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Activists heeding the Voice

Committees, councils and talkfests obscure the path to real indigenous progress

5 January 2019

9:00 AM

5 January 2019

9:00 AM

The Land Rights campaign that took hold in the 1950s has never been about improving the lot of Aborigines but rather it follows a virtual blueprint of the National Colonial Question in the Communist Comintern dealing with indigenous populations. Creating division within a country is the preliminary to a take-over.

When ‘Sorry Days’, apologies for the Stolen Generation, ‘reconciliation’ etc. were considered insufficient atonement for past injustices to Aborigines, ‘recognition’ took over and Julia Gillard’s Referendum Council  of sixteen ‘eminent’ people went on a junket round Australia having ‘national conversations’ on how to ‘recognise’ indigenous people in the constitution.

Its final recommendation, called the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’, claimed a separate, indigenous parliament be set up alongside the existing parliament. (Incidentally, did anyone tell Ayers’ descendants when the rock named after their ancestor, Sir Henry Ayers, was summarily renamed Uluru?)

But Turnbull, in an uncharacteristically decisive move, rejected this idea of a ‘third chamber’, leaving advocates squealing with temporarily suppressed anger; but most people found it boring and it ran off the radar.

But activists are nothing if not persistent and were soon at it again, trampling over old ground with the Referendum Council repackaged as a Joint Parliamentary Committee to consider a constitutionally-enshrined indigenous voice in parliament, abbreviated to a ‘Voice’, followed by a referendum to support it.  The Committee’s Final Report has just appeared.

Labor Senator Pat Dodson disappeared suddenly and inexplicably from his previous role as co-chair of the Referendum Council, but has resurfaced as  co-chair of the new Parliamentary Committee, along with Liberal MP Julian Leeser who, after a sensible background, is embracing this folly.

To give it a fresh face, their vocabulary has changed as well: ‘indigenous’ is replaced by ‘First Nations’, most of whom, Dodson claims, were never consulted during the peregrinations of the expensive year-long Referendum Council and have never heard of the ‘Voice’. Even so, he wants them on board to ‘co-design’ a blueprint on how they want to be ‘recognised’ as there are already 18 different working models on offer.


Leeser is all for ‘co-designs’ but warns there are ‘contours’ on the path to achieve it as the public is not ready for a ‘Voice’ referendum.

As the report gives sparse indication of what is actually envisaged, an unwelcome ‘contour’ might be having to explain how the Voice’s participants are chosen or elected and what expensive physical infrastructure this third parliament would require.

Both Dodson and Leeser seem to agree they should hasten slowly as an ill- defined ‘Voice’ would mean referendum defeat; but there are strident objectors. Although Marcia Langton complains that the Report from the Parliamentary Committees ‘is studded with land mines’, she advocates getting it into parliament pronto, while a former co-chair of the Referendum Council, Mark Leibler, is putting the screws on government saying: ‘the Voice is the only option for constitutional change’. And Roy Ah-See, chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council’s 23,000 members, warns of a backlash if the referendum question is not put in the next term of government. Meanwhile, Dodson and Bill Shorten are confused about whether parliamentary debate should give priority to the Voice or to Australia becoming a republic.

All the while, talk of an Aboriginal Treaty with Australia rumbles away in the background, with advocates wanting to form their own independent black nation. Some, George Williams among them, are all for it, seemingly blind to the idiocy of Australia having a Treaty with itself.

Victoria has already passed Australia’s first Treaty Bill to design a Treaty framework.

But the Voice is not being helped by some Aboriginal activists themselves putting people off-side. Sammy Wilson, Chairman of the Kata Tjuta National Park said Uluru is a sacred site, not Disneyland, so he’s banned climbing the rock from October 2019.

To make sure, he’s establishing a special Men’s Sacred Site where the climb begins. Probably Sammy took his cue from South Australia’s Secret Women’s Business which successfully hoodwinked the government and held up building a much-needed bridge for years. But tourist operators, who have built businesses round the amazing natural wonder of the Rock and the climb itself, are particularly incensed. And as Aboriginal land is neither Crown nor public land but privately owned by different clans, there are fines for trespassing, leaving  the mantra ‘Welcome to Australia’ as a hollow,  meaningless gesture.

But the ‘Welcome’ is now almost obligatory at public events and is getting to the point where one can imagine in the future a looped tape in the Great Hall at Sydney University repeating ‘Welcome to Country’ at five minute intervals. Meanwhile, in homes attuned to PC protocol, it’s an applauded starter to any social gathering.

Elsewhere, Aboriginal promotion is going ahead apace. Decorative totem poles or Mallee ant-eaten didgeridoos appear in up-market living rooms and hotel lobbies, while Melbourne’s new Lord Mayor, Sally Capp, keen to appear culturally sensitive, ‘cleansed’ herself at an Aboriginal smoking ceremony on the portico of the Town Hall.

Meanwhile Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker, a member of the Parliamentary Committee, has given a few sensible words of warning on the Voice: ‘I am deeply concerned that for those who expect Constitutional recognition to be a panacea for this diverse bag of practical problems, they are bound for disappointment’.

But the disappointment of temporary failure will only result in further fevered clamour for more enquiries, committees, councils and expensive talkfests to keep the issue alive.

For activists, disruption in any form is all part of the agenda. So far they have done extraordinarily well.


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