The theme for Reconciliation Week 2012 is ‘let’s talk recognition’.
Yes, let’s talk recognition.
And, for that to happen, it has to be conducted, as part of a real dialogue, in the surviving indigenous Australian languages with senior indigenous lawmen.
While that is not possible here, it is possible to provide something of the flavour of what such a discourse might be like.
It will not sound the same as forms of discourse which are fashioned to comply solely with the European specifications. Repositioning our Being means we begin to sing different songs to those of “God save the Queen.”
While it is an uncomfortable realisation for many non-indigenous Australians (and their distant English relatives), Australia’s First Peoples are the true ‘royal’ family in Australia, and will – sooner or later – be recognised as sovereign Peoples.
Restoring First Peoples to the place life has reserved for them – and restoring their full well-being – is the healing challenge which confronts us.
Their well-managed lives and well-groomed living countries were overrun in 1788 as a result of chaos in the lives of European people desperate to preserve unearthed privileged lifestyles.
The new arrivals in Australia, embodied in the figure of the Governor, presumed the right to rule over First Peoples. Since that time, officials have actively worked to destroy the living people and their Ways – their languages, cultures, religions, places of resident, ability to marry according to their own laws and so much more. Ethnocide is ‘normal’ in modern Australia.
This European intrusion has resulted in unprecedented chaos entering the lives of surviving First Peoples. How ironic it is, then, when those who have benefited from the expropriation of the resources of First Peoples depict that chaos as being of entirely indigenous origins, and more evidence of the need for non-indigenous people to control indigenous lives!
There is a long and ongoing psychic war directed against First Peoples. This ongoing war has been directed at indigenous men in particular.
The abundant evidence of mismanagement actually points the other way. Westminster systems of government, as presently constituted, are incapable of ensuring the full well-being and health of Australia’s First Peoples, and of the country itself.
So much of modern Australia is entirely back-to-front.
QUEEN OF AUSTRALIA
There can be no better illustration of how back-to-front modern life is in Australia than the fact that the core of the Parliamentary system is occupied by the Queen of England, in her (dis)guise as the Australian Queen.
A foreign sovereign occupies the core of a system which completely fails to recognise and have a treaty with the original First Peoples of Australia.
Unlike Aotearoa/New Zealand the Federal Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the State legislative assembles of the former colonies, make no provision for Parliamentary representation by the indigenous Peoples.
The British Queen is also key in the Constitutions of the former British colonies, now known as the Australian States. Some of these States are slowly moving to provide a minimal degree of acknowledgement of the place of First Peoples – subject, as in the New South Wales example, to explicit statements that this carries with it no legal obligation for past wrongs.
QUEEN – AND HER AGENT THE GOVENOR-GENERAL
The Australian Constitution, which began life as a British Act of Parliament, provides a definition of The Parliament:
1. The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and which is herein-after called “The Parliament,” or “The Parliament of the Commonwealth.”
It also provides for the position of Governor-General:
2. A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.
Note that in 2008 ‘him’ was amended by Letters Patent to include ‘her’ even though it is very well understood in law that such references cover both genders. See http://www.statusquo.org/aru_html/html/GovGen.html
That is, while great pains were taken to ensure that there could be no doubt that women were recognised by these formal documents, there is a corresponding complete lack of attention to detail by Her Majesty when it comes to the much more important question of the recognition of a whole Peoples – Australia’s First Peoples, whose lands and resources her regal forebear King George III wrongly presumed to be part of his own estate.
In Australia at this time we have a non-indigenous woman as Sovereign, non-indigenous woman as Governor-General, a non-indigenous woman as Prime Minister and a non-indigenous woman as Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs. This has not resulted in any significant change for First Peoples as First Peoples.
Rather, First Peoples continue to be expected to refashion their Ways to comply with the same sort of one-sided Western worldviews which can be found in glossy magazines.
The Northern Territory is a Territory of the Commonwealth of Australia, and this is one place where they can implement policies which cannot be forced upon the States.
As a result of the imposition of non-indigenous values and world-values upon them in the Northern Territory by these Constitutional arrangements, First Peoples – in 2012, the year of the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen – are seeking to gain assistance from the United Nations for the protection of their rights.
We do not have a recognised and properly funded system of representation in the governance of this country for Australia’s First Peoples. First Peoples remain captive within the Anglo-Australian modern nation-state, and dependant on systems of patronage which originated in the need to prop up the failing British system in 1788.
Australia’s First Peoples paid the very real costs of propping up the privileges of life in the United Kingdom in the late 1700s and thus avoiding revolution (as was taking place across the Channel). The idea that Australia is somehow a ‘natural’ extension of the United Kingdom dominated the 1800s and well into the 1900s.
More recently, the rights of women, as sisters and wives of non-indigenous men in a particular class of people, to a share of the Australian spoils have occupied the political struggle in Anglo-Australia, at the expense of the far more important struggle of Australia’s First Peoples for recognition of their sovereignty; a place in the system of governance; and for proper resources for their needs (having been left largely beggared by the invasion of their living countries under the banners of British sovereigns).
