What form could A Voice for the Voiceless take?

“The Uluru Statement from the Heart” issued five years ago by a representative group of First Australians, should not be viewed by White Australians as a plaintiff claim for damages for past wrongs. Rather it should be seen as a plaintiff cry from a down-trodden people who seek sensitive support from their fellow Australians for self-determination.

Certainly it was a measured expression of their wish for constitutional recognition of their place in the history of the Australian continent, a position of respect and fairness in Australian society, and a say in their own affairs. Reasonable requests!

Mostly the Uluru Statement was well-received, but despite this, the government has only made token efforts to implement its requests. In contrast, the Labor Opposition made a commitment to implement the recommendations in full. Now that Labor has won office, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has reaffirmed this objective for his present parliamentary term.

The government checkmate

The sticking point for the government in accepting the Uluru Statement was undoubtedly a desire for an “Indigenous Voice”, entailing a facility for them to meet together and discuss issues that impact on their lives. Surely this is a human right. Why should they not be able to express their own views on indigenous problems and possible solutions? Must they always have to blindly comply with Canberra’s edicts, which have often been at odds with their cultural beliefs and practices?

The government took the position that it was up to proponents for a Voice to find consensus among themselves, and then specific on what change(s) they wanted. Further, constitutional change was vetoed. It is to be hoped that new Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will be more accommodating, and agree to put if necessary, relevant proposals to the Australian people in a referendum, as requested. But will he be sufficiently resolute to resist pressure from vocal opponents who would wish to continue to stone-wall?

Critics of the Voice proposal derided a well-intentioned suggestion that a representative group of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders meeting in Parliament House in an advisory capacity, be known as a “Third Chamber”. Politely it was called a “step too-far” implying that it yielded more political clout and kudos than they wished. The rebuff stalled further discussion, and it was left to the Indigenous Community to make the next move after resolving this problem.

But is it fair for a government to insist that disadvantaged minorities come up with the methodology to improve their lot in life, when only they (the government) know the conditions they will accept?

Obviously there must be clarity in any proposal for a referendum submission to succeed, but original Australians must have helpful advice from the government as to what they are willing to support. Now is the time to resume dialogue.

Two Important issues

The term “Voice” is imprecise. Implementation might take the form of one or more of several quite different possibilities, most not requiring change to the constitution. e.g.:

  • Select Committees of individuals with appropriate expertise, to advise parliament on an ad hoc basis.
  • A constitutionally recognized Elected Council with an advisory, but not a legislative, function.
  • Informal Conventions for ordinary people to discuss their concerns.
  • Executive Authorities, established or re-established, to promote special projects, such as tourism.
  • A Media Voice, in addition to the ABC, focusing on Indigenous news, views and the arts.

Venue

In addition to the form or forms of Indigenous Voice chosen, its location may be the next most important factor in successful implementation.

Federal parliament, the official seat of Australian political wrangling, will likely prove critical of, and less than sympathetic to, Indigenous needs.

How will an inevitable cultural divide and misunderstandings affect performance? Will white opinions still prevail over Indigenous wishes?

The Case for an Australian Indigenous Council in Alice Springs

It is most unlikely that Australians will cede a national legislative role to a minority population of first peoples, nor is this essential to assist in their self-determination.

Would it not be better therefore to promote Aboriginal wisdom and skills in a more familiar, inspiring and encouraging environment, than in the intimidating halls of Canberra?

Half-way between Darwin and Adelaide, in the heart of the continent’s central outback, and close to the homelands of many indigenous residents, is the tidy township of Alice Springs (Mparntwe). Home of the Arremtee tribes, Alice, with a population estimated this year to be 27,481, was named after the wife of the Adelaide to Darwin telegraph line pioneer, Sir Charles Todd. North of the McDonnell Ranges, the surrounding countryside is rugged and spectacular.

The establishment in Alice Springs of a constitutionally endorsed, elected Australian Indigenous Council, reporting to the Federal Parliament, would enhance its status as an educational and cultural hub.

A panoramic view of Alice Springs.

Disclaimer

This post seeks only to foster debate. The opinions are my own as an ordinary Australian, without personal experience in Aboriginal Affairs.

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Australia’s Unfinished Business!

It is an undisputed historical fact that from 1788 Great Britain dispossessed Indigenous Australians of their lands to establish secure penal colonies for an estimated 162,000 convicts transported up until 1868. Great Britain made no attempt to negotiate an agreement with the existing native inhabitants. To justify usurping their land, they invented the legal term, “Terra nullius” (empty land). No treaty such as the agreement signed with the Maori in New Zealand was deemed necessary because the people appeared so primitive and being nomadic, had no system of documented land ownership.

Great Britain, and subsequently after independence, Australia, appallingly, not only left the original inhabitants of Australia and the Torres Strait Islands without traditional land rights, but also denied them citizenship of the new “multi-racial Australia”. As a nation, we have shown racial intolerance, and we are hypocritical if we criticize China for their alleged human rights abuses of the ancient Uyghur peoples of Central Asia, in northwest China.

