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.
She said Acknowledgement to Country, which is Aboriginal Welcome to Country, was only used when Aboriginal elders welcomed other Aboriginals onto their land for negotiation talks.
“They didn’t use it every day, it was a ceremonial process, so they’ve taken our ceremonial process and demeaned it by throwing it out there every day in every aspect of what Australian people do,” Ms White told Sky News Australia.
On 7 June 2022, The Guardian reported that the Andrews Government was establishing ‘an independent authority to help oversee the nation’s first treaty negotiations between a government and First Nations people. They were to introduce the Treaty Authority Bill after they ‘struck an agreement with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, the body elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to help develop a treaty framework.’ In the meantime, one must assume that the authority is in full working order and the Bill is making its way through parliament.
The Guardian also reported that ‘First Peoples’ Assembly co-chair, Marcus Stewart, a ‘Nira illim bulluk man’, said the creation of the authority ensures treaty negotiations aren’t restrained by western concepts.’
Below is a photo of ‘Aboriginal’ Marcus Stewart. Now one would be struggling to find a more European-looking white skinned man than Marcus. Marcus evidently has no problem with the disjunction between his appearance and his claim to be an Aboriginal man. Unblushing, he presents himself everywhere with an animal skin draped around his shoulders. Of course, I’m assuming the animal skin is genuine and not fake like his pretensions.
But the disjunction between appearance and claim is not the only one. There is an even greater disjunction in his rhetoric about decolonization and treaty that leads into betrayal and treason by the Andrews Government.
Marcus explained: “This is about stepping outside of the colonial system. We’ve said to government, if you’re serious about treaty, you’ll do it our way, and to their credit, that’s what they’re doing. This is decolonisation in action.”
“The government is relinquishing some of its control and power and together we are creating new institutions that will be guided by Aboriginal lore, law and cultural authority that has been practised on these lands for countless generations.”
Marcus is guilty of spouting arrant nonsense. First, he invokes the categories of Western/European political discourse to justify the incoherent demand to regard his political faction as a separate nation. Second, there is no existing colonial entity in Australia. Australia (see my definition of what constitutes a nation) ceased to be a colony, de facto in the mid-19th century, and formally at Federation in 1901.
Third, Australia, whose development had absolutely no input from the sparse Aboriginal tribes pre-settlement, is a fully fledged nation with the complex of laws, government, science, technology, and so on, that one understands under the concept nation. Whereas the groups of Aboriginals (a European designation) pre-settlement were primitive tribes that continually warred with each other. Violence was a way of life within tribes and between tribes. Traditional tribal aboriginal life ceased in the 19th century – except perhaps for small groups in Northern Australia.
Finally, the is no direct line of development from pre-settlement Aboriginal life to a group like Marcus’s. Marcus, and those pretend Aboriginals like him, are engaged in crude cultural reinvention and mythmaking. And the Andrews government is supporting it – supporting a virtual insurgency.
For a long time, I struggled to think of a term or name for those claiming to be indigenous, but who are not full-blood from an authentic Aboriginal cultural environment.
Clearly, Ken Wyatt, former minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and his two pale-skin friends (below) are not indigenous in the literal sense for two reasons. First, they are not full-blood Aboriginals. They are not dark skinned and have very distinguishable white European features. Second, just as important, they have obviously not grown up or been educated in a traditional Aboriginal cultural environment. They have grown up and enjoyed an education in an Australian school somewhere with other Australians. So what would be an accurate term for such faux indigenous?
I first thought of ‘Australians of Aboriginal Ancestry’ (AAOA). But that did not capture the absurdity of a person indistinguishable from white Anglo-Australians calling himself Aboriginal or indigenous. Then I thought of ‘white Aboriginal’. That would highlight the preponderance of Anglo blood in such people. But that would not cater for the tinted Aboriginal whose skin had a cappuccino colour.
Finally, I thought, why not call them what they are? Anglo-indigenous or Anglo-Aboriginal. They are Australians predominantly from Anglo ancestry but with varying degrees of Aboriginal ancestry, some a drop inherited from several generations ago.
These are the Australians who are agitating for separatism, for a ‘country’ within a country, all paid for by the rest of Australia. Their political campaign really amounts to an attempted coup or planned insurrection. Burning down the old Parliament House was a symbolic step in that direction.
