriginal people groups did not enjoy a peaceful, shared, pacific co-existence before European settlement, but were constantly at war with one another. Indeed, Geoffrey Blainey suggests that Aborigines killed more of their own number in the hundred years before settlement than settlers killed in the hundred years after settlement.

Third, following on from the previous point, a ‘treaty’ could not have been formed since none of the approximately three-hundred Aboriginal groups believed that the land could be ‘owned’ and, hence, transferred to a third party. Once again, that is a European concept rather than an indigenous one. Instead, in keeping with their pantheistic worldview, Aboriginal peoples saw themselves as being ‘owned’ by the Land. As the anthropologist E. P. Elkin explains:

It is true, at least from our point of view, that members of such a local group owned their “country”. But that is only one aspect of the situation. A more significant aspect is that they belonged to their “country” – that it owned them; it knew them and gave them sustenance and life. Their spirits had pre-existed in 
it – in the Dreaming. Therefore, no other “country”, never mind how fertile, could
 be their country nor mean the same.

Fourth, to sit down at table today then and form a treaty is not only impracticable, but also highly problematic. As mentioned, at the time of the First Fleet there were some three hundred different tribes. How are each of those different people groups going to be represented, let alone compensated? And will the financial assistance already received by indigenous people be included as part of the deal?

And just what, Australians are obliged to ask, would be the practical benefits emanating from a treaty? Will Aboriginal people be better placed as an independent entity to resolve the plethora of problems they currently endure? These are significant questions constantly left unanswered. As Paul Kelly of The Australian has rightly observed:

The Aborigines … were not a nation state. They were a collection of hundreds of tribes speaking different lan­guages, devoid of collective political purpose or leadership, often at war with each other and without the structures to allow sovereign negotiations or dealings…

The idea that the British ­arrivals should have negotiated a treaty is nonsense. With whom and on what basis? There is no ­answer. 

Fifth, financial assistance is already being given, with billions of dollars spent each year. Taken in total, should this be conidered ‘payment’? What’s more, Aboriginal people are not impeded—but, in fact, elevated—through European systems of education, employment and ongoing government assistance.  As Dr. Dillon once again argues:

Our primary focus must be on employment and education. These can be achieved irrespective of treaty discussions—but will take hard work. Talking about a treaty or changing the constitution is easy; improving employment and educational opportunities is considerably more difficult. So many activists actually think they are doing something constructive when they protest from the side lines claiming that a treaty is the solution. They are not.

Sixth, Common Grace chastises Australia for never having the “foresight for an all-important Bill of Rights”—significantly, another non-indigenous concept — such as the United States and Canada have done. Seeing that, according to the fabulist Bruce Pascoe, Aborigines were the first to invent democracy, shouldn’t the burden to develop this be placed on them? Regardless, as James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at Queensland University has written in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Australians should be very glad that they have resisted the siren call of a bill of rights. They should be wary of those who advocate the need for one, pretending that judicial power can be easily contained. It cannot. Thus far in Australia, we have decided not to throw in our lot with an aristocratic judiciary. I hope this continues to be the case. It is one of the great attractions of this country.

Common Grace also perpetuates the unjustified slur that the European settlers ‘conquered’ the land as part of a hostile invasion. But as Dr. Augusto Zimmerman, one of this country’s leading experts in constitutional law, has written in his three-volume work, Christian Foundations of the Common Law (Connor Court, 2018):

The extent to which English law is introduced into a British Colony, and the manner of its introduction, must necessarily vary according to circumstances. There is a very great difference between the case of a Colony acquired by conquest or cession, in which there is an established system of law, and that of a Colony which consisted of a tract or territory practically unoccupied, without settled inhabitants or settled law, at the time when it was peacefully annexed to the British dominions. The Colony of New South Wales belongs to the latter class…

Seventh, Common Grace endorses and supports the pantheistic worldview of traditional Aboriginal beliefs. As the video, explicitly states:

We have so much to share with you. Stories of the Creator, how to care for this land, how to care for one another, how to never, ever take too much. We wish you had come with open minds to learn, with open hearts to care, not to conquer and take.

Not only do these words self-righteously portray all Europeans as being closed-minded, uncaring and greedy(!), but it relies on the tired—and one would have thought, offensive—trope of the “noble savage”. But as Tony Thomas has pointed out here at Quadrant Online, this was anything but the case. For example, violence against women and children has been tragically endemic.)