After 234 years of settlement, we have still not granted the first occupants constitutional recognition of their prior occupation, and even a collective say in their own affairs. The problem will not go away, and protest at the lingering injustice will only grow more insistent. The time has come when the constitution must be changed as requested by a representative group of Indigenous people in the Uluru Statement from the Heart five years ago.

The Constitutional Hurdle to Constitutional Change

The Constitution adopted at Federation 1st January 1901 allowed for change provided it was supported by a majority of the non-Indigenous population. To ensure this, a detailed procedure was to be followed, and a double majority result achieved at a Saturday-held referendum election. At least four of the six States had to be in favour; plus a Federal majority of votes in all States and Territories.

Before the Writ for a referendum can be issued by the Governor-General, a Bill has to be passed by both Houses of Parliament (or one House twice) describing the proposed changes. In the next month all Parliamentarians are to be divided into two case committees, one in favour of, and the other against the proposal. Their task: to prepare Yes and No cases for presentation to the electorate. Finally, brochures must be printed and distributed to every voter, by the independent, statutory body, the Australian Electoral Commission.

How hard would it have been to get a positive referendum result?

The difficulty of changing the constitution is illustrated by the fact that since Federation 121 years ago, only 8 of 44 proposed changes at 19 referenda have been approved in this way. It has been said that for referendum success there must be bipartisan support, avoiding divisive rhetoric between the Yes and No campaigns. But is the difficulty in negotiating the referendum obstacles the reason for the prolonged stagnation of progress in recognizing Indigenous Rights, or may they not be merely an excuse for stone-walling on the issue, and not really trying?

Coalition spokesman Julian Leeser on the Q&A panel of 19th August 2019 not surprisingly adopted the first proposition to explain why the government had ruled-out any change to the Constitution inherent in implementing the “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. This ruling vetoed Indigenous wishes for constitutional change and placed the onus on them to lower their expectations. They were advised that it was up to them to first find agreement among themselves as to the exact nature of any political voice, and notify the government for their approval.

This ultimatum put a kibosh on any further negotiations. The argument that the referendum process was too difficult to allow Constitutional change was patently spurious since Labor had decided to accept in full the recommendations of the Uluru Statement. A double majority Yes vote would likely have been assured had the Coalition not themselves opposed putting the issue of Constitutional Recognition to a referendum.

There is more evidence that Referendum success could have been achieved, and that the Coalition’s negative stance was a politically motivated excuse for frustrating the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for recognition. At the 1967 referendum, two Indigenous issues were approved with a 93% Yes vote, the highest in any Australian referendum.

What next?

It had been Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who on the 7th December 2015 appointed a 16 member Referendum Council to plan for a referendum which would establish for all time recognition of the pre-existence of Australia’s native races. The failure of this genuine bipartisan policy to succeed after a bitter negative campaign of his own party, with the help of the “Sky News after Dark” media team, must have been most disappointing to Turnbull, especially when he was blamed for its demise, and denigrated for lacking in leadership qualities. It was a step in his losing office for Scott Morrison.

Undoubtedly good people such as Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, and Julian Leeser co-Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Recognition, have continued to do what they can to advance the interests of Indigenous peoples. In addition the respected indigenous public servant Pat Turner has diligently worked to Close the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

In the election of 21st May 2022, Anthony Albanese, the Labor Leader, became the 31st Prime Minister of Australia, announcing his intention to implement in full, the three recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The shift of the Coalition to divisive ultra-conservative policies, has driven voters away from them. Hopefully Labor will now be able to bring-about constitutional changes and foster respect for our Indigenous, fellow inhabitants of our fair land.

I believe that Peter Dutton could well prove to be the firm, and fair Leader of the Opposition the country needs, playing an important role in improving Indigenous welfare.

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Nathanael – a Biblical role model for politicians

Have you read the story of how Nathanael, an exemplary orthodox Israelite from the town of Cana, was introduced to Jesus by Philip of Bethsaida, and became another of Christ’s disciples?  It is recorded in John Chapter 1 verses 43 to 50.

Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, was never in in the limelight, but he will be remembered forever for receiving the highest compliment Jesus ever paid. Before they even met, Jesus famously declared of Nathanael, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (KJV – no guile). A good reputation is invaluable and often precedes formal acquaintance.

Scott Morrison’s belatedly admitted this week in the lead-up to the May 21 2022 federal election, that he had been “a bit of a bulldozer” in his term of office as Prime Minister. It was a statement he really had to make, to mitigate accusations of bullying by his own party that have been the basis for the chorus of criticism he has been receiving.

But his somewhat cheerful confession of fault, and promise to be more empathetic if re-elected, lacked genuine conviction. For more than three years the electorate has been able to make their own judgment of his leadership skills. As a result, many may be skeptical of his willingness and ability for the character make-over that would improve his likeability, without excessively diminishing his hold over the Coalition party.

