In 1967, 90 per cent of Australians voted in favour of a referendum that was sold as being about advancing Aborigines. For Australian politicians, the message was clear; there are votes in helping Aborigines. Almost 50 years on, Aborigines are defined by statistics of disadvantage despite the federal government spending almost $3.5 billion dollars each year to alleviate the disadvantage. (This is roughly half of what Greece needs to spend each year to service its national debt.)
While the federal government has been implementing its policies, various Aboriginal groups have been advocating for an assortment of rights that have sometimes been consistent with government policy and sometimes inconsistent. In 1972, four Aboriginal men set up a tent embassy on the lawns of Parliament House to demand land rights. Almost 50 years on, the embassy still exists but the demands have changed.
The ability of the federal government to advance Aborigines has been complicated by the diversity of experiences within the Aboriginal world, which have in turn made it difficult to respond to Aboriginal protests that lack a unified set of concerns. For example, 70 per cent of people who identify as Aboriginal live in cities. As a result, land rights and cultural rights mean something very different to them than the 30 per cent who live in rural areas and have had native title recognised over the land they live on. Likewise, an Aborigine who has black skin may feel they are discriminated against when taxis refuse to stop for them. On the other hand, an Aborigine with white skin wont struggle to get a taxi on the basis of how they look, however, they may feel they are victims of discrimination because other people don’t consider them to be Aborigines.
Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging the diversity, there has been a tendency from government and Aboriginal protesters to homogenise it. As a result, government policy towards Aborigines is made according to race rather than need or circumstance. Not surprisingly, the policies have mostly failed because one-size never fits all. Furthermore, Aboriginal leaders have asserted an agenda that may be in their personal interest but may not in the interests of many others. As a result, they have often divided not united.
The initial tent embassy protest in 1972 was about land rights. In response to the protests, in 1975 the Federal government established regional land councils and provided them with land that would aid Aboriginal economic empowerment. Sometimes this was land that the Aborigines were already on and sometimes it was land that the government purchased off farmers for them. They also gave the councils the power to restrict entry if the land council so desired, or veto mining if they so desired. The initial bills were framed for the Northern Territory but designed in such a way that they could be applied Australia wide at a later date.
The nature of land rights changed in the 1980s when the Labor Party developed the five principles approach to land rights that proposed: 1) Aboriginal land be held under freehold title 2) full legal protection of Aboriginal sites 3) Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land 4) access to mining royalty payments and 5) negotiated compensation for lost land.
Politically, the principles were difficult to implement so they remained principles only.
In 1992, an altenative approach to land rights was created after Eddie Mabo, a Torres Straight Islander, won the 1992 Mabo versus Queensland judgement. In the judgment, the High Court stated that land rights were not automatically extinguished when Queensland annexed the Torres Straight in 1879 and by extention, mainland rights had not been extinguished when Britain annexed Australia in 1770. They were, however, extinguished when a government sold or granted land and no compensation needed to be paid. Furthermore, the judgement stipulated the Crown was the sovereign power of Australia. This was clarified in Walker versus New South Wales (1995), when the High Court said,
The High Court used the Crown's sovereign powers to create a set of rules about how land could be claimed by Aborigines and subsequently used once claimed. The stipulations on land acquisition and use were quite different from those previously designed by the Federal government. Basically, the court said that if Aborigines could demonstrate continuous association with the land since 1788, then they could claim it; however, once claimed, it could not be sold. Unlike the Federal government's previous legislation, the criteria was designed to preserve traditional culture rather than aid economic advancement.
Because demonstrating over 200 years of continuous cultural associations was a difficult task, it needed the expertise of anthropologists and lawyers to show the associations in a way that a court could understand. (It was a prosperous time to be white person working on Aboriginal land claims.) If the justices had simply applied the common law test that a number of years of continous occupation constitutes ownership then these white professions would not have profited the way they did.