Furthermore, Aboriginal spirituality is fundamentally incompatible with a modern Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. For a full-length treatment of Aboriginal animism see A. P. Elkin’s Aboriginal Men of High Degree . As Elkin explains in his paper, Elements of Australian Aboriginal Philosophy (Oceania, 1969):

They have no myths recording its ultimate origin. It existed, but “without form and void”, that is, without its present geographical form of hills and plains, rivers and springs, and void of living creatures. Into this “waste” came heroes, the pioneering migrants, some in human form, some 
in animal form, and some with power of appearing in either form. Moreover, all, especially their leaders, had power to transform the landscape, and even to be transformed themselves into natural phenomena, such as rocks and trees, which then became and remained the sacramental repository of pre-existent spirits and “life-cells” associated with the particular heroic figures.

All of which is to say, the formation of a treaty is not the way forward in achieving the chimera of racial reconciliation, but is itself deeply divisive. Indeed, the indigenous mantra of ‘reconciliation’ betrays an entirely different agenda to the one stated. Just like the Black Lives Matter movement, it is about money and, ultimately, about power. As such, it is not a solution but distraction from the very problems is purports to solve.

Mark Powell is a Presbyterian pastor

14 comments
  • Harry Lee

    And then, against all expectations, sufficient Proper Australians awoke.
    From then on, at the start of all gatherings, in all institutions across the Land, Great Gratitude was expressed for The British Founding. And Heartfelt Thanks were offered to the pioneer generations and to those generations which had sacrificed in wars big and small, then and now, against the anti-civilisational hordes. And in tandem, the great evils of marxism, multiculturalism, and the ABC, and the associated regimes of superstition, parasitism and anti-Westernism were put asunder.
    Of course, most Australians stayed home and watched it all on TV, while over-filling their bellies with food and drink. But, as always happens, whenever and wherever Good prevails, the place was saved by small self-funding, self-organising, and self-reliant forces of determined and focused volunteers.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    The Canadian term “First Nations” is being increasingly used by the ABC, and usage by the ABC generally offers a window into evolving Green-Left thought. As usual with such philosophy it erects a reasonable sounding lie (nations rather than tribes) in order to support the contention that Australian sovereignty was never conceded after 1788, and that therefore the land still belongs to those “First Nations”. The reasonable sounding lie also reminds us of Bruce Pascoe, who has essentially the same agenda. The underlying assumption is that nations of sedentary farmers have more rights than nomadic tribesmen.
    .
    Obviously transferring (or “restoring”) sovereignty to Australia to “First Nations” would never pass a popular vote, despite any imaginable amount of schoolroom propaganda, and therefore the proposition has to be moved out of the realm of democracy and into the realm of the courts, where an elite few make whatever decisions they choose. This can be achieved by treaty, as in New Zealand where apartheid is being progressively built, or by an instrument such as a Bill of Rights, which allows a court to override democracy. Once enacted, a Bill of Rights becomes permanent, as would a treaty.
    .
    In the context of a Victorian treaty, it is worth noting that while there is no explicit power to conclude a treaty in the Australian Constitution, the High Court, in R v Burgess, has interpreted section 61 of the Constitution as containing the power of the Federal Government to conclude treaties with other countries. Once a treaty is concluded, section 51 allows Parliament to make laws implementing the terms of the treaty in order to fulfil our international obligations arising under it. As states have no power under the Constitution to conclude a treaty, any such Victorian document would in reality be an agreement or contract, not a treaty.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    The number of ‘aboriginal’ Australians has been steadily increasing as more and more people recognise an aboriginal ancestor way back in time and proceed to make contact with ‘aboriginal communities’. Many more know of but generally don’t care much about stressing such a remote ancestral connection.

    Who would Australia make a treaty, or a series of treaties, with? What groups? How defined? To what effect?

    It is a nonsense idea, born of a lack of clear thinking about the issues, which are well developed in the article above. Christians should not be taken in by this posturing group, who would do far more good if they worked to improve the position of aboriginal women and children in remote settlements.

  • Harry Lee

    This is obvious: Aboriginal anti-leadership is taking Ordinary Aborigines further into the misery of victimhood, and therefore further away from the prospects for human flourishing. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Australia the nett effects of the culture/behaviours of agents of the CCP, Islam and black Africans are creating massive costs and other conditions that are antithetical to a future of peaceful civil order, abundance, and freedom. These are the natural and inevitable consequences of the combination of idiotic naive idealism and marxist evil that has got us into this intractably bad situation.