Could any politician with scruples to try and emulate Nathanael’s approach in the cut and thrust world of politics and power, succeed? Possibly not, but this is the kind of person for whom I would prefer to vote.  Let us cherish democratic changes in government to limit the sense of entitlement that so often goes with extended incumbency.

If we are not vigilant, more and more countries, whether Democracies or Autocracies, will be ruled by the rich and powerful (Plutocracies), lacking in the constraint of common decency.

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Gideon Rozner – An articulate voice for the IPA

The Institute of Public Affairs, (IPA), a conservative, public policy think-tank, was established in Victoria in 1943 to counter the growing influence of socialism, and to promote private enterprise.

It was economist and economic policy commentator Charles Denton Kemp who became the inaugural director, after writing a well-received comprehensive report for the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures on the difficulties then faced by business. He believed in the importance of sound economic principles and in this was supported by prominent Victorian businessmen such as newspaper tycoon Sir Keith Murdoch, and Sir Walter Massy-Greene, a prominent federal politician. George Coles of Coles Supermarket fame was the inaugural chairman of the enduring organization they founded.

Incidentally, Rod Kemp, son of founder Charles, has been a leading figure in the IPA serving terms of office both as executive director, and as chairman. Over the nearly 80 years since inception, the IPA has become an influential partisan voice in federal politics, especially in the past two decades, with the support of the Murdoch Press, and wealthy industrial backers such as mining magnate Gina Rhinehart. Similar policy formulating bodies have sprung up in other states, whilst some federal liberal politicians such as James Paterson and Tim Wilson have contested elections based on an IPA ideology platform.

Not surprisingly the last ABC Q and A episode, (7/04/2022), focused on issues related to the pending federal election. Early questions and answers centered on debating how it was that so many Coalition members on the eve of the election, were coming out and bagging the incumbent Prime Minister. He has been portrayed as a bully, untruthful and even not fit for his office.

This aroused curiosity as to what the Liberal supporting IPA thought of these outbursts. Gideon Rozner, Director of Policy, speaking for them, took a less than full supportive stance. He guardedly refrained from commenting on Scott Morrison’s character foibles, having no personal knowledge of his leadership style. Wisely I think, he instead found fault only with some of Morrison’s policy decisions, relative to IPA belief.

He alleged for example that he had:
• Created a A$1 trillion debt burden.
• Ramped up internet censorship restrictions.
• Temporarily denied Australians the ability to return home during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
• Authorized the Robo-debt fiasco.
• He also made the point that the over-riding objective for the un-employed should be to return them to the work-force, and that the current Jobseeker Allowance was inadequate to facilitate this.

Surprisingly Rozner gained the loudest applause of the night when he concluded his opening remarks by categorizing Scott Morrison as “the worst Prime Minister Australia has ever had, with the exception of Billy McMahon, who had principles”. A damming indictment by one’s own side if ever there was one.

But don’t forget that his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, was dumped for ignoring, it would seem, IPA standards. Unexpectedly, with strong IPA backing, the Libs still won in 2019 with a confident and resilient Scott Morrison leading the charge. Now he has been cast in the role of underdog, but smilingly refuses to be ruffled, and claims the high ground in considerations of national security, and economic prowess. This election he will fight with a still supportive team, rather than being a largely solo performer.

The Covid Pandemic, and the more recent spate of disastrous floods have caused so much hardship for so many Australians, that the federal government response has often fallen short of community expectations. As a result, there has been a groundswell of opposition that threatens the Coalition with resounding defeat at the coming May 21 poll.

However, as Gideon Rozner pointed out, in a twist of fate brought about by the current horrific Ukrainian conflict, and the sanctions imposed on the Russian aggressors, there has been a surge in global demand for fossil fuels. Australia is well-placed to help meet this deficit. The IPA has long been, I think, an annoying voice of climate-change skepticism. Now its terrier-like promotion of fossil fuels could help bring an economic wind-fall, and be a vote winner for the government.

Back in the second half of 1973 I worked, as part of my training in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, as an Assistant in the Private Practice of Leo Rozner. He was an astute person who brought a somewhat entrepreneurial bent to his work. I greatly appreciated my time with him. Seeing Gideon on Q and A, I could not help but wonder whether he was Leo’s son. I think Gideon did well, and I wish him continued success.

Disclaimer: The Institute of Public Affairs is a significant political participant. This post discusses its policies but does not necessarily reflect the author’s own views.

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Happy Australia Day — Endless Roaming

Sydney Harbour

Happy Australia Day — Endless Roaming
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Justice delayed for Indigenous Australians

Australia is the only country in the world, according to Linda Burney, not to have granted First Nation peoples recognition in their Constitution.

She also pointed out that the recent failed attempt of the bipartisan Referendum Council established in 2015 to resolve recognition issues was just the latest of many attempts by Aboriginal groups for recognition and a say in their own affairs. The first person to significantly agitate for change was William Cooper in the early 1930s. At 72, from his home in Footscray, he and the Australian Aborigines’ League he established, obtained 2000 signatures for a petition to King George VI. In 1938 this was formally presented to PM Joseph Lyons who declined on the part of the Australian government, to pass it onto the King.