Australia presently has a non-indigenous woman who is, like her Majesty, one of the wealthiest women in the world (more so?). And, in this case, also made wealthy as a result of the expropriation of the mineral wealth of First Peoples. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gina_Rinehart )
The present Anglo-Australia system allows one woman to be heir to a private fortune but disallows the rights of First Peoples to be heirs to the wealth of the country their people have occupied from time immemorial.
First Peoples have been provided with a second-rate form of ‘native title’ which may produce some minor improvements on the impoverished condition a succession of British Monarchs and their colonial representatives has placed upon them, but these ‘native title’ rights are less than full rights in country.
Mineral rights in Australia remain with the Crown, in one guise or another. We ask “How did the Crown ever acquire these mineral rights from First Peoples?”
Instead of making one non-indigenous individual or family (royal or otherwise) enormously wealthy we urgently need a new situation in Australia where whole groups of First Peoples are the primary beneficiaries of the sale of mountain of minerals to China.
Such a struggle is underway in Western Australia (google Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation Fortescue Metals Group – and see, for example, http://yindjibarndi.org.au/yindjibarndi/?page_id=298 )
DISCLOSURE OF ROYAL INTERESTS
It is not easy for members of the public, us commoners, to find out about the financial investments of the Queen and the Royal family.
We do not know the extent of their combined financial investments in a wide range of corporations. It is not unreasonable to assume that the Royal family’s investment portfolio includes some very well placed shareholdings in corporations and companies which, either directly or indirectly, are busy exploiting the mineral and other wealth of Australia.
And yet no questions are ever asked about the potential for conflict of interests when the Royal hand, via the Governor-General, are require to sign Parliament’s legislation into law.
We know all too well that those who have benefited from the British occupation of Australia occupy a strata of life which is far removed from Redfern and the town camps of Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, …
As a small example, earlier this year Warlmanpa speaking people in the Northern Territory of Australia, seeking to prevent the Commonwealth of Australia from using indigenous land (also Muckaty pastoral station) as a site for a national radioactive waste facility (for some hundreds of years), wrote to the Governor-General requesting that she not provide Assent to the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill of 2010 (as it was then). This is a matter of great importance for them.
This facility is to store low level radioactive waste and, as a ‘temporary’ measure, reprocessed rods from the Lucas Heights research nuclear reactor. It may well be the depleted uranium tipped edge of the wedge which says “We sell uranium overseas therefore we have a moral duty to take back the radioactive waste, and store it for the rest of time (on Aboriginal land somewhere remote).”
The Warlmanpa people received the usual bland reply from the Queen’s Australian proxy, and the legislation was duly proclaimed and is now an Act.
The Governor-General, on behalf of the Anglo-Australian sovereign, took no real interest in protecting the rights of Australia’s indigenous peoples in this pressing of issues.
We have no way of knowing whether or not the “Australian” Queen, and her family, has any personal investments in mining or other companies which may benefit from the decision to impose a radioactive waste facility on Warlmanpa people, and thus resolve a major headache for those who, like the present Federal Minister for Resources, fulsomely advocate the use of nuclear energy.
There is a consistent pattern of the Governor-General assenting to legislation which is clearly detrimental to the interests of Australia’s First Peoples, as assessed by and made public by Australia’s First Peoples.
The rights of First Peoples just do not get a look in in the process of forming legislation in the Australian Parliament. First Peoples, even as subjects of the Crown and citizens of Australia, are systematically treated as objects.
Former Prime Minister Howard’s amendments to the Native Title Act –promising bucket-loads of extinguishment of native title – and his infamous Northern Territory Intervention are two classic examples, but the list is a long one and includes legislation from both sides of Australian politics.
First Peoples in Australia are increasingly active in terms of raising issues about their rights in this country, including rights of self-determination and recognition of their sovereignty. Their list of concerns is a long one – see, for example,
That this country’s original peoples should be having to actively campaign for their rights after the long reign of Queen Elizabeth, as Queen of Australia, is telling comment of a long history of neglect by those in the highest positions.
Diamond Jubilee – Look at me, look at me!
In June 2012, while most people in the former British empire will be hypnotised by the central figure in a dazzling array, the criteria for assessing the performance of the Queen are not those of how well she has done in restoring the finances and patina of respectability of the British royal family, but the well-being of those most marginalised by the operations of forms of royal privilege in Australia forcefully imposed in Australia since 1788.
Replacing the singular sovereign, the Queen of Australia, with a system of governance which includes a system of representation for First Peoples as sovereign peoples will require a long political struggle.
There are many different major projects underway in Australia at this time which are making some effort to relate with local First Peoples. But the great injustices remain firmly in place. All those privileged people empowered by the present arrangements – megarich or just doing well – think things are not broke, and there is no need to fix them.
But life says otherwise – rainbow serpents are stirring – and life on the move is a far more powerful force than the inertia of the establishment’s status quo.