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Letter: We are under no obligation to recognise so-called ‘first nations’ – Aboriginal history and culture can be honoured, but not at the expense of national unity

As a native-born Australian proud of my British ethnicity, I happily agree with Fred Chaney (‘They were first, and they survived – we should listen’, 17/1) that ‘the original inhabitants’ of this continent have ‘a special place within the nation’ which is ‘unique’; but this does not mean that their descendants have any right to be regarded as ‘first nations’ in today’s Australia.

     On the contrary, and despite Chaney’s claim otherwise, they are indeed ‘just another ethnic minority’, entitled to ‘equal citizenship’ but not to favouritism in regard to their constitutional position. Those ‘first nations’ (a dubious phrase coined in our own times for special pleading with questionable motives) have been extinguished by history and are no more.

     Whether or not he means to do so, Chaney’s advocacy of a form of constitutional ‘recognition’ that involves such favouritism endangers the future unity of this nation and our fortunate political situation of living in an undivided continent. It is also fundamentally unjust to the majority of Australians, being inequitable in principle.

     Chaney exaggerates the degree to which the Aboriginal people can be said to survive as ‘distinct collective identities’. On the contrary, an inevitable ongoing process of assimilation is taking place, a process matched by the gradual merging into what was once a primarily British nation (or, before that, group of British colonies) of Australians of very many other ethnicities.

     No one can blame an Aboriginal for mourning his people’s loss of full possession of this continent; but, equally, no one can blame those of us descended from British settlers for mourning the loss of our wonderful empire ‘on which the sun never set’ and Australia’s place as a dominion within it. The fact that they were first and we were second is of no moral significance, nor is the fact that their ancestors were here for a much longer period of time than ours. However, trying to unmake history is rank folly and sentimental error.

     What has to be fairly and justly considered in 2018 is the status of those Australians, all of us, living today and our future descendants; and what most of all needs to be ‘recognised’ is that no proposal that might lead to dismemberment or partition of our nation in any way is in the interests of most Australians now and in the future. Disunity means fatal weakness in an increasingly dangerous-looking world. It is astonishing that Chaney, a former minister for Aboriginal affairs in the federal parliament, cannot see this and shape his advocacy for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in its context.

     Has idealism trumped common sense?

     Two factors show clearly that the process of assimilation is as ineluctable as the sea that washed against the feet of King Canute. The first is the significant number of Aboriginals ‘marrying out’. The other is the definitions of ‘Aboriginal’ brought in by the first Whitlam government in 1973 and still holding today, which means that the majority of those called ‘Aboriginal’ are really only part-Aboriginal.

     The prime minister was wise to reject the propositions of the Uluru Statement, an utterance of questionable representative status. He was correct to insist on the axiom that ‘all Australians have equal civic rights.’ History shows that inequities have been removed and that Aboriginals now enjoy a fair degree of stake in the nation. The kind of recognition Chaney advocates goes too far in the other direction and reintroduces an unwelcome element of racial and ethnic injustice.

     Finally, he is wrong in stating that the ‘Aboriginal consultations’ that led to the Uluru Statement ‘accommodated the concerns of constitutional conservatives’. True conservatives such as Keith Windschuttle, Andrew Bolt, Gary Johns and Frank Salter agree with the government’s rejection of the Uluru proposals. The conservatives said to support those proposals appear to be radicals or liberals in conservative clothing.

  NJ, Blelgrave, Vic

 

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Tuesday, 14 July 2020
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