Linda Burney, of course, is a well known and respected career politician who after 13 years in NSW State politics, as their first Aboriginal member, (becoming indeed for a time Deputy Premier) was elected in 2016 to the federal seat of Barton, as the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She has a Diploma in Teaching from the Mitchell College of Advanced Education, now part of Charles Sturt University, and over 30 years of active involvement in Indigenous Affairs with multiple organizations. Now 62, she is of mixed descent, Scottish and the Wiradjuri people of Central NSW. She brings wide experience, great sensitivity, and a moderate voice to parliament on the thorny question of Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australia, discussed in the Q & A, ABC program of Monday 19 August 2019.

The distinguished panelists were:

Linda Burney, Labor Member for the NSW seat of Barton, and the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to Federal Parliament.

Julian Leeser, Liberal Member for Berowra and Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Patricia Turner, CEO of ATSIC 1994-8, academic and public servant on numerous aboriginal welfare organizations including Closing the Gap.

Jacinta Price, musician and conservative CLP candidate for the NT seat of Lingiari at the 2019 election.

Sally Scales, Uluru Statement delegate, Deputy Chair of the APY Lands Executive Council.

It was particularly disappointing that Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt was not one of the panelists since at a National Press Club Luncheon on the occasion of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week, he had reignited debate on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians by suggesting that over the present term of parliament, the government would consider an adjustment of the constitution that might be acceptable to Australians at a future referendum. After the Garma traditional festival August 2-5 attended by Minister Ken Wyatt, the government announced an important qualification to dampen Indigenous expectations. Any referendum would be limited to putting to the vote a clause recognizing the pre-existence of native races prior to settlement, but the government would not support any change in the Constitution which would embed in it an Indigenous political voice.

Justice delayed is Justice Denied

Undoubtedly, aboriginal elder Bill Rammage spoke for most Australian Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders in asking why, despite multiple inquiries, consultations and reports, it seemed that nothing ever came of them. He stressed that what they wanted was not token changes, nor symbolic acts, but a say that would be listened to on big-ticket items that impinge on their rights as the original, and therefore equally legitimate, residents of Australia. It is only just over 50 years since Indigenous statistics were included in Australia’s census data! More importantly, until the Mabo High Court decision of 1992, they had absolutely no legal ownership rights to inhabitant the lands on which they lived,

They have been virtually in a constitutional limbo since white settlement 231 years ago, surely a national disgrace, and a continuing denial of Justice. Is it too hard to remedy this situation? It should not be, given Australia’s admirable record in bringing Papua-New Guinea to nationhood, but that milestone was achieved without the need to accommodate an overwhelming majority of white settlers claiming total sovereignty over the native peoples.

Australia had had an involvement in the Administration of Papua-New Guinea since the end of the first world war leading up to Independence in September 1975. Its people, similar to Australia’s Torres Strait Islanders, were heavily dependent on Australians to run their country when in 1972 the newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, announced a program for transition to Independence. It seemed at the time an impossibility but the country had an educated elite, valuable natural resources, and the time had come to end what might be considered as colonial occupation. It was not an end to support but a re-deployment of aid.

Political machinations that have bedeviled the progress of Constitutional Recognition

Aboriginal affairs is usually, but not always, approached in a bipartisan way. Unfortunately with changes in government come differences in direction, and the intrusion of purely political considerations into the formulation of indigenous policy.

Labor Prime Minister from 1983 until 1991, Bob Hawke, had a sincere concern for the welfare of Aborigines, and was responsible for the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act (ATSIC) of 1989. It functioned from 1990 up until 2004 and was not just a forum, but a representative body with executive power for the delivery of some Indigenous programs.

In 1992, when Paul Keating was Prime Minister, the Mabo High Court decision on the validity of native title resulted in large areas of the Northern Territory in particular, being set aside for specific indigenous control, to the consternation of many white Australians who thought the concessions were unnecessarily generous. It was a legal, not a constitutional decision, and individual judgements could presumably be challenged in the courts, including questions of royalties and compensation. It was probably inevitable that there would be a conservative backlash, and it certainly came when John Howard came to office.

He was elected in 1996, and his anti-indigenous bias soon became evident. When pressed to formally apologize to Indigenous peoples over past injustices, he adamantly refused. He would express no regret, even for symbolic reasons, for what happened centuries ago and had nothing to do with the present administration. To do so would be admitting liability, and would risk litigation for compensation. It wasn’t until after his time that Kevin Rudd did precisely this and proved that Howard’s excuse was just that – a convincing excuse.

During his tenure as Prime Minister John Howard had reasons to find fault with the operations of ATSIC. There were disputes involving key personnel, accusations that funds had been misappropriated, and instances in which expenditure had exceeded budgetary provisions without authorization. Most thought such irregularities teething problems, able to be rectified, rather than punishable offences.

