August 24th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Biological and transgender worldviews are mutually exclusive

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can you have too much of a renewables thing?

FREEDOM OF SPEECH Professor Augusto Zimmermann addresses NCC WA on freedoms

NSW ABORTION BILL Clear and present danger to women's health

RURAL AFFAIRS Land-clearing laws render productive land useless and worthless

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Why an indigenous referendum is misconceived

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The post-liberal way: Make good use of the time in the wilderness

ASIAN AFFAIRS Hong Kong defies its obtrusive overlord

SPECIAL FILM REVIEW Danger Close: Australia's fiercest battle of the Vietnam War

HUMOUR Rage against the baked bean

MUSIC Riff wrap: The thing that makes it go 'pop'

CLASSIC CINEMA Dr Strangelove: Helpless fear turned to laughter

BOOK REVIEW The epic awfulness of Mao and his 'isms'

BOOK REVIEW From slave to son of the Church




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Why an indigenous referendum is misconceived

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, August 24, 2019

The 2019 Garma Festival of Traditional Culture, which took place in early August, became the focus of new attempts to give indigenous Australians a special place in the Australian Constitution.

Note of sanity: Ken Wyatt

It reaffirmed the Uluru Declaration of 2017, which called for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”, and specifically, a “Makarrata Commission” to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and indigenous Australians.

The precise form of this was not further defined but, if implemented, would establish a race-based division within the Commonwealth Constitution that is fundamentally at odds with the nation’s founding document.

To understand why, we need to look at the history of the Commonwealth Constitution, and the differences between it and that of some other countries, including New Zealand and North America.

Allocation of powers

Australia’s Constitution was written to give effect to the federation of a number of colonies and territories into a single nation. It is striking that its fundamental purpose is to define the separation of powers between the Commonwealth and the former colonies, now states, together with the institutions that were to be created by the new Commonwealth.

It said almost nothing about rights or ethnicity, and its sole reference to religion was to assert that the Commonwealth could not draft laws for the establishment of any religion, or impose any religious test on the Australian people.

The effect of this has been to make Australia one of the most egalitarian nations on earth.

In an effort to resolve the chronic problem of indigenous disadvantage, the Australian people voted overwhelmingly in 1967 to give the Commonwealth government explicit powers to make law for Aboriginal people. Since then, vast amounts have been spent to improve the condition of indigenous people.

Additionally, indigenous organisations are heard at every level of government, both state and federal.

Recent actions show how this works in practice. In March, the Federal Government announced the new Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement with states, territories, and the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations.

The announcement committed all parties to working collaboratively – in genuine, formal partnership – with indigenous people as “essential agents of change” to deliver real outcomes for indigenous Australians.

The claim that indigenous people are powerless, as was asserted in the Uluru Declaration, is self-evidently false, and perpetuates a victim mentality that has done enormous damage to indigenous self-respect.

Australia’s history and institutions are radically different from other countries, which have their own unique issues. New Zealand, for example, was the scene of decades of war between the British colonial government and the Maori people, which culminated in a peace treaty, the Treaty of Waitangi, which is now recognised as part of New Zealand’s constitutional settlement.

Arising from this Treaty, seats were reserved in the NZ Parliament for Maori people, and they continue to this day.

However, anyone who believes that the treaty and reserved seats in Parliament have resolved Maori claims to dispossession should look at recent history.

Official NZ data, listed on the official NZ Ministry of Health website, record that Maori adults had lower rates of school completion and double the unemployment rate of other New Zealanders. More Maori adults had personal income of less than $10,000 a year, and more Maori adults received income support. And Maoris were more likely to live in households without any telecommunications (including internet access) and without motor vehicle access.

Canada, another nation cited as a model for Australia, has a history that resembles more that of New Zealand. Indigenous tribes resisted the encroachment of Europeans, and numerous treaties were reached between the colonial power and indigenous peoples.

A series of 11 treaties was signed between indigenous people in Canada and the reigning Monarch between 1871 and 1921. These treaties are agreements with the government of Canada administered by Canadian Aboriginal law and overseen by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Canada’s Constitution Act of 1982 formalised this by recognition of indi­genous people. Despite their special status in Canada, indigenous people have repeatedly decried their treatment by the Canadian government, and the economic and social disadvantage that they continue to suffer. American Indians suffer similar disadvantage.

The Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ken Wyatt, who spoke at the Garma Festival, injected a note of sanity into the meeting, pointing out that any agreement required the support of both indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Separately, he argued that the key to dealing with disadvantage was to improve Aboriginal participation in education, by getting young children to attend school up to higher education, so that Aboriginal people can fully participate in the life of the country.

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