The recent controversy concerning the alleged corruption of artworks by APY Aboriginal artists by interfering white hands has prompted me to again visit the topic of Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people. It seems this has now become a given, even among conservative commentators, who should know better. It seems they are jumping on ‘recognition’ as a consolation prize following the hopeful defeat of the Voice referendum. It’s almost like a guilt trip. ‘Look,’ they are saying ‘even though we oppose the Voice we are not really racists.’ Most of these supposedly conservative commentators say, ‘If it was just about recognition, it would be overwhelmingly supported by the Australian people’. That remains to be seen.
I have covered this issue before but it doesn’t hurt to revisit these issues from time to time, especially as the capitulation to the woke concept of ‘constitutional recognition’ now appears to be almost complete. Best to commence the fight back as early as possible.
As I have said previously, I would guess that, like the rest of the population, the overwhelming majority of Aborigines have never, and will never, read the Constitution. They would not give a fig if Aboriginal people are mentioned in a preamble to the Constitution. It would not empower them and it would not contribute even a scintilla towards eliminating the dysfunction that plagues remote Aboriginal communities. It might make some white Australians feel a virtuous glow. But it would cut no ice with the cabal of hard-core activists who want constitutional empowerment, such as they see accruing to them through this Voice. Having to settle for symbolic recognition only would, if anything, be seen as a provocation.
Following a successful ‘recognition only’ referendum, those well-meaning Australians, who haven’t been paying attention, will find that their virtuous glow dissipates faster than an Albanese promise. They will be asking themselves, ‘What more do they want?’ Well, we at Quadrant know, because we have been paying attention.
Since the original Constitution never mentioned British people, Aborigines or immigrants – and has functioned perfectly adequately in the absence of such words – there is no practical purpose to be served by inserting them now. And the Constitution is, above all, a practical document. This type of recognition will not enhance its practical effectiveness one iota. The Constitution is about governance and nothing else. As such, the term ‘constitutional recognition’ necessarily implies a distinct place in our governance, whether or not it is in a preamble or a chapter in the main body.
But back to the art controversy. Apart from the question of putting a cloud over the provenance of these unjustifiably (in my view) expensive paintings, the real objection seems to be that this interference desecrates the spirituality of the story being told in these artworks. Greg Bearup, who broke this story, noted:
The problem was that the grassroots of the industry, the artists and the arts centres, saw things differently. They looked at the video of a white person painting sacred and ancient stories and were outraged and appalled. They saw black artists being exploited.
And, it seems, even suggestions by white mentors to insert objects or use different colours to achieve some sort of aesthetic balance is also unacceptable. That, too, violates “the sacred cultural tradition”.
So, what about the Australian Constitution? Yes, I earlier described it as a prosaic document. Nonetheless, it is also an important cultural artefact of our Westminster system – and the values underpinning it – towards which Aboriginal culture and tradition have contributed precisely nothing. Why, then, should it be amended to include a special reference to Aboriginal people? I would call this constitutional graffiti. In art terms, a bit like daubing a dot painting on the sandstone walls of the NSW Art Gallery. Or putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa to acknowledge transgender people.