With progress being made towards the implementation of a Voice to Parliament, the next step is a treaty to unify Australia for generations to come, writes Dermot Daley.
ANOTHER 26 JANUARY has rolled by and while it is proper that Australia should have a day to celebrate our nation and place in the world, there is a sincere and justified sentiment against having it on the anniversary of the arrival of a colonising power to the ongoing detriment of Indigenous people.
A new date must be adopted and to this observer, that date should be the day upon which a formal treaty of recognition is signed to acknowledge the original inhabitants of this island continent now known as Australia.
However, the journey towards a treaty presents fresh divisions and new obstacles.
There appears to be a strong determination amongst conservatives in Australia to maintain the status quo for First Nations peoples, as was manifest in John Howard’s “Intervention”.
Incarceration rates are still so punitive that a hungry Blackfeller stealing a $5 loaf of bread is punished harsher than a White middle-class professional who steals $5 million to acquire a third or fourth investment property. And when in custody, those trips and falls can be fatal.
Beginning with colonisation, Australia has become a society where each new wave of European, Asian or African migration happily assumes and is readily granted greater rights and opportunities than established Indigenous inhabitants. This paradigm must be dismantled.
Imagine if Captain Cook’s expeditionary vessel, Endeavour, had an anthropologist on board instead of a botanist. We would still have the diverse new-world plants; but importantly, an anthropologist would have marvelled at a 70,000-year-old culture that had not managed to destroy itself. A culture that had complex relationships and social groups, a culture that used technology but had no need for the wheel, a culture that was finely tuned to seasonal variations and engaged with a sympathetic spirituality.
However, Joseph Banks was wealthy and had partially financed the voyage, claiming the best cabin on board; and those pesky natives in Botany Bay couldn’t even understand the King’s English.
Setting aside the delusional thinking of contemporary White supremacists, scholars such as Henry Reynolds, Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage have methodically documented that First Nations peoples maintained an integrated society across an entire continent without the aid of telecommunications, managed vast tracts of productive land without mechanisation, and lived within a spiritual code (law/lore) that allowed for differences in opinion without the fear of a wrathful god.
Sadly, elements of divisiveness appear to be increasing. Much of the goodwill and sincerity that went into constructing the Voice to Parliament, a vehicle to give basic recognition to the Indigenous within the Australian Constitution, is coming under attack from hot-heads within the Aboriginal community itself, deluded by a sniff of a chance to gain in personal power.
The collective of Elders who formulated the Voice understood that colonisation actually happened and cannot be reversed, and that Australia in the 21st Century operates under a constitution overseen by elected representatives. The Voice offers a mechanism to break the cycle of wrong-doings that has been foisted upon First Nations peoples since Cook arrived at Botany Bay.
The proposed Voice to Parliament is in no way a threat to the everyday lives of everyday Australians. It is a process to put an end to injustices that we should be ashamed of. It is not the Voice we should be alarmed at — it is the amoral lobbying actions of former politicians and others who sell their souls to transnational corporations to influence their politician “mates” for rights and entitlements for those corporations to the direct financial and environmental detriment of the Australian nation.
The behaviour of embittered upstarts such as Jacinta Price, Warren Mundine, Lidia Thorpe and others in destabilising the intent of the Voice effectively serves the interests of the News Corp/L-NP cartel that sees the real estate of Australia as their investment portfolio.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is playing the Voice as a political tool to confuse the electorate in a blatant attempt to fulfil his sole ambition (like any modern Liberal) of having his turn to lodge in The Lodge and hang out with royalty.
If Price, Mundine, Thorpe and their cohort truly believe that colonisation is the root of all evil they should be honest and surrender their cars and their internet and shops and roads; but they will not do that because their base objective is simply to increase their personal influence.
A crucial hang-over from colonisation is that Australians need to stop acting like sheep.
Adam Goodes was a skilled and graceful football player who once called out racial abuse and the treatment then handed to him was a disgrace. Someone booed, others followed like sheep, fathers booed and their children copied. Collingwood supporters had vilified Nicky Winmar a generation earlier.
For a time post-WW2, VFL (AFL) football was virtually violence between consenting adults, but footy changed forever when Indigenous players took to the field. No one could ignore the grace and skill of Polly Farmer, Syd Jackson and Maurice Rioli. Soon, Sheedy’s Bombers set up a chain reaction (Kickett Long to Wanganeen!). Some Indigenous players seemed to have the ball on a string.
AFL will never become a world game, so imagine how Australia might perform in a Soccer World Cup with a new generation of Koori, Tiwi, Noongar and Murri players out shredding the pitch.
In the latter part of the 20th Century, First Nations peoples discovered creative activism. Black theatre came out punching, the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra sprung up and the new flag of the sun against the earth and sky united the cause. Ordinary people began to see the beauty in Aboriginal bark painting and dot painting. And there was music. Jimmy Little and Lionel Rose took small steps, followed by Kev Carmody and others.
No Fixed Address and Yothu Yindi blasted our complacency. The Warumpi Band created new standards. And with active support from White musicians Paul Kelly, Shane Howard and Steve Connolly, many more Indigenous artists found their voice. Archie Roach took us on his personal journey, bringing to public consciousness the plight of the stolen generations. From little things, big things grow.
Imagine if Australia had the will to provide equality of health and educational services to all First Nations peoples so they could take part equally in 21st-century life. And how fair would it be to fully empower the operation and management of these services by community Elders? Education and health can be the source of emancipation.
Imagine if all Australians embraced Indigenous culture and saw the land not as a resource to be exploited but as an integral part of our physical and psychological well-being. Over the past 20 years, Aboriginal rangers have become more and more visible in roles of caring for the land and I see no logical objection to placing all Crown land under Aboriginal administration; initially for the goal of preserving and protecting flora and fauna diversity.
Resources exploration and extraction would need to remain under the governance of the Commonwealth, but this should become a greatly improved process after the adoption of the Voice to Parliament.
The Voice has the potential to cement us as a nation with the well-being of all at its heart.
Then we can talk in earnest of a treaty.
A proper treaty is not something to be rushed into or taken lightly. We saw that the Voice took many years before the delegated Indigenous spokespersons could agree on the final wording and framing of the document. It was a work of passion and commitment and negotiation. The end result reflects the high degree of inclusion that went into it.
How petty that Price and Mundine and Thorpe see themselves as more important than their Elders and the scholars and peacemakers who composed the Voice!
A treaty will be every bit as intricate to create because it must satisfy Indigenous stakeholders, as well as those established in the white, yellow and brown demographic of post-colonial Australia.
After the dust has settled from getting the Voice recognised in the Australian Parliament, people will see that it is not a separate chamber of government but a vehicle for the rights of First Nations peoples to be heard and acknowledged so that the injustices of history are not repeated. Then the real substance can emerge for the framing of a full and comprehensive treaty that will strengthen Australia and endure for many generations to come.
Australia needs and deserves a treaty that can reliably underpin a new bill of rights to be enshrined in an updated constitution of our own democratic, independent, neutral, secular republic.
First the Voice, then the treaty.
Then we will understand what Australia Day can mean to us all.
Dermot Daley is a fourth-generation Australian living in Victoria, who is now retired from construction project management.
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