At any rate, by 2004 Howard had completely dismantled not only its executive powers, but also its consultative role, terminating entirely the provisions of the 1989 ATSIC act. It had been a promising initiative for Indigenous participation, and its passing left a void in dialogue that all attempts thus far have failed to fill. Why did John Howard act in such a punitive way? He reputedly has explained it by saying that he did not want an indigenous organization dictating what his government could or shouldn’t do. It was a bitter setback to cooperative Aboriginal and Torres Strait involvement, and is why they now seek a say in their own affairs written into the Constitution for permanency.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies in September 2003 published a comprehensive research paper titled “Child Neglect and Abuse in Indigenous Australian Communities”, written by Janet Stanley, Adam M Tomison and Julian Pocock. It was an academic review of the literature and anecdotal accounts, by three non-indigenous authors, and not based on original field studies.

However these allegations of widespread serious sexual abuse in Aboriginal Communities prompted the Northern Territory to commission a research Inquiry in August 2006 to find better ways to protect Aboriginal Children. It was a Territory wide study which conducted more than 260 meetings in 45 communities, and received 65 written submissions. The results were released 15th June 2007 and suggested that education was the key to management:

“School is the way to keep future generations of Aboriginal children safe. Getting children to school every day is essential because: children are safe when they are at school; school is a venue for educating children about child sexual abuse and protective behaviours; education provides opportunity, empowerment and achievement; it offers a way to overcome the social and economic problems which contribute to violence; children can confide in their teachers”.

“The Inquiry urged the government to improve Aboriginal education systems, including local language development, to make education more effective for Aboriginal children”.

http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/report_summary.html

John Howard notified the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, of his intention to intervene, but declined to meet with her and discuss the findings. Within two weeks, he was dramatically implementing, the “Northern Territory Emergency Response” (NTER).

The report manifestly did not accord with what the Prime Minister wished to hear. Pig-pigheadedly, he launched his Intervention anyway. It had the effect of impugning the morality of all Aborigines;, and punishing them, regardless of fault. Sending in the Army, Police and Medical teams, for a cost in excess of $1 billion, to some 73 NT remote communities has been described by Pat Turner as “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory”.

https://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/federal-budget/nt-intervention-australias-most-costly-political-stunt/news-story/447f93e478da80f35f6ee63f05f81c9e

The Referendum Council’s exploratory work during Malcolm Turnbull‘s three years in office ended abruptly after many conservatives both inside and outside of parliament, stridently vetoed any constitutional change for an Indigenous political Voice, as requested in the Uluru Statement. In the face of such fierce and determined opposition, that a referendum would have been doomed to fail, Malcolm Turnbull capitulated. Virtually the victim of a “gotcha” situation, he was then roundly castigated by the right for lacking leadership on the issue .

Which way will Scott Morrison take the nation on Constitutional Recognition?

The intellectual interest for me in this Q & A episode has been to form a personal perspective, based on the comments of the panelists, as to the present status of the Indigenous Affairs policies of both the government and opposition parties. How genuine is the Morrison government after appointing Ken Wyatt to be Indigenous Affairs Minister, in wanting to advance Constitutional Recognition?

Questioner Michael Doyle pointedly asked where the Prime Minister stood on the issue. This was a critical question to ask, since it is most unlikely that there will be any progress without decisive leadership. Is it not time therefore, for him to stand up, express his views, and declare what he will or will not do? More precisely how does he propose to co-design with the Indigenous peoples an acceptable proposition for an Indigenous Voice? Or is it his intention to regally sit back, wait for others to come up with suggestions to be mauled, and declared unworkable? And has he not, by already ruling out any constitutional change as requested, curtailed negotiations, and excluded meaningful outcomes?

Julian Leeser, the co-Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Recognition, was the official Liberal spokes-person on the panel. He down-played Scott Morrison’s role in the process, and argued that the reasoning for not supporting the call to establish an entity with an indigenous political voice in any Constitutional change, was simply because of the difficulty of meeting the Referendum requirements for a successful vote. Certainly if the Coalition does not back the proposal, the chance of a positive Referendum result would be zero. Is this position his own, or indicative of his ongoing subservience to to the will of the Conservatives?

Linda Burney on the other hand indicated that Labor’s policy was to accept the Uluru Statement without modification, and to work towards its implementation when in government. This however might prove an impossibility without Coalition support.

Audience participant Clayton Simpson was one of the Uluru attendees who did not agree with the Uluru Statement, which he claimed was written by the Referendum Council, and un-democratically imposed on the convention. He was one of a protest “walk-out group” who evidently wished to agitate for a position of Indigenous sovereignty over their own affairs.

Outstanding young female Aboriginal leader Sally Scales who is Deputy-Chair of the APY Land Council, and was a delegate to the Uluru Convention, did not publicly dispute his allegations, but called for a private exchange of views. She did however emphasize that the 250 attendees at Yulara were a representative group from 13 regional dialogues, representatives from a multiplicity of aboriginal organizations, and ten official delegates.

