Is it just me or is this paragraph by Paul Sheehan (SMH 28 Jan) internally contradictory?
“So Peris, whose most significant political role before Senator Crossin’s kneecapping was her support for a race treaty, will have to confront the reality that the policies of separatism have done nothing to improve the lives of the most impoverished people in Australia, the communities of traditional Aborigines that are struggling to survive the indignities of a feudal system imposed by Canberra.”
By way of context, Sheehan is referring to the earlier involvement of Nova Peris in the treaty process:
“After she retired from sport, Peris was hired to work as a ”treaty ambassador” by the now-defunct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. The job required her to travel the country, tax-funded, to campaign for a treaty that enshrined indigenous rights in the Australian constitution. This treaty idea was a lofty distraction from the real-world problems ATSIC faced with endemic corruption and incompetence.
ATSIC’s failure served as both a metaphor and a warning to the dangers of racial separatism, but in 2010 Gillard commissioned a panel of indigenous advisers to draft amendments to the constitution that would formalise separate recognition for indigenous culture. After a year, the panel delivered its report at the end of 2011.”
(The Howard Government attack and demise of ATSIC is a story waiting to be properly told, and Sheehan’s brief sketch is far more ideology than fact.)
On the one hand, according to Sheehan, we have ‘the policies of separatism’ (which, it is asserted, have done nothing to improve the lives of people in communities of traditional First Peoples) and, on the other, ‘the indignities of a feudal system imposed by Canberra’.
It would seem self-evident that ‘the indignities of a feudal system imposed by Canberra’ is one very good reason why there is a real need for policies of separatism which provide for a good measure of self-determination for ‘traditional Aborigines’ who are the most impoverished people in Australia.
Those who align seamlessly with the norms which form the core of the modern Anglo-Australian state find it virtually incomprehensible that, in the 21st century, anyone can seriously assert that Australia’s First Peoples are captive of the modern nation-state.
The existence of “the indignities of a feudal system imposed by Canberra” does not lead them to exercises of the creative imagination in which two peoples can co-exist in mutually respecting ways (as cultural partners) which are the antithesis of apartheid.
In order to avoid the evils of apartheid they insist on a monoculturally defined one-size fits all form of national identity. Power-sharing and notions of co-existing sovereignty are automatically dismissed as real life options.
But I admit I don’t really know what Paul Sheehan has in mind by the expression – ‘feudal system imposed by Canberra’.
While the infamous Howard-Rudd-Gillard NT Intervention is the thing which first comes to mind when you link ‘indignities’ and a ‘feudal system imposed by Canberra’ the SMH columnist may have something else in mind.
ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS (NT) ACT
It certainly cannot be argued that, in the case of the Northern Territory, the policies which provided for the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act have done nothing to improve the lives of ‘traditional’ First Peoples in the NT.
For all its shortcomings it represented a major improvement in the long slow process of adjusting introduced systems of law to the realities of First Peoples lives and cultures.
The protection of important sacred sites – a key issue for many senior indigenous law people and those whose lives are intimately linked with those sites – makes for an enormous contribution to the well-being of First Peoples.
Additionally, the official Anglo-Australian recognition of traditional owners for large areas of what was regarded formerly as ‘unalienated Crown land’ and, in some cases, ‘pastoral leases’, has resulted in numerous improvements to the living conditions for many First Peoples in the Northern Territory.
So I am not quite sure what Paul Sheehan is referring to when he invokes such matters in a sweeping statement which seeks to dismiss the policies of separatism – such as those, presumably, which are associated with the need for a treaty (or treaties) and recognition of First Peoples as First Peoples in the inherently racist British Act of Parliament which we know as the 1901 Australian Constitution.
However, the point which I do wish to tease out is comparatively simple.
SEPARATISTS OF THE MOST EXTREME KIND
Those who dogmatically assert that the “policies of separatism” are to be dismissed are not taking a politically neutral position but are completely aligning with a cluster of norms which seek to preserve and reserve the massive amounts of vested interest and privilege which make up (fabricate) a fundamentally mono-cultural Anglo-Australia.
They are, indeed, separatists of the most extreme kind – they insist there can only be one Way – their way. They are not against separatism – Anglo-Australia is separatism incarnate.
They are against conceiving of alternatives to the monolithic power blocks in which they have found a small life-niche.
CANBERRA – ETHNOCIDAL CAPITAL?
Ethnocide against First Peoples is both ‘normal’ and all pervasive in modern Australia. And found in the most unlikely places
It is clear, for example, from Cabinet documents from the time of the framing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act that great care was taken to ensure that particular groups of First Peoples would not be able to become wealthy as a result of the recognition of their limited rights in country.
No problem that other Canberra laws made it possible for the Lang Hancocks (and their heirs) to amass fantastic personal wealth and come to dominate so much of life in this country. Indeed, some argue, to now not only bestow their patronage on First Peoples in order to gain a ‘social licence’ but to also control our governments.
And it was another policy from Canberra which granted Self-Government to the Northern Territory in 1978 and placed absolutely enormous power in the hands of the cowboy Country-Liberal Party – who (in the name of “Good Territorians”) immediately set about attacking the comparatively modest gains of Aboriginal Land Rights – legitimised institutionalised “Black Bashing”. Life as ‘normal’ in modern Australia.
REFUSAL TO SHARE CONCEPTUAL SPACE
This country is the long-time home of Peoples, cultures, languages and ways which have origins which predate the beginnings of farming and village life in Europe. This country is their home first and foremost.
The deeply ingrained Anglo-Australian refusal to share sovereignty, the refusal to negotiate a treaty (or treaties), the refusal to provide Constitutional recognition of First Peoples, the refusal to recognise the existence of Two Laws (in Central Australia at least),the refusal to learn and teach the languages of this country – are all part of the reason why modern Anglo-Australia will most likely fail the real life test of survival – an inability to adapt in the timely manner.
The British foundations of modern Anglo-Australia (Australia for the White Man) are not only faulty they are long overdue for an overhaul by way of a new design and implementation.
A new design and process of implementation which is, first and foremost, an agreed new design and implementation process between cultural partners – indigenous and non-indigenous Australian peoples.
TIMELY STRENGTHENING OR EARTHQUAKE MODEL?
Life is on the move and will most certainly change – there is no stopping that – the real choice is whether or not it is gradual and constructive or sudden and destructive.
To conceive of the challenges we confront in terms of ‘either/or’ logic (which underwrites expressions such as ‘the policies of separatism’) belongs with the outmoded cultural apparatus of modern Anglo-Australia.
This outmoded cultural apparatus is one in which it appears meaningful to talk of ‘race’. The prior and ongoing presence of First Peoples in this country has nothing to do with the ideology of ‘race’ (which was very much present in the late 1890s when the Australian Constitution was formed).
A new mindset is required – and one which provides absolutely no room for ‘racism’ in any form.
NEED FOR NEW CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS
The modern nation-state rests on conceptual foundations which divide life up – modern nation states insist that life has major boundaries. This kind of thinking is ‘blocked’ in many different forms.
As we move into the 21st century, and seek to realign life with our real surroundings, we need to find gentle ways to dissolve those blockages. We can’t really expect to read of such matters in the columns of mainstream media.
So, a plea to other conceptual craftspeople – we need far more both-and examples in the public mind of how to solve life problems (caused by divisive either-or thinking) without replicating the very ill we seek to cure.
To heal life in this country we do well to embrace a ‘both-and’ approach and seek out new forms of interactive and interrelated co-existence between Peoples.
It has to be possible – and you need look no further than the ‘moiety’ systems of indigenous Australia to find well tested examples.