After 50 years of unremitting failure in Aboriginal affairs, it’s time to say, “Enough is enough”! Our once boundless goodwill towards our Aboriginal fellow Australians is becoming exhausted. Despite the countless billions spent in their behalf, each failed “program” begets demands for another. “Aboriginal demands fatigue” is setting in. Recent developments have been the last straw: the so-called Uluru Statement from the Heart and the resulting Referendum Council power grab proposals which, if ever consummated, would threaten not only the workings of our representative democracy but also our nation’s very sovereignty.
Giving Canberra more power is always unwise, and the 1967 constitutional amendment was no exception. The overwhelmingly positive vote reflected the goodwill towards Aborigines then felt by almost all Australians. Today, however, Aboriginal industry spokespeople normally revile the amendment, saying “it hasn’t done anything for us”, and that the federal Parliament has used it to make special laws against Aboriginal interests (e.g., John Howard’s 2007 “intervention” over the endemic sexual and other abuse of Northern Territory Aboriginal children).
The 1967-92 post-referendum period saw governments of both political persuasions stumbling from one failed policy to the next. Throughout these 25 years of change, however, three things remained unchanging: the constant flow of public money within which the Aboriginal industry has its being; that despite the money lavished upon them, “real” Aborigines’ situation was little improved; and that, as each demand was granted, a new one emerged.
The next milestone is the High Court’s 1992 decision in Mabo, concerning land in the Meriam Islands unrelated to mainland Aborigines, an ethnically and culturally distinct people. Six of the seven Justices then delivered the most legally indefensible decision in that court’s history. As the late S E K Hulme, QC said: “With no mainland issue, with no evidence as to the mainland, with no parties concerned with any mainland issue, without argument as to any mainland issue, the High Court proceeded to destroy what Deane and Gaudron JJ. described as ‘a basis of the real property law of this country for more than a hundred and fifty years’”.
Since Mabo was not a constitutional case, the Keating government could have legislated to reverse the Court’s destructive action. Instead, it doubled down on it. The Native Title Act 1993 rendered the new form of title an even more serious threat to Australia’s future well-being than the original form invented by the Court. By endowing Aboriginal holders of native title with a “right to negotiate” with anyone wanting to enter that land to do business, it ushered in a governmentally condoned form of blackmail and officially sanctioned extortion.
There had long been claims that, on racial grounds, State authorities had earlier removed Aboriginal children from their parent(s) against the latter’s will. In 1995 Paul Keating set up the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Children from their Families, chaired by former High Court Justice Sir Ronald Wilson, QC. To say that the resulting Bringing Them Home Report was a travesty would over-rate it. To say that a former High Court Justice could lend his name to such a travesty would normally invite disbelief.
The Inquiry heard “testimony” from 535 Aborigines, but made no attempt to check the veracity of that “testimony”. Subsequent court cases, brought by Aborigines to establish their “stolen” status, have (in all but one case) all resulted in their claims being dismissed as groundless. Keith Windschuttle’s magisterial work The Fabrication of Aboriginal History shows that, in every case cited, the reasons for removing a child involved protecting it from the dangers to it in its Aboriginal community. Yet notwithstanding the intellectual poverty of the “Stolen Generation” myth, it remains firmly entrenched in the national consciousness.
In 1999 John Howard sought to amend the Preamble to our Constitution to mention our original inhabitants. The resulting referendum was defeated with a national “No” vote of 60.66 per cent, going down even in the ACT.
The “Stolen Generation” myth was revisited in 2008, with a “National Apology” in Parliament by Kevin Rudd, echoed by an equally deluded Brendan Nelson. Rudd’s “National Apology” was built around those same elements which, time after time, have characterised the Aboriginal industry: historical fabrication, street theatre, demands for money as “compensation” for historically untruthful wrongs, and evasion of the real problems besetting Australian Aboriginality, stemming from the violent and payback-ridden nature of Aboriginal culture itself.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, to be succeeded, ten years later, by Reconciliation Australia. This first step in the “Recognition Project” was followed by a series of others, beginning with Julia Gillard’s proposal (2010) for a referendum to amend our Constitution to “recognise the special place of our first peoples”, with an Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians, and culminating today in a proposal for establishing a new, constitutionally entrenched, Aboriginal “advisory” body, to sit alongside Parliament and with the right to “advise” on any legislation it might consider affected Aborigines.
This body would effectively institute another “right to negotiate”, even more massive than the already existing, extremely damaging one created by the Native Title Act 1993. Its ramifications would go far beyond procedural complexity and into the world of extortion in which the Aboriginal industry has long flourished. Nevertheless, when 250 Aboriginal delegates foregathered at Uluru in May, 2017 this proposal figured centrally in their demands.
Those demands emerged as a so-called “Statement from the Heart” and a Media Release “issued on behalf of the Referendum Council’s Indigenous Steering Committee” on 26 May, 2017. Both documents voiced numerous emotional assertions along with their substantial proposals. Consider some of those assertions:
- First, the claim that “Aboriginal … tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent … “. While nobody disputes Aboriginal habitation of our continent prior to European settlement, describing those tribes as “sovereign Nations” is nonsensical.