She backed Bill’s call for action to achieve tangible results based on the Uluru Statement that is not, as some might wish to portray it, an aggressive push for separate indigenous sovereignty, but a plea to all Australians to be accepted just as they are. It is a request to continue to help them find their place in a modern world. The conciliatory tenor of this heartfelt statement must surely awaken the conscience of those of us who have often failed to understand and meet their expectations.

Well known NT politician and anti-domestic violence activist Bess Price, is the mother of multi-talented young Warlpiri/Celtic woman, Jacinta Price. Jacinta grew up in Alice Springs, and has been blessed with talents inherited from both her mother, and father Dave. Speaking as a panelist she pointed out that the Uluru Statement does not cover the diversity of Indigenous opinion. Certainly, she spoke as one of an expanding sub-group of talented, well-educated and articulate Indigenous people who identify strongly with their Aboriginal heritage, and need little if any assistance, to excel in either culture.

Jacinta appeared somewhat ill-at-ease and unsmiling in being rather disparaging of the Uluru Statement, speaking as the Lingiari CLP candidate at the recent election. She failed to win this seat against veteran Labor candidate Warren Snowden, but performed well, receiving 44.54% of the vote and recording a 2.75% swing for the CLP, in this NT seat.

Bill suggested that what she was saying reflected conservative political policy, rather than representing the genuine sentiments of the Indigenous people. She sees herself as one dedicated to assisting her people meet their goals, but she did not think the request for a political voice was necessarily in their best interest. Her position was flexible, and she would endorse workable solutions. However, she was critical of the lack of specificity as to what form a Voice would take, but over-looked the desire expressed in the Uluru Statement, for this to be co-designed.

It would seem that she has offended many in the Indigenous community who see her as condoning the draconian Intervention of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, still fresh in their memories She is seen as being used by Conservatives who continue to denigrate Aboriginal culture and the ABC which gives them valuable television exposure.

Pat Turner encouragingly told of the commitment and diligence of existing government departments for Indigenous involvement at all levels of government. Rather than wasting time arguing, she sees the way forward as coming from the concerted efforts of the various agencies to “Close the Gap” between disadvantaged remote village communities, and privileged white societies. The modus operandi she advocates is lobbying government for adequate funding of operations that would ensure an optimum proportion of Indigenous workers.

What now?

Pragmatically the chances of a Referendum approving Constitutional Recognition for the first peoples of Australia, given the unrelenting anti-Indigenous propaganda of so-called “Sky News after Dark”, are zero.

But I have not altogether abandoned hope for a sensible resolution given the concern of the Catholic Church for Aboriginal welfare, and the programs they sponsor to advance their interests. Some policies have undoubtedly been paternalistic, and have limited spontaneous expressions of Aboriginal culture, but they have been well intentioned, with many of the most prominent Indigenous leaders educated in Catholic schools.

Tony Abbott had a genuine concern for them, frequently visiting Aboriginal communities, and promoting regular school attendance. In addition Barnaby Joyce has shown admirable leadership by renouncing his earlier negative opinions, and suggesting an option for change that would not entail constitutional change. It could improve the lot of all those who live in remote communities, whether black or white, and have to contend with the tyranny of distance.

It surely deserves close scrutiny!

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The Third Chamber furphy!

It was a catchy term coined by a little known blogger to draw attention to his post, written as a contribution to a debate on the desire of Indigenous Australians for a political voice in parliament, as expressed in the Uluru Statement from the heart.

It was a poorly chosen but well intentioned suggestion that the people of Australia proudly embrace for example, a small representative body of twelve to eighteen state representatives, within the confines of the Australian Parliament.

It was never envisaged to have a legislative role, and therefore not truly a so-called third chamber, but merely to provide an opportunity for Indigenous leaders to meet together to draw attention to, and discuss ways and means of solving pressing problems in Indigenous society. But should it not also have an ability to express opposition to parliamentary proposals that would unfairly violate their basic human rights, such as parenting rights? The enforced separation of child from parent under the misguided policy of compulsory assimilation, caused great family anguish during the era of the “Stolen Generations”.

Unfortunately the media seized upon the term to galvanize controversy about details that had intentionally not been specified in the Uluru Statement. Constitutional change was however deliberately requested, because an earlier representative body in ATSIC had been completely wound back by John Howard after the alleged misappropriation of some ATSIC funds.

Instead of the feedback they wanted as to what might be feasible, any constitutional change was adamantly rejected by political commentators with the power to adversely influence any referendum outcome. PM Malcolm Turnbull, faced with such a divisive issue could see no way forward, and terminated the initially promising work of the Referendum Council established in 2015.

Despite the rocky road thus far, there is still hope for a favourable outcome for First Nation peoples expressed in an article by Constitutional Expert Professor Anne Twomey.

