There was some important news that was lost this week in the midst of the High Court citizenship verdict and the fallout from the AWU raids. This was the rejection by the Turnbull Government of the key recommendation of Indigenous Referendum Council that an indigenous advisory body to parliament be enshrined in the constitution. The recommendation came from the Uluru Statement from the Heart released back in May.
Malcolm Turnbull in rejecting the proposal correctly stated such an advisory body “would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of Parliament” adding that it would violate the principle of equality before the law and one vote one value “Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights, all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national Parliament”.
This proposal from indigenous leaders came from the government’s consultation process about what form constitutional recognition of indigenous people in the constitution should take. It is a process that is now in its 10th year as it was first proposed by John Howard during his final days as Prime Minister in 2007.
The process to date had focused on what the exact words to insert in the constitution should take to give it the greatest chance of success. This was of great interest to constitutional conservatives whose main concern would be how constitutional recognition could be interpreted by activist judges and thwart democratic decision making.
Because there was already bipartisanship on the question of indigenous recognition in the constitution (both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister supposed it), public polling already had the referendum overwhelming passing, corporations had already pledged their support it would appear that indigenous leaders thought they could demand even more. This is how we ended up with this demand for an indigenous advisory body.
Now they have clearly overreached and potentially may end up getting nothing. Indigenous leaders such as Noel Pearson have predictably been outraged at the Coalition’s decision. However they still have an ally in Bill Shorten and Labor who are still committed to a treaty and Labor’s indigenous spokesperson Linda Burney has previously indicated that Australia Day should change to be more sensitive to indigenous people.
There is one thing now that both the indigenous industry and those on the right agree with, that constitutional recognition is mere symbolism. Where we greatly differ is how to solve the problem of indigenous disadvantage particularly in remote communities.
We have tried the left’s preferred solution over the past 40 years, more welfare, more apologies for past policy and white guilt. It has got us nowhere with the closing the gap report each year always a reminder of the failure of current indigenous policy. The right’s solution such measures to reduce family violence and increasing educational and employment opportunities are bizarrely called racist.
It is pleasing that Coalition has now stood up to the indigenous lobby’s unreasonable demands. Recent history has shown there is no way that they can be satisfied or for us wash ourselves of white colonial guilt. Let’s hope this is a turning point for the right side on politics in that they will no longer indulge in identity politics and virtue signalling in this area of Australian public policy.