February 23, 2015 – The Aboriginal Provisional Government (APG) deems the multimillion dollar campaign for Constitutional recognition to be nothing more than a flashy distraction and yet another attempt to politically assimilate Aboriginal people. Reconciliation was used by the Australian government to pacify Aboriginal activism in the 1990s and 2000s, to drown out calls for a treaty and national uniform land rights legislation. Recognise is their latest ploy to sell our people superficial appeasement, policy based in symbolism rather substance.
The Recognise campaign, backed by both the Coalition and Labor, operates on the assumption that Aborigines are Australians and that we want to be Australians. We never agreed to become Australians, to become citizens of the colonial nation built upon the genocide of our people and theft of our land.
Australia’s mainstream political parties have toyed with the idea to ‘recognise’ our people in the colonial nation’s founding document since the Howard government drafted a Constitutional preamble put to the public in the failed 1999 referendum. More than 15 years and tens of millions of dollars later, Aborigines are still politically powerless and grossly unrepresented in Australia’s powerful institutions.
The report from Julia Gillard’s handpicked ‘Expert Panel’ in 2012 proposed nothing more than tokenistic and paternalistic amendments to Australia’s Constitution. They proposed the ‘race power’ (section 51xxvi) be removed, yet recommended introducing section 51a which would allow the Commonwealth to make laws specifically relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They also proposed introducing section 116a to ban racially discriminatory laws, but include a clause outlining various exceptions to this rule. APG Secretary and lawyer Michael Mansell says these amendments would allow the Northern Territory Intervention to happen all over again. To top it off, the Expert Panel suggested ranking English Australia’s official language while putting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages behind museum glass as “national heritage”.
The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition continued in that vein, ignoring and dismissing Aboriginal calls for recognition of our right to self-determination and self-government. What’s more, both Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have suggested the findings of the Expert Panel and parliamentary committee may be too ambitious. This shows their blatant lack of commitment to genuine and meaningful change.
Constitutional recognition offers nothing substantial for Aboriginal people, maintaining the relationship of colonizer and colonized, preserving the power of settler society to make laws relating to our lands, lives and liberties. They might as well scratch ‘Aborigines were here 1788’ onto the doors of Parliament, because that’s all it will be worth.
Constitutional recognition is based on John Howard’s hope that Aborigines will at last find their “special, though not separate, place within a reconciled, indivisible nation”. The APG rejects this entirely, as we have the inherent right to exist as a distinct people and to determine our own political status. Aboriginal people are not just another ethnic minority to be subsumed into the body politic of White Australia.
We have a defined territory, a population base of over 700 000 comprising many hundreds of tribes, our own cultures, languages and customary laws. Prior to invasion, we were a sovereign nation in our own right – the Aboriginal nation. If we truly believe our sovereignty remains intact, we must act as a sovereign, self-governing and self-determining people.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated the referendum to ‘recognise’ our people in the Australian Constitution is likely to take place on the 27th of May 2017. Instead of a vote for assimilation, let’s work towards a vote for Aboriginal independence and a referendum among Aboriginal people alone.
It was the Scotts who voted on the question of Scottish independence in September 2014, not the English. The only group who should be deciding anything about the future of Aboriginal people are Aboriginal people themselves.
What shape would Aboriginal independence take? That’s for us to decide, and we don’t have to wait around for the Australian government to take action on this issue.
Callum Clayton-Dixon (Nganyaywana)
Aboriginal Provisional Government
0428 152 777
Official Website: www.apg.org.au
Aboriginal Nation – a nation of Spirit, a nation with Flag, a nation with Land, a nation with hope for Self Determination