‘Australia has three stories: Indigenous foundations; British institutions; and multicultural migration. On Friday, he told an assembly of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students – including migrants – that the referendum Australia was heading towards was a chance to reconcile them all.’
But Pearson is wrong on both accounts. A division along racial lines won’t unite anyone. I will defend that claim at another time. Here I am concerned with what he calls ‘three stories’, but more accurately are three divisions or classes of Australian society, the indigenous class implicitly the superior class. It is the alleged foundations that he gets pitifully wrong.
The idea of a nation is not that of a mass of land. A nation is a coherence of traditions, customs, law, manners, and a system of justice, developed over time. Edmund Burke called it a ‘moral incorporation’ . The physical environment of the moral incorporation influences a nation’s growth in a secondary sense.
When Captain Arthur Phillip drove the British flag into the earth of Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 and later read the public commission to the assembly of First Fleeters on 7 February, he signalled the foundation of a new nation with its cultural and political lines going back to the British Isles. This was the foundation of the nation which officially became known as Australia several decades later.
The many local tribes had absolutely no input into Australia’s foundations, let alone those dispersed around the vast continent. Some of these would not see a European until decades later. As I wrote in my book Prison Hulk to Redemption:
‘It is misleading and false to talk about the Aboriginals before European settlement as “Australians.” Indeed, the word “Aboriginal” is a post-settlement term to refer to a group of several hundred distinct tribes with different languages … This is the hard reality, whether one likes it or not. It would make more sense to adopt a collective noun like “Aboriginalia” to refer to the collection of tribes before settlement. After settlement, everything changed—in the same manner it had done throughout history when peoples were on the move. The peoples of Aboriginalia would, in time, become integral members of the new nation Australia and make their own unique contribution. Aboriginalia would drift into the mists of history.’
All the present talk about First Nations, land rights, justice, civil rights and so on, presupposes the nation of Australia as I have described it.
White Aboriginal, MP Ken Wyatt, entirely indistinguishable as an Aboriginal, Indigenous, or First Nations person (the title changes according to its perceived political advantage), has announced the Morrison government’s policy on the ‘voice’ in parliament.
Coalition to build Indigenous voice from ground up
The Morrison government will start building an Indigenous voice from the ground up after cabinet agreed to form 35 regional and local groups that will be part of a national body.
The Coalition decided not to move immediately to the establishment of a national voice after considering the final report of the Voice’s senior advisory group led by Marcia Langton and Tom Calma.
That report, presented to government in July and due to be released on Friday, recommends the regional and local groups should be established first.
It means there is no possibility the Morrison government will attempt to legislate a voice before the next election. Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt had previously said he wanted a voice before the poll.
Instead, the Morrison government will appoint a local and regional voice establishment group to work with government to form the 35 local and regional voice bodies. The government will also hold discussions with states, territories and local governments about their role in establishing and supporting the various regional and local groups.
The current blueprint for the voice is the result of work by 52 prominent Australians, most of them Indigenous, followed by a public consultation period that took feedback and suggestions from 9400 people and organisations.
There are two reasons the Voice is not a good idea. Firstly, claims that it will be advisory only and that it will not become a third chamber of Parliament are specious at best. And secondly, it will not work.
Let me begin with the first point. Senator Bragg cites a number of examples where government has a formal mechanism to receive advice – the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Joint Standing Committees on Corporations and Intelligence and Security. Notice anything about these bodies? That’s right. They are embedded within the parliament. There are, of course, many external bodies that proffer advice to government – industry associations and so on – that is not binding, but they do not attract the wide public support, and therefore political attention, that Aboriginal affairs does. The advice of these organizations is considered by governments but since they are essentially self-interested, albeit enlightened, their advice can safely be ignored by government if it adversely impacts other considerations.
In her article in today’s Australian about the problems of a proposed separate indigenous voice, Janet Albrechtson gives a hint of who some of them are. The opening paragraphs:
Beware the pile-on over an Indigenous voice to parliament. Few things are as predictable as a gaggle of constitutional lawyers in search of new constitutional provisions to litigate about.
No sooner had the voice co-design groups called for submissions into the voice proposed by the federal government to be set down by an act of parliament than 43 senior lawyers, academics and public law experts lodged their submission saying this was not enough. The group, including many luminaries of left-wing legal activism, maintain the proposal cannot work unless the body gets constitutional protection.