While the Commonwealth government was initially unsettled by the Uluru proposal, it has allocated money in the most recent budget to develop the detail of that proposal further. This suggests that it has recognised the underlying merit in it and is prepared to contemplate it more seriously. Perhaps with further consideration, both at the political level and across the country, the Uluru proposal which at first seemed so confronting to some, will grow in familiarity and be seen as a natural part of Australia’s evolution.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-an-indigenous-voice-would-not-be-third-chamber-of-parliament-20190526-p51r7t.html

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Coalition Moratorium on Newstart Challenged by Barnaby Joyce.

Barnaby Joyce may be a threat to PM Scott Morrison’s desire for Coalition unity in rejecting widespread calls for increasing the Newstart Allowance to assist the unemployed to find work.

But his outspoken support for the measure resonates with regional Australia, National Party heartland, and displays an empathy for the plight of isolated rural youth, which Scott Morrison tactlessly ignored by branding the Labor opposition policy on Newstart as “unfunded empathy”. It was a taunt that voters may not soon forget.

The Basic Newstart Allowance of about $288 dollars per week for Australian citizens over 22 years of age carries with it an obligation to be continually active in seeking work. Both major parties acknowledge the impossibility of it meeting modest cost of living requirements, let alone the cost of clothes and transport to job interviews.

The government position presented by Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz in the Q & A program on the 5th August 2019, was that the government could not afford the increase, and that the best form of welfare anyway is a job.

Of course, the Opposition policy supporting higher payments it took to the last election, and had not at that time been able to include in funding proposals, is quite academic now. Only the government can show that it cares sufficiently for the unemployed to perhaps forego a budget surplus it has been trumpeting.

The other consideration in the Newstart issue is access to employment opportunities in regional and urban areas. Is the government willing to effectively tackle this problem, and limit the migration of youth to the cities for work?

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The “Original” Issue that won’t go away!

My hope, shared by many Australians, is for our nation:

  • to formally recognize and respect the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the prior occupants of Australia for an estimated 60,000 years.
  • to allow Indigenous Australians to have a greater say in the management of their own affairs.
  • to continue to encourage the preservation of Aboriginal culture and way of life, whilst at the same time enabling them to better integrate into wider Australian society.

Great Britain, during the period of Colonial Rule from 1788 until 1901, failed to sign any Treaty of Occupation as it did with the Maori people of New Zealand in 1840, and progressively dispossessed them of their land arguing that because they were nomadic and primitive, the land was “Terra nullius”.

The fact that 231 years after settlement, the injustices of the past still rankle with them and old problems still linger, suggests that the basic issues of justice and respect will not easily be corrected.

How they still feel has been movingly expressed by Referendum Council Member Galarrwuy Yunupingu in his essay ‘Rom Watangu’ at Appendix D in the Final Report of the Referendum Council of 30 June 2017.

What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are, and not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are – Aboriginal people in a modern world – and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past had thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people – our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.

https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/report_attachments/Referendum_Council_Final_Report.pdf

The Referendum Council

Each recent Australian Prime Minister since Bob Hawke (1983-1991) has tried with limited success to progress the cause of the Aboriginal peoples as the first Sovereign Nation of the Continent of Australia.

On the 7th December 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appointed a 16 member Referendum Council to plan for a referendum which would establish for all time recognition of the pre-existence of Australian’s native races

Under this initiative, the Council organized the three-day 2017 National Constitutional Convention attended by 250 tribal representatives to annunciate their wishes for change. The outcome was a Consensus viewpoint entitled “Uluru Statement from the heart” in which there were three specific requests:

  1. Constitutional reforms to recognise their rightful place in the history of Australia.
  2. The establishment of a First Nations Voice in the Constitution that could not be wound back as John Howard did with ATSIC.
  3. The establishment of a Makarrata Commission for ongoing conciliatory dialogue and unity with the full Australian Community.

Whether such constitutional modifications can be brought about will depend not just on the political intent of our leaders, but on convincing a clear majority of the people of Australia on the weight of evidence for change. Prejudicing a successful vote however are the unkind, and vocal objections of those who deliberately misconstrue expressed Indigenous aims as a grab for unfair advantage over others, and the thin edge of a wedge for gaining political power.

It is not compensation or wealth they seek, but respect. They need our assistance, but wish to be heard on how best to solve their own problems, and meet their own aspirations. They are far from being insurgents, seeking only a peaceful dialogue with Australians. . They have long endured inequality and implied inferiority that affects their well-being and way of life.

Why Constitutional Change should be considered.

A formal request has been initiated

There has been an official government of Australia invitation to an appropriately representative group of some three quarters of a million Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to suggest objectives for constitutional changes if the Australian people vote in favour of it at a referendum.

Indigenous polity has not been adequately addressed, or belatedly addressed under previous British and now Australian law and governance.