Environmentalist were another interest group that benefitted from the judgement. With an anti-development platform, the environmentalists believed that if crown land could be transferred to Aboriginal ownership, then the land could be protected against farming, mining and property development. The restrictions on Aborigines reselling the land or individually owning it made the land very difficult to develop economically, and therefore helped the environmentalists. This became apparent a few years later after titles were recognised and restrictions imposed. Aborigines then started getting pissed off at being told what they could do with their land. One of these was Warren Mundine, head of NSW Native Title Services, who said:
Richie Ahmat, chairman of the Cape York Land Council, went further and explained in more detail how environmental groups wanted Aborigines to behave:
Aside from imposing restrictions on land use and sale, the Mabo judgement caused some concern because it offered nothing to the 70% of the population who lived in cities and therefore were unable to show 200 years of unbroken association with the land.
Some Aborigines want to establish their own governments that function independently of Australian governments. Their legal power to do so was tested in the Isabel Coe v The Commonwealth (1993) decision. Claiming to act on behalf of the Wiradjuri nation, Ms Coe sought recognition of the sovereignty and autonomy of the Wiradjuri people. The claim was rejected because it sought to challenge the sovereignty of the state. In Walker versus New South Wales (1995), the High Court also used the precedent of the Mabo versus Queensland judgment to state,
Even though there is no legal base under current Australian law for sovereignty, the Federal government would probably be open to it if it believed it had a chance of working. Just as previous governments gave independence to Papua New Guinea when some activists asked for it, the government would give independence to Indigenous groups if they believed the groups could prosper. The cold economic reality is that the provision of welfare, education, health and housing for Aboriginal communities is more costly than any tax or any income derived from exploitation of the resources where the Aborigines are based. Furthermore, the image of Aborigines from these communities ending up in jail, dying young or complaining about human rights violations is embarrassing for governments.
The decision to grant independence to Papua New Guinea in 1975 but not Torres Strait Islanders perhaps best illustrates how the Australian government would be open to Aboriginal sovereignty if 1) it believed it could work and 2) that it was wanted by most Aborigines. By giving independence to PNG, the Federal government saved itself a lot of money and a great deal of international criticism. At the time, Papua New Guinea also wanted the Torres Straight Islanders between PNG and Australia to be part of their country; however, the majority of the Torres Straight islanders wanted to remain part of Australia.
In regards to creating a nation state for Australian Aborigines, not only are there different tribal identities that don't really want to be a shared nation, but native title is spread throughout Australia and 70 % of Aborigines live in cities. This would make it impossible to consolidate Aborigines with their land under new nation state.
Potentially, Aboriginal tribes that have had their title over land recognised could create a homeland like the type that existed in apartheid South Africa or like reservations in the USA. In many respects, such homelands already exist in outback settlements that are largely left to their own devices except for the provision of limited health, education and welfare services. There is little prospects of these settlements creating a soveign economy as the land often has little economic potential and is too isolated to be a gambling or tax haven.
Torres Straight Islanders could perhaps become sovereign or join Papua New Guinea. It has been suggested by politicians such as Bob Katter and Anna Bligh that this would be a good idea. Presently, the desire for Torres Straight indepedence seems to be more driven by non-Islander politicians; however, land rights activist Eddie Mabo did suggest it would also be a good idea. The lack of political activism by the Islanders for independence probably reflects a widespred belief that they are better off as part of Australia.
When invading China, the Americas and New Zealand, the British colonial government signed a treaty with the locals that clarified land use provisions and the locals' rights as British citizens. The treaties were always signed after the locals rebelled against the British and forced them to the bargaining table. In Australia, there was conflict but not the warfare to force the British to the bargaining table.
