The Trojan Horse of Constitutional Recognition Part Two by Nigel Jackson
The Uluru Statement of the Heart has now been published, which means that the revolutionaries have played their hand and thrown down the glove of challenge. We can now respond as we must.
Greg Sheridan, a distinguished veteran journalist, has led the way with his opinion pieces in The Australian. In ‘Misguided, squeamish Liberals are failing Aborigines’, (25 May) he wrote: ‘Constitutional recognition [is] extremely bad in principle because [it creates] two classes of citizens…..The Constitution belongs to all Australians. If the state changes the citizenship status of one group of Australians, it, by definition, changes the citizenship status of all Australians. In principle and in practice, this is a recipe for conflict and disaster.’
Responding to accusations against the predominantly British settlers who made modern Australia, Sheridan commented: ‘Nobody is responsible for the misbehaviour of someone else’s ancestors… [or] their own ancestors.’
After the publication of the Uluru statement, Sheridan wrote (‘Liberals must join Barnaby Joyce’s Uluru rejection’, 1 June) that the ‘straightforward rejection’ of its key recommendations by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce ‘ought to put the matter to rest’ and exhibited ‘sound judgement’. Sheridan explained: ‘Australia is in grave danger of provoking internal divisions that would unleash the forces of nationalism and identity politics in profoundly destructive ways.’ He added that the key proposals of the statement ‘are wrong in principle and would be profoundly damaging in practice’.
He warned against the likelihood of a ‘domino effect’ if the proposals are accepted: ‘It’s clear that this process will never end. Not only has the Aboriginal leadership rejected [minimal and symbolic] recognition, it has repudiated the idea that the Constitution can ever be completed. Instead there is an endless series of demands, all of which compromise national sovereignty.’
Sheridan also asked: ‘Do we really now, in the context of changing the Constitution, want to relitigate whether the Aborigines who were here 250 years ago formed a single sovereign nation, and what was their sovereign relationship to each other and to the other peoples they displaced, and what implications should that now have for declaring different classes of citizen in contemporary Australia?’
Sheridan stated that he has given up his previous support for recognition in a constitutional preamble. He recognises that any kind of constitutional recognition would open the floodgates.
Meanwhile, in The Age in Melbourne on 31 May, John Roskam, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, contributed an opinion piece entitled ‘An Indigenous treaty would divide, not unite, us’. Roskam insisted that ‘our nation’s founding document should unify us – not divide us’ and that ‘the Commonwealth Parliament represents all Australians.’ A treaty as envisaged by the Uluru statement’s reference to Makarrata, he added, ‘would divide Australia into separate nations’. He suggested that the only Constitutional changes needed are those to ‘make the Constitution colour-blind’ by removing references to race in sections 25 and 51(xxvi).
The Uluru statement does not stand up well under close critical scrutiny. Its authors begin with poetic language perhaps designed to persuade sentimental souls, claiming that they come ‘from all points of the southern sky’ and are speaking ‘from the heart.’ Actually they are a political group of questionable status and representational capacity and they are speaking politically.
They begin by invoking ancient history. They assert that their ancestors’ tribes (a valid word) were ‘the first sovereign Nations’ of our continent, whereas it can be argued that those tribespeople had no sense of nation in the modern sense at all. The statement claims that their ancestors lived in this place for a very long period of time – ‘from the Creation’, from ‘time immemorial’ and for at least ’60,000 years’, as though length of time, even vast length of time, in some way gives authority to their demands; but it does not. Those demands, properly, have to be assessed in terms of who is living here now and who will come after them as their descendants.
The statement then invokes a kind of territorial mysticism. The authors claim that they have inherited from their ancestors a sovereignty which ‘is a spiritual notion’ involving a ‘tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’. It is hard to see how this claim can be verified. In any case, if such a tie exists, then it must follow logically that all those born in this continent (I am one such person) possess a tie with the land. How could it be otherwise? So this mystical appeal falls flat in the current context of political discussion.
The statement furthermore asserts that this tie, being ‘the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty’ ‘has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown’. This is incorrect, the controversial Mabo judgement notwithstanding. Any ‘Aboriginal sovereignty’ in the political sense has been irretrievably lost in the passage of time and Australia as presently constituted is a fully sovereign nation under Her Majesty the Queen, enjoying de jure status. (Perhaps one reason for the peculiarly maladroit campaign to turn us into a republic is that that royal protection of our status would be an obstacle removed – just one of many reasons why this push for ‘constitutional recognition’ seems to be part of a much bigger game with a secret, internationalist agenda not likely to be in the interests of most Australians at all, Aboriginal or otherwise.)
An appeal to sympathy follows as the authors tell of ‘the torment of our powerlessness’, without seeming to accept that they and their peoples and their recent ancestors may all be considerably responsible for this predicament.
The authors say that they seek ‘constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.’ They do not define clearly what this would mean and seem to forget that it is the country of all other Australians as well.
In calling for a Makarrata as a ‘coming together after a struggle’, the authors seem to imply that such a struggle was recent and that they speak as one of two parties on more or less equal terms; however, the struggle was over and done with two centuries ago and they are a very small minority of the Australian people.
The call for a constitutionally-based Makarrata Commission ‘to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations’ seems clearly to envisage in the long term the partitioning of the continent (a proposal too dangerously radical to be uttered openly at this stage, of course). It throws doubt on the sincerity of the statement’s earlier prediction that their children ‘will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country’ under, presumably, one sovereignty.
The statement’s demand for ‘truth-telling about our history’ sounds dangerously like a call for a sanction against free historical enquiry and publication in Australia, and is thus unacceptable.
Another glib remark is this: ‘In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.’ No one is planning to stop Aboriginals from telling their own story as they see it. No one has been doing this. But willingness to listen to stories does not mean acceptance of proposals that are a gross overreach, unjust and nationally divisive.
Characteristically, the statement ends with vagueness designed, presumably, to induce a warm fuzzy feeling in readers rather than to encourage clear thinking on complex political and social issues: ‘We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.’
A number of commentators have noted a curious incongruity of leftist campaigning (much of it involving communists and Jewish persons) in regards to ‘anti-apartheid’ activity in southern Africa in the fifty or so years after World War Two and the ‘land rights’/’constitutional recognition’ movement in Australia over the same period and now. In the former case, separate development was characterised under the misappropriated Afrikaans term apartheid and made into a bogey. In our own country separate development is being aimed at. In each case it is the Europeans. ‘the whites’, who were and are being attacked. The non-European peoples of southern Africa (as well as the European minorities) are suffering dreadfully as the result of the collapse of the Portuguese presence, then of the Rhodesian Government and then of the South African apartheid Government. Perhaps someone should warn our Aboriginals, both the full-bloods and the half-bloods, that a terrible future may lie ahead for them as well as for the rest of us if the dark plan is realised here.
The first part of this article appeared in On Target Vol. 53 No. 21 on 2 June. Nigel Jackson is a Melbourne poet, man of letters and political commentator specialising in the defence of our free way of life.