Presentation on theme: "Time to Re-Think the Nation: Exorcising the Ghost of Terra Nullius from Australia’s Constitution Dr Peter Lewis President ANTaR Peter’s talk will provide."— Presentation transcript:
1 Time to Re-Think the Nation: Exorcising the Ghost of Terra Nullius from Australia’s Constitution Dr Peter Lewis President ANTaRPeter’s talk will provide a theological focus on the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous peoples and how constitutional change can become another important step on the way to a more just and honourable Australia. After over two hundred years of inappropriate and oppressive practices, constitutional recognition of the First Peoples and constitutional measures to prevent racial discrimination presents the nation with an opportunity to exorcise the ghost of terra nullius and the ‘white Australia’ policy from our nation’s founding document. For non-indigenous Christians, walking in solidarity with Australia’s Indigenous peoples is not only in line with the Biblical tradition but is also core to a faithful following of Christ in Australia.
2 200 years ago… Over 400 nations within this continent Each nation had every institution we currently have in AustraliaLaw, belief, occupations, family structures, trade, art, recreation and systems of ‘Government’People have lived on this land for over 60,000 years
3 The Great Australian Silence Inattention on such a scale cannot possibly be explained by absentmindedness. It is a structural matter, a view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape. What may well have begun as a simple forgetting of other possible views turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale. We have been able for so long to disremember the Aborigines that we are now hard put to keep them in mind even when we most want to do so.W.E.H.Stanner, After the Dreaming: The Boyer Lectures
4 White Privilege Peggy McIntosh suggests: I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.Peggy McIntosh, (1989) “White Privilege: Unmaking the Invisible Knapsack”, Peace and Freedom, July-August 1989, p. 10.
5 “We hold [the land] neither by inheritance, by purchase, nor by conquest, but by a sort of gradual eviction. As our flocks and herds and population increase… the natural owners of the soil are thrust back without treaty, bargain or apology … depasturing licenses are procured from government, stations are built, the natives and the game on which they feed are driven back … the graves of their fathers … trodden underfoot.”(Godfrey Charles Mundy (1852) Our Antipodes: Or Residence and Rambles in the Australian Colonies, London: Richard Bentley, p. 226)
6 Rudd/Gillard Government Approaches Apology to the Stolen Generations and Welcome to CountryNT Emergency Intervention tweakedUN Declaration on Indigenous RightsNational First Peoples CongressClosing the GapResetting the Relationship – Constitutional RecognitionThe Rudd Government’s Indigenous policies are in many ways still emerging, particularly as a consequence of the previous Federal Government’s attempt to turn Indigenous child abuse into a political wedge issue. The success of the Close the Gap Campaign, has meant that the Rudd Government is committed to policies which seek to close the disadvantage gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous people, particularly in the area of longevity and health.The Rudd Government has also committed itself to signing onto the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights and re-establishing some form of Indigenous national representation to ensure Indigenous input into Federal Indigenous policy. Of concern is whether the Rudd Government will sufficiently re-orient the Northern Territory Emergency Intervention so that Indigenous rights to voice and land are restored and the recommendations of the Little Children Are Sacred Report are implemented.In the new context of the Rudd Government it remains to be seen what the next stage in reconciliation will be and whether there is life in reconciliation after ‘sorry’ and after what we hope will become a new tradition for Federal Parliament’s, an Aboriginal welcome to country to begin parliamentary terms .While Rudd’s speech wasn’t the Redfern Speech – with its brilliant simplicity, directness and grace – it was the next best thing. It was sincere, reflected on the trauma and the inhumanity of the Stolen Generations policies and the humanity of the Stolen Generations people, their families and communities and said the things that needed to be said to create a shift in the nation’s understanding. It replaced the phrase ‘black armband view of history’ with a simpler notion; ‘the truth’. And ‘sorry’ was no longer the hardest word – it was the word of relief and release. While there is an ongoing battle for compensation and reparations for Stolen Generations peoples, at least there is a sense that theirs is a story which has now entered into the mainstream narrative of the nation. Whether that story becomes an impetus to resolving issues of constitutional recognition, treaty and protection of Indigenous rights remains to be seen.