Aside from a lack of warfare, an additional problem was that Aboriginal social organisation was very different in Australia compared to other colonial countries. Specifically, almost every other colonial country was dominated by large groups organised in hierarchical social structures. At the top of the pyramid, a chief or monarch had the authority to make decisions for the group. In contrast, Australia had thousands of small tribes run by elders. Not only did the diversification of decision makers make it less likely to reach consensus, it also made it more difficult to find someone with the authority to make the final decision. For example, it was not possible for a colonial government to bring together elders in Sydney and expect they could sign a treaty on behalf of groups in the northern territory that had very different cultures and colonists had yet to even encounter. To an extent, the same problem exists today with elders and aunties all over Australia nominating themselves as the authority to speak for their people but not necessarily having the support or agreement of their people or agreement with other Indigenous people on the other side of the country.
In 1988, one group of elders did in fact nominate themselves as representing all Aboriginal groups when they presented prime minister Bob Hawke with the Barunga Statement which aimed to form the basis of a treaty. The treaty was largely written by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who had gained authority as chairman of the Northern Land Council. Among other things, the Barunga Statement called for Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination, and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights. Hawke responded that he wanted to sign a treaty by 1990.
Instead of signing a treaty, Hawke established ATSIC in 1990 to manage Aboriginal affairs. Hawke never explained his motivation for walking away from a treaty but it is likely that various Aboriginal groups needed representatives that were seen to be able to speak for them before a treaty could be signed. ATSIC was perhaps that pathway to having an agreed representative body.
As for later governments signing a treaty, in 1993, the Mabo versus Queensland judgement perhaps made many Aborigines feel a treaty would not be needed as they mistakenly believed the High Court had stated that Australia was stolen and needed to be returned. Rather than land dispute being resolved through a national treaty, individual tribes would make a land claim to be assessed by a committee.
Previously, Aborigines had a kind of self-government in the form of ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission.) ATSIC aimed to give Aborigines an independent voice and the power to run programs to help their people. This was a body created by the Hawke Labor government in 1990. It was dismantled by the Howard Liberal government in 2004 with the support of the Labor opposition .
ATSIC was shut down after it was broadly agreed by almost everyone outside of ATSIC that it had failed in its intentions. One problem was that many Aborigines didn't feel it represented them or their interests. For example, many referred to the body as "Aborigines Talking Shit in Canberra". Further reflecting the alienation, only around 10% of Aborigines voted in ATSIC elections. Some prominent female Aborigines also criticised the body for being dominated by males. Finally, there were numerous concerns raised at perceived financial irregularities (corruption).
After ATSIC was dismantled, Federal governments started hand picking individual Aborigines who they deemed would speak on behalf of all Aborigines. Those Aborigines that were chosen concurred that they could speak for others. Many of those who were not chosen did not concur.
To drink alcohol or ban alcohol
For the first 150 years of Australia’s colonial existence, alcohol abuse was a problem in all sections of Australian society. Despite problem drinking being a defining feature of Australian colonial life, it was Aborigines who were subjected to a ban on the consumption and possession of alcohol. NSW introduced the first prohibition in 1838 and similar bans had been extended to all states and territories by 1929.
According to some reports, the prohibition resulted in fear amongst Aborigines that they could be arrested for drinking. In response, they gravitated towards higher alcohol content beverages that were easier to carry (4). Furthermore, alcohol was drunk in unsupervised locations, around children and Indigenous people became criminals for simply doing something that was as normal for non-Indigenous people.
Unlike the risky pattern of consumption of Indigenous people, non-indigenous Australians drank in pubs and hotels where they developed the custom of the round which had a bias towards beer. As a consequence of the round, not only was a safer drink being drunk by non-Indigenous Australians, but it was done so in a supervised location and out of the presence of children. Over the decades, problem drinking reduced to the extent that, statistically speaking, Australia is a very moderate drinking nation by world standards. Although Australian per capita beer consumption is in the world’s top ten nations, per capita spirit consumption is not even in the top 20.
