Living on Stolen Land
Keith Windschuttle, Quadrant, 12 February 2023
The garb worn by the radical indigenous politician, Lidia Thorpe, during her protests on Australia Day this year had a much greater impact than she could have hoped. Waving her fake sword in the air and sporting the T-shirt slogan “Sovereignty Never Ceded: Speak the Truth”, Thorpe posed for photographs that were later used by almost every newspaper and television news bulletin in the country to accompany stories of her unexpected desertion of The Greens in the Senate. However, the proponents of a constitutional amendment for the Aboriginal Voice were less enthusiastic. They quickly recognized the threat these images represented. They have since tried to play down the concept Thorpe was advertising and to treat her as an isolated extremist rather than an accurate spokesperson for her cause.
In his article in The Australian (February 9 2023) the legal academic George Williams claimed that the referendum on the Voice promised by the Albanese government “has nothing to do with sovereignty”. This was, he argued, because the Constitutional Expert Group of which he was a member said so. The group was appointed by the Albanese government last year to advise on the issue and, predictably, it supported the line the government wanted it to take. Albanese was advised to take a position that Aboriginal activists had long supported in order to cover up the real agenda behind their demands.
Twenty years ago, in the book Treaty: Let’s Get it Right!, Mick Dodson had recommended that the term “sovereignty” be left out of any debate over constitutional amendment. Given the well-known failure of other referenda to be passed in Australia, Dodson said the Aborigines’ best hope of success would be if their wording kept to broad and less contentious principles such as “the right to self-determination” and ”the protection of indigenous laws and culture”.
Within the ranks of the educated Aboriginal elite, however, there has never been any hesitation about stating, both among themselves and in appeals to their white political supporters, what they really want. Here are some of the highlights from a campaign that goes back for more than forty years.
In April 1979, when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister, the then existing Aboriginal body advising the minister, the National Aboriginal Conference, began to publicly endorse the notion of sovereignty and a treaty between Aboriginal people and the government. The government referred these arguments to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which from 1980–82 conducted an inquiry into what it called a “Makarrata” or treaty agreement. The submission to this committee made by the National Aboriginal Conference declared:
In pursuing the Makarrata (Treaty) we assert our basic rights as sovereign Aboriginal nations who are equal in political status with the Commonwealth of Australia in accordance with the principal espoused by the International Court of Justice in the Western Sahara Case that sovereignty has always resided in the Aboriginal people.