7 EXAMPLE OF COMMUNITY-LEVEL INDICATORS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO A HEALTH OUTCOME – Suicide rates by number of factors present in the community (1987–1992). (Taken from Chandler M and Proulx T. Changing selves in changing worlds: youth suicide on the fault lines of colliding cultures. Archives of Suicide Research 2006: 10: ).An index of ‘‘cultural continuity’’ comprised of six marker variables: degree to which each of B.C.’s individual bands have already secured 1) some measure of self government; some control over the delivery of 2) health, 3) education, 4) policing services, and 5) cultural resources; and 6) are otherwise at work litigating for Aboriginal title to traditional lands.Rate of youth suicideInternational research and practice also demonstrates the resilience of culture.A recent study from Canada by Michael Chandler and Travis Proulx for the International Academy for Suicide Research has pointed out that as measures for self-determination and culturally-based services increase, youth suicide dramatically decreases. As you can see – the more Nation or tribal groups – here referred to as ‘bands’ – have control over and cultural input into governance, health, education, policing, resources and seeking title to land – the lesser the incidence of youth suicide.Being on your own land, having a form of self-government, having Indigenous health services and policing; all combine to create a sense that there is not only a proud past – but a promising future for young people.This is the opposite of mainstreaming. Assimilation and mainstreaming is not only morally wrong, it doesn’t work. All the evidence proves this.I would suggest that self-determination is the most critical social determinant of Indigenous health and wellbeing. While we recognise that more research is required we believe we are on the right track in Aboriginal assertion that self-determination leads to better health and wellbeing outcomes.
8 Re-setting the relationship: Exorcism at the foundations Towards treaty/ies and dealing with the open question of sovereigntyChanging our rule book – constitutional recognition and protection from racism as the next step after apology
9 The First Peoples and the Constitution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, or ‘the First Peoples’, were largely excluded from the writing of the Constitution.The result is that Australia adopted a Constitution that referred to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples only in negative terms:Section 127 made it unlawful to include ‘Aboriginal natives’ when counting the number of ‘people’ of the Commonwealth.Section 51(26) stated that the Federal Parliament can make special laws for ‘people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws’.Indigenous Australians were not involved in the writing of the Constitution.Indeed, the Australian Constitution was drafted at a time when it was believed that the Indigenous population would soon die out.The result is that Australia adopted a Constitution that referred to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples only in negative terms:Section 127 made it unlawful to include ‘Aboriginal natives’ when counting the number of ‘people’ of the Commonwealth. This meant that Indigenous Australians were not officially counted in the Australian Census.Section 51(26) stated that the Federal Parliament can make ‘special laws for ‘people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws’. Under Section 51 of the Constitution the Federal Government did not have the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples only the State and territory government had the power to make laws.
10 1967In 1967, a referendum was held on the status of the First Peoples in Australia.Australians voted overwhelmingly for ;Section 127 to be removed from the Constitution, which meant that the First Peoples would now be counted in the census; ANDSection 51(26) to be changed so that the Federal Government could now make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.A Referendum relating to Indigenous Australians and the Constitution was held in 1967.It is the most successful Referendum to date.92% of the Australian voting population voted Yes and all Six States voted Yes.Australians voted overwhelmingly for;Section 127 to be removed from the Constitution, which meant that Indigenous Australians would now be counted in the census ANDSection 51 (26), more commonly known as the race power, to be changed so that the Federal Government could now make laws for Indigenous Australians.
11 However, the 1967 referendum did not go far enough. "Our Constitution does not recognise the First Australians. In fact it enables governments to discriminate against under the 'race power.' The referendum of 1967, while it resulted in indigenous people being counted in the census and gave the Commonwealth the power to legislate on indigenous matters, did not give us recognition or equality."Professor Marcia LangtonThere are still a number of problems which need to be addressed.The Constitution does not recognise the prior occupation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.The Constitution still contains racially discriminatory provisions.The constitution remains silent on the history, rights and contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.Although in Australia racial discrimination is no longer accepted in out daily lives, the Constitution still has racially discriminatory provisions. The 1967 referendum did not end racial discrimination.
12 Racially discriminatory provisions Section 25- This section contemplates state governments excluding people from voting on the basis of their race.Section 51 (26) - After the 1967 referendum this section allows the Parliament to make laws for the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws, including Indigenous Australians. However this section does not specify that these ‘special laws’ have to be for the benefit of the people they affect.The racially Discriminatory provisions that are in the Constitution are;- Section 25- This section allows Australian states to deny Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other groups of people from voting on the basis of race. A right the states exercised for many decades. Though the states no longer exclude Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from voting, the Constitution still contemplates the states’ right to do so.- After the 1967 referendum Section 51 (26), allows the Parliament to make laws for the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws, including Indigenous Australians. However this section does not specify that these ‘special laws’ have to be for the benefit of the people they affect. Under the Constitution the parliament can pass laws that discriminate on the basis of race. This section has been used to discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait slander people.
13 Expert PanelIn November 2010 the Gillard Government established an Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.The Expert Panel was made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous community leaders, lawyers and members of parliament.All major parties were represented, and the Panel included an Independent member.The Panel lead public consultations and debate all over Australia.In January 2012, the panel reported back to Parliament, with a number of recommendations..