The race-based bans were progressively dismantled in the 1960s but the continuing legacy was an Indigenous cultural bias towards early drinking, goon bags, spirits and parks. In response, in the 1990s, bans were selectively implemented once more. To avoid charges of racism, the bans were based on geography rather than race; however, it just so happens that the bans were on geographic areas dominated by Aborigines. The obvious race-based intention of the bans provoked one Indigenous woman, Joan Maloney, to take her case to the High Court 2013 after being charged for the possession of a rum and coke. The High Court found against her and stated that bans were justified as they were a special measure needed to advance Indigenous people. According to justice French
In other words, whenever a political branch of government decides that a policy is good for Aborigines (based upon some statistically difference between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians), governments are allowed to introduce racially discriminatory policies to improve the lives of Indigenous people. There is no need for government to be accountable for side-effects of the policy, to set an end date for the discriminatory policies or even consult the targets of the social engineering program to ascertain whether they want to be moulded in the manner desired by government.
Today, many of the ban-alcohol-policies stem from a misreading of statistics to produce inaccurate stereotypes. For example, in one media report, Peter McAllister (an anthropologist and lecturer in journalism at Griffith University) suggested there may be a genetic base to the Indigenous struggles with drink (6). McAllister didn’t state what the genetic problem actually was, but off the public record, some academics have proposed Indigenous people have low levels of the dehydrogenase enzyme in their liver (an enzyme needed to break down ethanol) which results in Aborigines being drunk for longer. It is silly belief because, even if it were true, large people have a greater tolerance to alcohol than small people yet size is not a predicator of susceptibility to alcohol abuse. In short, alcohol abuse is a cultural rather than biological problem.
Research has found a loose kernel of truth in the stereotype that Indigenous people struggle with grog relative to non-Indigenous people but not because of low levels of dehydrogenase. For example, a 2004 study found that around 15% of Indigenous Australians drank at risky levels of consumption. This figure was almost double the rate of non-indigenous Australians. (7) Of course, the figure could also be interpreted as showing that around 8 out of 10 Indigenous Australians DO NOT drink at risky levels just as around 9 out of 10 Australians do not drink at risky levels. Unfortunately, policy for the majority who are doing the right thing is based off trying to fix the minority doing the wrong thing. Furthermore, statistics are interpreted to indicate a problem exists with an Indigenous group when a truer reading would indicate that no problem exists for the majority of the group.
To be subjected to intervention or not
Issues of concern to an Aboriginal academic in inner-city Sydney are very different to those of an Aborigine living in a bush camp in the Northern Territory. For example, indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt, who lives in Sydney, was opposed to the Federal government intervening in the Northern Territory (2007) to help Aboriginal people living there. Among other things, the intervention included an increased provision of commonwealth social services, restrictions on alcohol and pornography and compulsory acquisition of townships held under native title. The intervention was supported by Bess Price, an Indigenous woman who lives in the Northern Territory. In response to hearing Price state her support for the intervention, Behrendt said that she found watching bestiality to be less offensive that Price's views.
Likewise, Indigenous leader Warren Mundine responded to a UN report saying the intervention was racist by saying
To have policy based on need not race
Collectively, the three tiers of Australian government have scholarships, jobs, affordable housing, welfare, and social assistance reserved for Aboriginal people. It has been argued that, because the programs are offered on the basis of race instead of need, they have created an an incentive for people who have had a distant Aboriginal ancestor to seek to be recognised as Aboriginal despite lacking the disadvantage the programs are designed to alleviate.
Some Aborigines have advocated changing the criteria for provision so that it is based on need not race. Not only would providing on the basis of need make Aboriginal identification less of a public issue, but it would also ensure that money would be spent on helping those Aborigines in need, not further enriching Aborigines who are already well off. In words of Professor Marcia Langton:
To be seen as an Aborigine, to be seen as an individual or to change the Aboriginal stereotype
Social identities are a source of conflict. Sometimes they cause conflict because individuals adopt a social identity and subsequently become offended when others continue to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the social group. For example, a Muslim may be offended if he went to a dinner party and was offered a beer. The gesture might indicate that his culture was not being respected. Sometimes social identities cause conflict because individuals adopt a conception of a social identity and assert it is representative of the group when it is not. For example, an Australian with a ute may have a bumper sticker stating, "Real Australians drive utes" which might offend those Australians who don't but still consider themselves real Australians. Sometimes social identites cause conflict because the social identities are applied onto people who would prefer to be treated as individuals. For example, a migrant athiest from Iraq might be offended by not being offered a beer at a dinner party out of a belief that people from Islamic countries don't drink alcohol.
