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AIATSIS 2014 National Indigenous Studies Conference 50 Years On March 26-28 The Race Bind: Explaining the Resistance to Constitutional Recognition Maggie.

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Presentation on theme: "AIATSIS 2014 National Indigenous Studies Conference 50 Years On March 26-28 The Race Bind: Explaining the Resistance to Constitutional Recognition Maggie."— Presentation transcript:

1 AIATSIS 2014 National Indigenous Studies Conference 50 Years On March 26-28 The Race Bind: Explaining the Resistance to Constitutional Recognition Maggie Walter University of Tasmania

2 Old Century Disadvantage Socio-economic deprivation Political marginalisation Civil/legal inequality Indigenous rights unrecognised Settler State Racism New Neo-Liberal Dominance Discourse of individualism Market forces policy directions Present time focus Hegemony of Undifferentiated human rights Settler State Racism Rebadged Race deemed irrelevant to equality Indigenous rights deemed divisive and unfair to ‘ordinary’ Australians Race inequality relabelled race deficit Euro-Australian privilege discursively positioned as equality

3 Australian Constitution pre 1967 1901 Commonwealth Constitution mentions Aboriginal people only twice in its 128 sections. s.51 The Parliament, shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to…(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. s. 127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

4 27 May 1967 Referendum

5 Media and Political Support The Age Newspaper: Voting Yes to these proposals is a simple matter of humanity. It is also a test of our standing in the world. If No wins, Australia will be labelled as a country addicted to racist policies. In spite of our increasing involvement with Asia, in spite of our protestations of good will towards all men of all colours and creeds, this labour would have a millstone’s weight around the neck of Australia’s international reputation. The Federal Attorney General stated: There would be a large area of dissatisfaction if the Commonwealth did nothing […] I believe the Government would be criticised, albeit mistakenly for lacking sympathy for the aborigines

6 May 27 1967 Referendum Supported by a majority in every state - 90.8% in favour 527007 votes against 5,183,113 votes for 91464 informal votes. What it did: 1.conferred power on Commonwealth to make special laws for Aboriginal people 2.entitled Indigenous Australians to be included on census and electoral calculations.

7 Race Provisions Referendum 2012++

8 Timeline of Process 1.2007 John Howard suggests constitutional recognition 2.2007-2010 Labour supports but no progress in first term 3.PM Gillard commits to holding referendum in life of parliament to secure support of Greens/Independents 4.Nov 2010 PM Julia Gillard sets up 22 person expert panel to examine constitutional amendment Key questions: –Should Indigenous peoples be recognised in a preamble or within body of constitution? AND –What to do about still existing race related provisions – Section 25 and section 51(xxvi)?

9 What the Expert Panel Recommended That recognition be made within body of the Constitution rather than in a preamble Remove Section 25 – which says the States can ban people from voting based on their race; Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.

10 What the Expert Panel Recommend Sections 51(xxvi) be repealed replaced by new Section 51A: Recognising Australia first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; Acknowledging continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with traditional lands and waters; Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; Acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples Giving the parliament power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

11 Comparative Socio-Economic Position 2011

12 The Race Bind Responses Historian Keith Windshuttle – “Referendum proposal an effort “to intimidate Australians (sic) by exploiting the emotions of guilt and shame”…”The Australian Constitution as it currently stands, is the opposite of racist, as it: [p]uts all Australians on an equal footing, no matter when they, or their ancestors, arrived here. Indeed, it would be not only racially discriminatory but also socially divisive to endorse this report and give some Australians status and privileges’ not available to others simply because of their ancestry” (The Australian January 24 2012)

13 The Race Bind Responses Patrick McCauley:The Grim Legacy of Compassion ‘If the need to make special mention of the pre- occupants in the Constitution is based more upon the national guilt that has been built by public intellectuals, then we should certainly not proceed… many of us are not sure that there is much to feel guilty about. We may even believe that Australia has done a reasonably good job of bringing the pre-occupants into the modern world… They wish to create a law above the ordinary law against racial discrimination by racially discriminating in favour of pre-occupants’ (The Australian Jan 14 2012

14 The Race Bind Responses Janet Albrechtson: The Australian January 25 2012 ‘Alas, handing the 22-member panel of high-profile "experts" with the power to suggest recommendations to change the Constitution proved too seductive for modesty to prevail…The recommendations of the expert panel are best understood as a lesson in basic human psychology: power tends to encourage expressions of hubris, not humility. The panel's hubris comes at a cost, not just for the ambitions of its members, but also for the hopes of many Australians who support the recognition of indigenous Australians in the Constitution’.

15 The Response: Some Blog statements from The Australian Site Phil of Bullcreek Posted at 3:10 AM January 20, 2012 Vote NO. We are all ONE. AE Posted at 5:39 AM January 20, 2012 And why do they get a special mention, for advancement? Everybody is supposedly equal. wm Posted at 10:23 AM January 20, 2012 So readers of this paper want race based discrimination?!?!?!? Always thought this country was racist, this goes a small way to prove that (considering the tiny readership of this paper, most wealthy white male bankers) Craig of Sydney Posted at 10:28 AM January 20, 2012 Will non Aboriginal Australians receive the same protections? If not I will vote no, because it is racist. John Good of Kangaroo Valley Posted at 1:33 PM January 20, 2012 Why change something that doesn't need changing. The constitution should not recognise one person over another. Ryan Melrose of Baulkham Hills Posted at 2:26 PM January 20, 2012 I don't understand who wants this? No aboriginal is walking around saying they want this. This is just political correctness gone wrong, Aboriginals want jobs and education and self respect, not handouts or special mention in a constitution no one ever reads.

16 In November 2012, Prime Minister Gillard postponed the referendum indefinitely The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 passed in March 2013 Requires the minister to cause a review of support for a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution; Requires the minister to present a report of the review to Parliament; and ceases to have effect two years after its commencement.


18 Where to Now? Prime Minister Abbott has: promised to finalise a draft form of words for changing the constitution by September 2014 said he will use 2014 to start a "conversation" about recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution but declined to offer a timeframe, remarking only that the reform had to be done well

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