The High Court’s judgement of the 3rd June 1992 rejected the concept of Terra nullius for Indigenous land dispossession, and established a legal framework for native title claims by Indigenous Australians. It argued that common law as it existed violated human rights norms, and denied the historical reality of Indigenous people’s dispossession. They were even denied basic citizenship rights such as the right to vote, and to be included in statistical records, until 1967.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-8500.12361

https://australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/mabo-native-title/

Largely unintended though it may have been, the transportation of an estimated 162,000 convicts between 1788 and 1868 to Australian penal colonies almost completely decimated the native races because;

  • The accompanying marines and soldiers charged with maintaining law and order used excessive force to suppress uprisings by natives agitated at losing their traditional hunting grounds.
  • The influx of new settlers cleared their lands and competed for food and safe water supplies.
  • Is it any wonder that malnourished native people were so vulnerable to introduced diseases such as small-pox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis and influenza?

As a result it is estimated that by Federation in 1901, their population had fallen to about 93,200 in a general population of just over 3 million (3%).

Exploitative and paternalistic policies

Australia’s management has been blemished by inhumane, paternalistic policies that ignored basic human rights. e.g. during the Stolen Generation period, when Aboriginal parents lost control over their own children, and had them forcibly taken from them, for adoption by white families, under well-meaning but misguided policies of assimilation.

During the 1950s and 1960s 7 atomic bombs were detonated at Maralinga in the North-West of South Australia. “In 1985, a survey found that of the 12,500 people involved in the British  nuclear testing program in Australia, 11,000 had died. Hundreds of Maralinga-Tjarutja people were also forced from their homeland during the testing”. And only returned after a second clean-up of the site was completed in 2000 at a cost of $108 million.

In 1994 when less than 1500 of the 12,500 displaced Maralinga-Tjaruta peoples were still alive, the Australian government paid compensation of $13.5 million. However previously an attempt by the legal firm Hickman and Rose acting for the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement was unsuccessful with a class-action claim in the English Courts. They alleged that the claim failed because they were unable to prove that Ionizing Radiation is dangerous to human health. Try telling that to the people of Japan, and of Chernobyl!

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/tedablogdotcom.wordpress.com/98

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Bring it on Scott!

Known and hated (at least by me) is “Foxtel News after Dark”. One after another, know-all hosts ad nauseum, all with the same pro-coal, climate change denying rhetoric, and ungracious bitter anti-Turnbull tirades. Night after night. Week after week. Same old topics! I’m rarely tuned-in unless I want to be reminded of how violently I disagree with them. In fact, I would be prepared to pay a premium to have their programs excluded from my Foxtel subscription. I often think of cancelling my contract, but could I live without the AFL and the A league football?

I hoped, vainly it turns out, that since the ascension of coalophil Scott Morrison, we might come to enjoy some ABC inspired investigative journalism, and perhaps even a few Indigenous performing arts programs on Foxtel. Not yet. Little has changed, even although the Coalition won an election the polls for the last three years under Turnbull consistently showed they would lose. Surprise! Surprise! They also now have a mandate for coal power up North! How successful is “Foxtel News after Dark”?

Okay! Okay! I get it! You’ve won! Please Foxtel News, give it a rest. Don’t just malign us Environmental Liberals turned Greenies over this issue.  The burden of proof on global warming is with you, not us. Bring it on and show us it can be done safely.. If you are wrong, voters won’t forget.

 Scott Morrison has already presided over what Tony Abbott wanted but hadn’t been able to achieve by the time he lost his safe Liberal seat.  i.e. Regulatory approval for a new thermal coal mine in Central Queensland.

No ordinary mine, Adani is ambitiously the world’s largest, and the probable fore-runner of several others in the coal-rich Galilee Basin. It has been suggested that at full production with the help of other eager would-be developers such as Gina Rhinehart and Clive Palmer, Australia’s coal exports could be doubled to over 600 million tonnes per year.

This, plus the regional new coal-fired power station Clive Palmer is keen to build, how many new jobs might be created?

This is the vision that they argue won the election for the Coalition and has given them a mandate for coal! Jobs it may bring, but at what price?

How many coal miners will lose their lives or health? Who was it that said, don’t be scared of coal? Like asbestos, it is harmless when undisturbed, but potentially lethal when handled, and is carcinogenic.

Will adjacent land owners and others be concerned about depletion of the precious aquifers in drought-prone Central Queensland, and the risk of pollution of the Great Artesian Basin with lethal heavy-metal poisoning?

The Abbot Point Port Terminal operated by Adani (AAPT) has a handling capacity of 50 million tonnes per annum exporting metallurgical coal from mines in the Bowen Basin. To handle stockpiled coal from the Adani mine via the 200 km long Carmichael Railway Network (CRN) with anticipated production of 60 million tonnes per annum, it will be necessary to increase the capacity of the Port entailing dredging and new constructions.

Already under threat, Australia’s unique Great Barrier Reef in the vicinity of Bowen, is highly likely to be damaged from these changes, from shipping accidents and from cyclonic flooding of the huge coal stockpiles.

Over-riding every other consideration however is what effect ramping-up Australia’s thermal coal production will have on global warming and climate change.

Although the Coalition decisively won the May 18 Australian federal election, it can scarcely be viewed as a referendum on climate change. We expect our politicians to be responsible and reduce carbon emissions from the burning of coal for electricity generation.  

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