Shane Mortimer was an example of an individual adopting a social identity and being offended that someone continued to see him in individualistic terms. In his 30s, Mortimer discovered that he had Aboriginal ancestry and he subsequently created an Aboriginal social identity that included speaking about his ancestors and wearing a possum skin coat. Mortimer’s chosen identity was a source of amusement for Don Atkin, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra. Atkin wrote on a blog that Mortimer’s references to his ancestors had him scratching his head and that his possum cloak was too regular in its markings. Mortimer was outraged and sued Atkin for $6.5 million, claiming the insult upon him was an insult upon all Aboriginal people.
Anita Hess was an example of someone being offended because other people had a stereotype of the Aboriginal identity that was inconsistent with her own. Hess' identity as an Aboriginal was formed while growing up in a household with an Austrian father and an Aboriginal mother. In her book, “Am I Black Enough for You?” Hess described herself as "a concrete Koori with Westfield dreaming." She rejected the traditional stereotype of Aborigines as ochre face painters and boomerang throwers. Furthermore, she noted the inconsistency of western society celebrating its cultural diversity when it opened itself to change but then sympathising with Aborigines for “cultural loss” when it did the same. Basically, she had an identity as an Aboriginal person but wanted to be treated as a westener that was open to change and modern society.
Dallas Scott was an example of someone who wanted to escape the negative social stereotypes of Aborigines that were always applied to him. Scott was dark-sinned Aborigine who grew up with white foster parents. Because of his obvious Aboriginal appearance, Scott never had to wear possum cloaks or speak of his ancestors in order to be seen as Aboriginal. Instead, his concern was that he could not escape the stereotype of Aboriginal disadvantage (criminality, poor education, domestic violence) that was always applied to him on the basis of his physical appearance. In his own words:
To be recognised as Aboriginal, or to have others not recognised as Aboriginal.
Aborigines do not all have the same skin colour and their physical differences shape their experiences as Aborigines. Some of the issues associated with identification were discussed on SBS’s Insight program. On the show, a black skinned Aborigine named Dallas Scott explained how his experience as an Aborigine was different from the white Aborigines on the basis of his skin colour. He gave an example of how the other Aborigines in the audience could walk out of the studio and easily hail a taxi because they looked white; however, he would struggle because he was black. Scott also explained that when he applied for a certificate of Aboriginality, it was denied, even though he was obviously of Aboriginal descent. Ironically, someone who was treated as an Aboriginal in the operation of all aspects of his daily life was not legally recognised as an Aborigine.
Northern Territory MP and full blood Aboriginal woman Bess Price has also expressed concern that people with a dubious link to Aboriginality are claiming to be Aboriginal. For Price, the concern seems to be that the white Aborigines are recogniseed as cultural experts despite having no links to culture. Price has likened the situation to an American with a distant Russian ancestor being appointed to a diplomatic position to Russia on the grounds that he or she is Russian and therefore has knowledge of the culture. Just as Russians would be somewhat offended when having to deal with such a person that really doesn’t have insights into Russian culture, Price has been offended by having to deal with the white Aborigines that claim to be cultural experts but really know nothing at all. Finally, Price also stated that the white Aborigines were causing conflict by only identifying with their Aboriginal ancestry as they were creating an us-and-them dynamic with non-Aboriginal people. (Price was married to a Caucasian man and has mixed race children.)
