Given the outcome of last week’s grand talk-fest at the lavish Sails in the Desert resort at Yulara, near Ayers Rock, it is well to be advised by one of that gathering’s co-chairs that everyone should take a deep breath before reacting to its Uluru Statement from the Heart. In my case, certainly, that helped to contain the stream of expletives stimulated by this nonsense.
Such are the realms of fantasy emanating from those 243 “delegates” (seven having walked out) during their splendidly catered for sojourn at taxpayers’ expense; it’s hard to know where to start. Let me, however, first make a couple of relevant terminological points and register one point of praise.
First, I refuse to refer to those involved as “Indigenous” Australians. They are Aboriginal Australians (or people self-identifying as such). True, they are indigenous, just like us non-Aboriginals who were also fortunate enough to be born in Australia. But I contest that capitalised description, which asserts an exclusive (and divisive) superiority over the rest of us indigenes, not to mention over all those other Australians who were not born here.
That divisive claim to superiority also surfaces in the increasingly frequent statements that Aboriginal Australians constitute “First Nations” or “First Peoples” – terms whose very United Nations origins should make us suspicious of their usage by some of our fellow Australians, whereby special status, or special privilege, may be claimed. Noel Pearson, for example, employs those terms (or “First Australians”) ten times in his Weekend Australian article, Indigenous voice deserves to be heard. Nobody questions that our continent was already populated by nomadic Aboriginal tribes when the British began settling it in 1788, but the idea that somehow this gives their descendants some special “right” to be “recognised” in our nation’s founding Constitution is bizarre to the point of being childish. A great deal more could be said on that, but for present purposes that must suffice.
One worthwhile point did emerge from last Friday’s Statement – namely, its dismissal of the so-called “minimalist” proposals advanced by such gullible (in this context) people as John Howard, Tony Abbott and (originally) Bill Shorten. (The fact that Noel Pearson first sold that pup – which he now abjures – to Howard merely exemplifies how one such pup, once adopted, is immediately replaced by another more menacing dog). Admittedly, that dismissal stems from the much greater demands now made by last week’s gathering – demands that go to the very heart not only of our nation’s governance but also of its very sovereignty. Still, in the dismissal of the naive views of those aforementioned politicians (not to mention those of a couple of subsequent “expert” committees and “expert” panels), at least one useful purpose has been served.
If we set aside all the flowery bovine manure with which it is so depressingly encumbered, the Statement itself consists essentially of two proposals. The chief author of the first is Noel Pearson, who has a gift for rhetoric, and who has made a very lucrative career out of employing it within the taxpayer-funded Aboriginal industry. Along with a couple of other people who should know better (Dr Damien Freeman and Julian Leeser, now Member for Berowra), he has advocated inserting into our Constitution a provision to establish an Aboriginal body sitting alongside our federal Parliament and empowered to “give advice” on (what will quickly become) all Commonwealth legislation. Such a body’s (wholly Aboriginal) membership would undoubtedly provide more well-paid sinecures for those who have for so long dominated debate on Aboriginal matters, but that is the least of its defects.
Has there ever been a more arrogant proposal from any quarter? The only one in my recollection that even begins to approach it was the Vernon Committee’s 1965 recommendation to set up an Economic Advisory Council. As Sir Robert Menzies said when comprehensively dismissing that work of ANU academic self-aggrandisement, “the power to advise is the power to coerce”. How greatly more so would this body’s power be.
The Statement’s second major proposal is to establish a so-called “Makarrata Commission”, described as being to work towards treaties (note the plural) between the federal government and all those pretentious “First Nations”. How “treaties” can be entered into between a government and some of its citizens boggles the mind, as does any idea that such “treaties” can do any more (other than actually yielding sovereignty) than is done already by the innumerable agreements entered into in this area.
The bottom line is this. We are all Australians. We are not, and we never should become, First Australians and Second Australians. Nor will our common-sense electorate ever vote to have us do so.
John Stone is a former Treasury Secretary and one-time leader of the National Party in the Senate.
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