14 What the Expert Panel Recommended Repeal Section 25 which contemplates State governments excluding people from voting on the basis of race.Repeal Section 51(26) which can be used to create laws that are to the detriment of a particular race.Both powers described as “a blemish on our nationhood”.
15 What the Expert Panel Recommended Add a new Section 51A to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including their prior occupation, their continual relationship with the land, their continuing languages, cultures and heritage.This would preserve the Federal Government’s power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.Add a new Section 51A to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including their prior occupation, their continual relationship with the land, their continuing language , culture and heritage and to retain the Australian’s Government’s ability to pass laws to their benefit.
16 What the Expert Panel Recommended Add a new Section 116A that would prohibit racial discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethnic or national origin; but still allow laws to protect cultures, languages and heritage or overcome disadvantage or effects of past discrimination.This would protect all Australians from racial discrimination.Add a new Section 116A that would prohibit racial discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethnic or national origin; but still allow laws to protect cultures, languages and heritage or overcome disadvantage or problems caused by past discrimination.
17 What the Expert Panel Recommended Add a new Section 127A that recognises that Australia’s national language is English and that, as the original Australian languages, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s languages are part of Australia’s heritage.
18 What are Aboriginal Leaders Saying? “We're gathered to take a remarkable step forward. Forward to a nation that acknowledges its history, its heritage in its founding document. Forward to a nation who stands up to be counted as opponents of racism and proponents of recognition.”SOURCE -Patrick Dodson
19 Noel PearsonLawyer, academic, land rights activist and founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership"What is still needed is a positive citizenship for indigenous Australians: a positive recognition of our status as the country's indigenous peoples and yet sharing a common citizenship with all other Australians"SOURCE -
20 Lowitja O'DonoghueConstitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People would be good ''not only for our own heads and hearts … but also for the nation's soul''.SOURCE -
21 Marcia LangtonChair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne“We must, I believe, leave our children with a formal acknowledgement in our Constitution of the existence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, one that goes beyond the racialised citizen and encompasses the explicit rights of peoples within our nation state.”Marcia Langton“ We must, I believe, leave our children with a formal acknowledgement in our Constitution of the existence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, one that goes beyond the racialised citizen and encompasses the explicit rights of peoples within our nation state.”SOURCE -
22 Mick GoodaAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner“Constitutional reform is more than just symbolism. The positive effect on our self-esteem, the value of our culture and history, and the respect it marshals from others can make real differences to the lives of indigenous Australians everywhere."Mick Gooda“Constitutional reform is more than just symbolism. The positive effect on our self-esteem, the value of our culture and history, and the respect it marshals from others can make real differences to the lives of indigenous Australians everywhere."SOURCE -
23 Be part of the changeGet informed. Go to:Organise an event in your home, workplace, school, university, TAFE or community centre. See ANTaR’s ‘Event Hints and Tips’.Circulate ANTaR’s petition calling on Federal politicians to support changes to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution and protect all Australians from racial discrimination. Go toMake a financial contribution to ANTaR’s campaign for Constitutional Recognition.Tweet the Prime Minister and tell her you stand for #ConstitutionalRecognition.Get together with other supporters to lobby your MPs in State and Federal Parliament and get them to voice their support for Constitutional reform.Ask if you can put up a poster in your workplace, neighbourhood centre, school, library, university, local cafe or public place. To order a free poster, go to or contactVolunteer your time at ANTaR’s HQ in your State. Fill out our campaign supporter registration.
24 Treatment (Muriel Bamblett) Treat each other – foundations: human rights as meeting place and rules of engagementSelf-determination and cultural respectHealingof relationshipsConfronting racism and white privilegewithin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communitiesrestoring culture and mitigate lateral violenceWriting a new story - a new shared narrative, a new shared identityIn closing I want to reflect on the word ‘treatment’.I think all the meanings of that word have relevance and may put us back on the road.Firstly – treatment is about how Aboriginal communities and the broader society treat each other with respect and through an understanding of human rights.Human rights is both a meeting place between our peoples and a set of rules for respectful engagement.As rules of engagement it means that governments and non-indigenous communities treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples according to our humanity and our role as custodians of the land and waters.It means engaging with us as peoples with rights to self-determination and cultural respect.But treatment also means Healing.We need to heal our relationship and tackle racism and white privilege.For us it means healing within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities by restoring culture and tackling lateral violence.The third meaning of the word treatment is more commonly used in the film industry and is about adapting a story so that it can be made into a film.In our context it is about writing a new national story - a new shared narrative, a new shared identity as Australians.These are the treatments we need if we are to be healed as a nation and begin to treat each other as respected and valued equals.These are the treatments our children need if they are to continue to grow as strong and proud Koories. Thank you.24