The white Aborigines have usually reacted with hostility when their Aboriginality has been questioned. For example, some white Aborigines who had their Aboriginality questioned by white journalist Andrew Bolt took him to court for racial discrimination. Bolt was found guilty and ordered to cease making the claims that they were identifying with Aboriginality for personal advantage.
One white Aborigine, Kerryn Pholi, gained numerous benefits from her identification but then decided that the whole system was racist and she subsequently destroyed her certificate of Aboriginality. When explaining her actions, Pholi wrote:
Cultural awareness in education
Some Aborigines want cultural education to be a two-way street. As well as learning from mainstream Australia, they want mainstream Australia to learn about and understand them. Because the government has been very open to such requests, it funds cultural awareness lessons for police, social workers, health workers and teachers. The aim of the lessons is to help the organisations understand how Aborigines think so that the cultural understandings can be relied upon when Aborigines are encountered.
The actual research that has been used to conclude how Aborigines think has sometimes been highly dubious. In the case of some of the education programs, the instructor is often deemed to have insight into the Aboriginal mind because he or she has some Aboriginal ancestry. Defining someone as an expert on Aboriginal cultures because he or she has some Aboriginal ancestry is a bit like defining someone an expert on winemaking because he or she has French ancestry or someone as an expert on cricket because he or she has British ancestry. In reality, cultural insights are not recorded in DNA. Rather than skin colour, initiation scars may have been a more valuable visual cue to decide if someone knew about culture.
Just as dubious methods have been used to define the experts of Aboriginal culture, the experts' conclusions and the use of their conclusions has sometimes been highly dubious as well. In education, researchers Hughes, More and Williams (2004) created a set of criteria that they deemed to define Aboriginal learning styles. Specifically, they wrote:
Although the research might have been well intentioned, the research was extremely racist because it homogenised behaviour and learning style on the basis of genetic ancestry. In truth, in any group of people, there are a diversity of learning styles and behaviours. Irrespective of whether someone has Aboriginal ancestry or not, some people are visual, some linguistic, some kinetic, some introverted, some extroverted, some considerate to others and some egocentric. Admittedly, individuals are socialised in a culture defined by some common behavioural styles, but Aboriginal cultures throughout Australia are not uniform and cultures never completely suppress individual personality. For example, some Caucasion Australians see the group as more important than the individual despite individualism being championed in Australian myths while some Chinese put themselves before the group despite Chinese cultural myths advocating the opposite.
In Queensland, a program designed to show respect to Aborigines was an example of the racism turned into a lesson. A silly curriculum writer proposed using rocks and leaves to teach Indigenous perspectives in a maths lesson. (1) It seemed a great idea to a principal who subsequently instructed a teacher to issue rocks and leaves to an Indigenous student as part of the program. (Other students in the class were to be given calculators.) The teacher on the coalface found it highly racist and refused. Perhaps the principal was just an idiot, but the more likely explanation was that he or she wanted their resume to state that he or she had implemented a learning program to help Aboriginal students. Such a line would definately help their career, irrespective of whether it harmed the Aboriginal students.
Arguably, the stereotypes of Aboriginal learning styles are defined to justify the style of teaching, not to meet the needs of Aboriginal students. Specifically, the stereotypes suit the teacher that wants to get away from fact retention, writing and sequential planning in favour of some kind of holistic creativity that he or she can make up on the day. Catering to "disadvantaged Aboriginal students" becomes the justification for the style of teaching and the exercises created. While giving an Aboriginal kid leaves and stones in a maths lesson may be visual, unstructured, contextual and a good example of trial and error learning, showing the student how to use a calculator would have opened far more doors for the student.
