What was initially a movement to have minimal change to the preamble of Australia’s Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians as the nation’s first people has now morphed into a procession of endless demands for special privileges and further displays of the worst aspects of identity politics and victim culture. The recognise movement even had the support of conservative Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott.
But it seems that once indigenous activists got a taste that even conservatives were willing to embrace an empty symbolic gesture such as constitutional recognition, they decided to gradually increase their demands. Constitutional conservatives who didn’t drink the social justice cool-aid warned that such a change to our constitution could have unintended consequences such as undermining equality before the law and the ability of governments to legislate for Indigenous affairs diminished depending on how the constitutional amendment was interpreted by judges.
Now the politicians appear to have lost control of the recognise movement as indigenous activists have rejected mere acknowledgment in the constitution. They are now demanding a First Nations Voice to Australia’s Parliament as was espoused in the recent Uluru Statement from the Heart which came from the government’s own Referendum Council. They also want a treaty between Indigenous people and Australia’s government.
They have reiterated these new demands at this year’s Garma Festival of Traditional Culture in Arnhem Land. Both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have been in attendance. The theme of this year’s festival is a term called Makarrata which means coming together after a struggle. An Indigenous elder Dr Galarrwuy Yunuping called for a “final settlement”.
Bill Shorten, always one for virtue signalling and wanting to differentiate himself from Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition on Indigenous Affairs, submitted to the activists’ demands. “Labor supports a voice for Aboriginal people in our constitution, we support a declaration by all parliaments, we support a truth-telling commission, we are not confronted by the notion of treaties with our first Australians,” he said.
Given that Bill Shorten already wants referendums on the republic and fixed four year terms, one wonders if he might think that completely replacing Australia’s Constitution is a better way to go as he could insert other constitutional demands from leftists, such as a Bill of Rights.
Malcolm Turnbull to his credit warned that the increased constitutional demands from Indigenous activists were unreasonable and unlikely to succeed in a referendum as the Australian people are constitutionally conservative, as is shown in the fact that only 8 of 44 proposed constitutional changes have been approved by voters.
Just as we had no idea of what the wording of a recognition referendum would be, we have no idea what sort of powers a First Nations Voice would have. Bill Shorten stressed that it would only be an advisory body, and would not have veto power over legislation. But enshrining a such a body in the constitution could severely limit the functioning of Australian democracy and the principle of one vote, one value.
Australians should also be reminded of the fate of another Indigenous governing body, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission which existed from 1990 to 2005 which had numerous corruption investigations against it including rape allegations against its then Chairman Geoff Clark. Pauline Hanson had raised the problems with ATSIC in her maiden speech in 1996 but it wasn’t until 2004 when Prime Minister John Howard and then Opposition Leader Mark Latham came to a bi-partisan decision to dissolve the commission.
Indigenous activists keep promising that the next symbolic gesture will be the turning point that will fix Indigenous disadvantage. First it was the 1967 referendum, then it was land rights, then the apology to the stolen generation and now the latest demands. Meanwhile Indigenous communities are still dysfunctional with rampant unemployment, poor health and education, crime and women and children subjected to physical and sexual violence.
If our political leaders weren’t so subservient to political correctness and scared of being called racist, they would adopt some of the numerous policy proposals put out by conservative think tanks that would actually fix Indigenous disadvantage and offer hope to children born into such communities. Instead the Indigenous activists who make a living from the emergence of the Indigenous industry are the ones who are listened to, despite nothing changing.
Of course, these activists and Bill Shorten for that matter appear to forget that for their latest ideas to be implemented they first must ask the Australian people. Our founding fathers rightly invested the power to change our Constitution with the people.
The Australian people won’t take kindly to being asked to dilute Australian democracy to give people of particular race a greater say in how the nation is governed and no amount of calling them racist will change this. If Indigenous disadvantage is to be fixed, more of the same symbolic gestures will change nothing.