  • lhackett01

    There is much ‘woke’ distortion of Aboriginal history and culture. Today, there is much propaganda to have traditional Aborigines seen as highly organized nations of peoples who practised agriculture and aquaculture, were peaceful, invented democracy, etc, etc. All that is in direct contradiction with everything I have read about Aborigines, contained in the journals of the early settlers, explorers; the detailed biography by John Morgan of the escaped convict William Buckley; or in the VICTORIAN REPORT of the SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL on THE ABORIGINES in 1858-9, amongst many other sources.

    The meaning of the word ‘tribe’ is contested, being used by different people to describe vastly different social and kinship structures. Statements that Aborigines lived in tribal groups is deceptive as the word is commonly understood to describe a large group of people having a chief or leader and some form of hierarchy. As such, the word implies a society of some sophistication. Aboriginal groups were not so comprised. The Aborigine lived in small family groups of perhaps 20 to 30 people. These were kinship groups and are usually described as bands. These bands normally would be part of a larger kinship group that ‘controlled’ territory, or ‘country’, traditionally described by anthropologists to be clans or language groups. These latter descriptions more accurately describe Aboriginal social structures and should be used rather than the word ‘tribe’.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    It is amazing to me that any group that claims to follow Jesus could hold up traditional Aboriginal religion as something that we should accept! The Bible declares of Jesus, “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). And to a true follower of Jesus, there can be no alternate religion–not if we believe His own words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14: 6).

  • Helmond

    Rebekah.

    I get it that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you couldn’t give any credit to Aboriginal stories of the creation.

    I’m wondering if the hundreds of Aboriginal tribes pre-1788 had the same creation stories. I’m guessing not, but how could we know?

    I’m also wondering how people accept the Biblical message concerning creation. The evidence is shakey. No, too generous. Non existent of evidence seems about right.

    Anyway, if God really exists, he(?) must be be sorely disappointed in how “let there be light” turned out.

    Check out Christopher Hitchins and George Carlin on YouTube on religion. I figured that religion was nonsense when I was a teenager.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    Helmond,
    How could the eyeball–the heart–bacteria–and all the interconnected systems that make up living things have come about by an infinite number of tiny changes occurring through random chance? No work of art or architecture, no machine, no watch, no engine comes about solely by chance (much less by an explosion). The likelihood of living things doing so is even more remote. Mutations, in any case, are almost always harmful.
    Within the kinds of living thing that God made was a great potential of variety; but one kind never changes into another kind. New breeds are developed, but a horse never turns into a wolf.
    For evolution to have happened according to the hypothesis (evolution is not a theory, as it can neither be observed nor experimented on), there would have had to be trillions and trillions of missing links, changing by tiny bits into today’s creatures. The geologic record simply does not show this.
    In the end, since none of us was around in the very beginning, there simply never can be definitive evidence proving any origin belief without any doubt. Therefore, you and I both believe what we do by faith.
    I believe in the eternal God, the only One Who was “in the beginning,” Who has left us a record of how this world began. You, I assume, believe that He does not exist. Therefore, surely matter and energy must themselves be eternal. In other words, for this world to be here, there must be something divine. If that is so, then surely it is more logical to believe in a personal God than in the divinity of things that are themselves dead.
    “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” Psalm 19:1-3

  • Helmond

    Rebekah.

    Try reading the “The Blind Watchmaker”. Might answer a few questions for you.

    But you surely can’t believe this stuff. You seem too intelligent.

    Come on. There was this being that we call God who existed in a timeless void and one day he (?) thought maybe I’ll create a universe, right down to life and human beings. And he did and here we are.

    I could probably list a few dozen design faults, but even a God is bound to make a few. Please don’t tell me that that congenital diseases are all part of the great eternal plan, because why would a supposedly all loving God afflict some people with lives of misery?

    But say you are right. We are good and we do believe in Jesus, and we do go to be with Him in Heaven. What then? Eternity is a real long time. Singing God’s praises for the rest of time seems just a tad boring. But why would the creator of the universe want people to praise and love Him?

    Seriously, do you really believe that when you die that you will pass on to another word? You might hope that you do, but are you absolutely certain?