It isn’t only High Schools that have implemented cultural awareness lessons of dubious merit. Aboriginal man Dallas Scott has taken aim at Monash University for stereotyping Aboriginal women as abused and Aboriginal men as oppressive under the guise of cultural awareness. According to Scott:
The right to be targeted for race-specific laws made by the Federal government or not
When the Australian constitution was written, the Federal government was given the power to make laws targeted at any race except Aborigines. The intention of these laws was to give the Federal government the power to discriminate against Chinese, Indian and Pacific Island labour that was undermining union power, and also pass laws that could advantage whites who might be having trouble competing with non-white labour.
Although the Federal government could not make laws targeted at Aborigines, state governments could. They used this power to create laws aimed at protecting Aborigines, but in truth, dehumanised and isolated them. For example, the consorting provisions of the South Australian Police Act were designed to protect Aboriginal women from white "sexual predators", but they were also used to prevent socialising between men. One white Australian man even discovered that he was breaking the law because he gave his Aboriginal mate a trip to work.
Not only were Aborigines victims of these laws, so were whites who wanted to socialise with Aborigines. In all probability, many of the white men who abandoned the children they had with Aboriginal women only did so because they could have been prosecuted for having relationships with Aboriginal women. Even if they weren’t prosecuted, the social stigma created by the laws would have persuaded many men to run away from their relationships. This definitely seemed to be the case with Tom O'Donohue, the father of Lowitja O’Donoghue, the former head of the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission (ATSIC). Tom lived with Lowitja’s mother until the South Australian government amended the Aborigines Act to prosecute white men who were consorting with Aboriginal women. Tom was convicted of carnal knowledge and fined £5 with 10 shillings costs. He was then forced to sell his lease, abandon his defacto wife of 20 years and move to Adelaide.
By the 1960s, it had become quite apparent that state governments were not using the power wisely and that it was problematic having different laws for different states. Consequently, the Federal government proposed a referendum aimed at extending its race power laws to include Aborigines. The aim was not to discriminate against Aborigines, but to discriminate in their favour (as the states believed they had been doing.) The Australian public at large probably didn’t know much about the Federal government's exact intentions or the laws themselves, but equality sounded like a good thing and 90% voted yes.
Not all Aborigines were happy with the result of the referendum either. The chairman of the Northern Land Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu said:
Aborigines on the eastern half of Australia gained the rights of British citizens in 1770 when Captain Cook claimed eastern Australia for Great Britain. They claimed Australian citizenship rights in 1948 when Australian citizenship was created.
Admittedly, Aborigines' status as Australian citizens was restricted by state laws defining them as Aborigines in need of special protection. To claim equal citizenship, Aborigines had to stop being classed as Aborigines. In an absurd case, artist Albert Namatjira was prosecuted for sharing alcohol with his family. Namatjira had taken out full Australian citizenship, which gave him permission to drink alcohol, but because his family had not, he was not allowed to share a drink with them.
When the colonies of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and NSW framed their constitutions in the 1850s, they gave the vote to all male subjects over the age of 21, Aborigines included. Admittedly, most Aborigines didn’t know about their voting rights and perhaps didn’t care. It wasn’t until the 1890s that any Aborigines actually commenced voting.
When the various colonies federated into one nation in 1901, Aborigines were not given the federal vote; however, they did retain their state voting rights and these state voting rights gave them federal voting rights. Under section 41 of the federal constitution, any person who held a state vote also held a federal vote. Legally, Aborigines in NSW, Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia have been allowed to vote in all federal elections. Admittedly, most Aborigines didn't know about their federal voting rights and perhaps didn't care. For people living in the bush, there are more interesting issues to think about than Question Time in Canberra.
The Federal government officially gave the Commonwealth vote to all Aborigines in 1962. The states of Queensland and WA gave Aborigines the state vote around the same time.
Flying the Aboriginal flag
In Aboriginal protest marches in the 1960s and early 1970s, Aborigines were outnumbered by non-Aborigines wanting to show their support. Being outnumbered by whites was a concern to Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, so in 1971 he designed the Aboriginal flag. Thomas hoped it would be a rallying symbol to get more Aborigines to come along to protest, and also signal Aborigines as a distinct group. The black is said to represent the Aboriginal people, the red the earth and their spiritual relationship to the land, and the yellow the sun, the giver of life. Thomas said he deliberately put black on top of the red to make the flag appear more disturbing and reflect its protest function.