- The Statement itself admits, “this sovereignty is a spiritual notion” – that is, not a legal one. Claims that this sovereignty (sic) “has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown”, are piffle. Were such claims not so sinister, they would be laughable.
- Next we are told that Aborigines “are the most incarcerated people on the planet”; “our children are alienated from their families at unprecedented rates”, and “our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers”. These statements are broadly true; but the questions they invite have nothing to do with us oppressing our Aboriginal fellow Australians, and everything to do with the latter’s own behaviour – particularly towards their own children.
- Report after report over the years has spelled out the invariably agonizing facts. To say that “when we have power over our destiny our children will flourish”, invites derision; and to add that then “their culture will be a gift to this country”, when it is that same violent culture that is at the root of the evils previously enumerated, has the same smell about it. If ever there were a case of “Physician, heal thyself”, this is it.
- As for “truth-telling about Aboriginal … people’s history”, will that serve to correct all the lies about extensive “massacres”, “frontier warfare”, “Stolen Generations”, the romanticized “Dreamtime”, and so on, to which we (and our children and grandchildren) continue to be subjected?
- The Statement concludes with a rhetorical flourish: “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”. Am I the only person already half-deafened by the past 50-year-cacophony of complaint?
To judge by the sharply divided responses to the Uluru proposals, public controversy over them will make the Republic debate seem harmonious. In The Australian newspaper we quickly saw supportive articles from, among others, Paul Kelly, Father Frank Brennan, SJ and Noel Pearson (launching a venomous attack on Greg Sheridan for opposing the Uluru proposals).
An important critical response was given on 29 May, 2017 by National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, who said the proposal for a constitutionally-enshrined body to influence policy in Canberra was “not going to fly”. The Australian Conservatives Party leader, Senator Cory Bernardi, went further on 31 May, 2017, saying that the Uluru demands were so unrealistic one might almost think “the people behind this process actually want any referendum to fail”.
Greg Sheridan’s aforementioned article praised “the common sense and good instincts of … Barnaby Joyce”, whose “straightforward rejection … ought to put the matter to rest”. The Aboriginal leadership over the past ten years, he said, “has taken a terrible wrong turn in seeing continuing political and constitutional change as the main engine for advancement of Indigenous people”.
My own published criticism first acknowledged that “one worthwhile point did emerge” – namely, the Statement’s dismissal of the ‘minimalist’ proposals advanced by such gullible (in this context) people as John Howard, Tony Abbott and (originally) Bill Shorten”. “The bottom line”, I said, “is this. We are all Australians. We are not, and we never should become, First Australians and Second Australians”.
Several prominent Aboriginal voices were also raised against some or all of the Statement. The most comprehensive discussion was Warren Mundine’s on 30 May, 2017, supporting a “Makarrata Commission” but disagreeing strongly with the proposed “First Nations voice enshrined in the Constitution”. “A ‘First Nations voice’ is a solution looking for a problem”.
On 30 June, 2017 the Referendum Council presented its Final Report to Messrs Turnbull and Shorten. A Foreword described its “consensus” recommendations as “modest, reasonable, unifying and capable of attracting the necessary support of the Australian people”. All four claims – particularly the last – are groundless.
The Council recommended “that a referendum be held to provide in the Australian Constitution for a representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament”, and that “an extra-constitutional Declaration of Recognition be enacted by legislation passed by all Australian Parliaments … .”.
In early August both Turnbull and Shorten attended the annual Garma Festival, where they were asked to respond to the Council’s report. Turnbull’s response was, characteristically, temporizing. Rather than say, flatly, what he knows (or should know) to be the truth, namely that the Australian electorate will never support such a referendum proposal, he lamely spoke of needing more time for “careful consideration”. Shorten, by contrast, could hardly have been more reckless. “We support a Declaration by all Parliaments, we support a truth-telling Commission, we are not confronted by the notion of treaties with our First Australians”. Incredibly from one currently expecting to become Prime Minister, he committed his party, hook, line and sinker, to the Referendum Council’s power grab.
In summary, since the 1967 referendum, federal governments’ policies on Aboriginal matters have consistently ranged from failure to disaster, with little to show in improvements to the real problems in health, education, domestic violence and, above all, care for children. The 50-year catalogue of Aboriginal industry denigration of Australia and their fellow Australians, and the depressing culture of Aboriginal complaint it has fostered, must end. Attempts to separate Australians into two categories – First Australians and Second Australians – should be flatly rejected. We are all Australians.
Postscript: As the note below indicates, this article is extracted from an article in the November edition of Quadrant magazine. On October 26 the Prime Minister announced that the government had rejected the Referendum Council proposal for a constitutionally entrenched provision for an Aboriginal “Voice” alongside the Australian Parliament, saying that it was neither desirable nor capable of winning public support.
John Stone was Secretary to the Treasury (1979-1984) and National Party Senate Leader (1987-1990). This article is extracted from his fully footnoted version in the November edition of Quadrant magazine.
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