  • Rebekah Meredith

    I am sure that Richard Dawkins is much more intelligent than I am, but that doesn’t mean he has everything right (just as Quadrant writers might say of many university professors). The Bible says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 53:1), and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
    I do believe that the evidence supports creation. There are no true missing links. Richard Dawkins to the contrary, it is impossible for every intricate part, of every creature (plant, animal, and man), in the the whole world, to have gradually developed over time by one miniscule change after another. Did the eye and ear evolve at the same time? Which came first, heart or lungs? Neither can work properly without the other. Bones cannot move without muscles; skeletal muscles are attached to bones. Every single stage must be an improvement, or the missing link would be less “fit”; but how could that be the case when all systems of an organism depend on each other for the creature to survive?
    I repeat: the evolutionist and the Christian both believe what they do by FAITH. Neither can truly PROVE his belief from the physical evidence. But I believe in an intelligent God; evolution teaches of divine matter (surely more unlikely).
    The problems that are so obvious in the world are the result of sin. I cannot understand why an infinite God would desire the fellowship of us poor humans, but He did. And love is not love if it is forced: God gave man the choice to obey Him or not. Man chose to disobey, and the world God had given him was cursed by his sin.
    As for God’s love–“God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). For Jesus to have been willing to endure the physical suffering of scourging and crucifixion shows a love that is hard to comprehend; but, more than that, He took all the putrid sin of the whole world on Himself, suffering the punishment we deserve, so that we would not have to.
    I will not go to heaven because I am “good,” but because I have repented of my sins and believed in the Saviour Who died and rose again.
    I don’t know what all will happen in heaven; but the One Who loved me enough to go through the death of the cross would not condemn me to a “boring” eternity.

  • lbloveday

    “I am sure that Richard Dawkins is much more intelligent than I am, but that doesn’t mean he has everything right”

    The self-promoting “famous atheist”, Richard Dawkins, in his book “The God Delusion” has a chapter “Why there is almost certainly no God”, thus leaving open the possibility of there being a God, and in his computation of the probability of God’s existence, assigned it a probability of 14%. Horses win at 7.0 every day and, in my opinion, Dawkins outed himself as an agnostic.

  • lbloveday

    “It is amazing to me that any group that claims to follow Jesus could hold up traditional Aboriginal religion as something that we should accept!”

    My daughter attended a Catholic-Anglican school (maybe still the only one in Australia) and the end-of-year presentation night was held in a Catholic cathedral. Music was provided via a didgeridoo and we were “regaled” with the story of the Rainbow Snake.

    My WTF? letter to the Principal was unanswered.

  • lbloveday

    The most famous and most commonly cited theory of biological evolution was developed by the English naturalist Charles Darwin and is accepted as fact by many.
    .
    Here are some of Darwin’s statements on evolution:
    .
    As a married man he would be a “poor slave, . . . worse than a Negro,”
    “males are more evolutionarily advanced than females”
    “the child, the female, and the senile white” all had the intellect and nature of the “grown up Negro”
    “Since humans evolved from animals, and “no one disputes that the bull differs in disposition from the cow, the wild-boar from the sow, the stallion from the mare, and, as is well known through the keepers of menageries, the males of the larger apes from the females,” the same must be true with human females.
    Some of the traits of women “are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization”
    “Thus man has ultimately become superior to woman”
    “The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain”
    “the average standard of mental power in man must be above that of woman”.
    .
    Thus “Darwinians” cherry pick the parts of his theories that they agree with while ignoring the many others with which they would disagree.

  • lbloveday

    Einstein (so famous for his genius that I don’t need to use his first name) said
    “I am not an atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds”.
    .
    If it’s too much for Einstein’s brain, it’s far too much for the brains of me and 99.99999% of others, so I think anyone who denies the possibility of God, whatever “God” is, (generally by proclaiming him/herself an atheist, and so often by ridiculing those who profess a belief) does not know the meaning of “atheist”, or, and, is deluded as to their knowledge and analytical ability.
    .
    There are an estimated (by some) 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the Universe, one of which is the Milky Way.
    There are an estimated (ditto) 100,000,000,000 stars in the Milky way, one of which is the Sun, around which the Earth orbits.
    That’s 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars if each galaxy has the same number of stars as the Milky Way.
    There are an estimated (ditto) 20,000,000,000,000 living creatures on Earth, of which an estimated 130,000,000,000 are mammals of which 7,500,000,000 are humans.
    Yet some of those insignificant humans categorically state there is no God anywhere in the Universe; the presumptuousness, even arrogance, astonishes me.
    .
    I’m with Einstein.

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