The Aboriginal flag was first raised in Victoria Square in Adelaide on National Aboriginal Day in 1971. It was adopted nationally by Aborigines after it was flown above the Aboriginal tent embassy outside of the old Parliament House in Canberra.
Ironically, many governments and schools now fly the Aboriginal protest flag aside the official flag. A further irony is that many non-Aborigines want to be represented by the flag as well. So much so, they have called for the flag to replace the Union Jack on Australia's official flag. This is unlikely to occur as Harold Thomas has declared his desire for it to remain separate.
Some Aborigines have lobbied to have cultural rights in which any dispute between Aborigines is heard in koori courts in accordance with Aboriginal customary law. Some koori courts have been created; however, they only deal with relatively minor issues. Extending the power of the koori courts has been complicated by the fact that while many perpetrators want to go through the koori justice system, many victims want equal rights as Australian citizens, which requires access to the Australian legal system. For example, in 2005 an Australian court heard that a 55-year-old Aboriginal elder anally raped a 14-year-old Aboriginal girl, imprisoned her for four days and repeatedly beat her. The man believed his actions were perfectly acceptable in his culture and he was surprised at appearing before the courts. As far as he was concerned, the girl had been promised to him at the age of four, but she had dishonoured him by having a boyfriend before their marriage. According to his view on tribal law, the elder was perfectly entitled to educate her in the manner that he did. In fact, if he didn't educate her, he was not fulfilling his duties as an elder. The girl's family had further legitimised the actions of the man. Her grandmother had collected the girl, and taken her to the man so that he could rape and beat her. While the 14-year-old understood the cultural laws, she did not want to be bound by them. Consequently, she reported her rape, beating and imprisonment to the police.
Northern Territory's Chief Justice, Bryan Martin, was keen to show his respect for Aboriginal culture, and only sentenced him to a month in jail. Martin then expressed his sympathy for the Aboriginal man's predicament. By giving such a lenient sentence, Martin denied the girl the right to equal justice as an Australian citizen.
Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine subsequently criticised Martin and stated:
Acknowledgment of Aboriginal custodianship of the land
Welcome to Country ceremonies are performed to acknowledge that Aborigines are the traditional owners of the land. They are performed before many political rallies, school assemblies, civic openings, art exhibitions, public service information sessions, weddings, sporting events, and basically any place where people gather. The ceremonies go:
The custom was created in 1976 by Ernie Dingo and Richard Walley in 1976 and quickly spread throughout Australia.
Compensation for the stolen generations
From the 1980s to the early naughties, many Aborigines were campaigning for a formal apology and compensation payments to mixed race Aborigines who ended up in Catholic missions from the 1900s to 1970s.
The campaign was started by Professor Peter Reid, a white historian from the University of Sydney, who said his research showed that 100,000 people had been removed from their mother's communities. The stories of the Stolen Generations was told in the official 1997 report : "Bringing Them Home - Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families." The report concurred that 100,000 had been removed, which was about one in three children.
White academic Robert Manne later revised the figure to 30,000, which was one in ten.
In 2008, the white Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations, but refused to pay compensation. After delivering the apology, Rudd recorded the highest level of popularity of any prime minister in Australian history.
For numerous reasons, paying compensation was impractical for the Federal government. From a legal perspective, the Federal government wasn't liable because it had been constitutionally forbidden to make laws targeted at Aborigines until 1967. If Aborigines had ended up in Catholic missions due to the colour of their skin, it was not due to Federal government policy. State governments had the power to remove Aborigines but this legal fact was ignored in media campaigns. Perhaps this was because most activists and politicians felt that in order to be a unifying campaign, it needed to be one campaign not a state-by-state campaign. That meant targeting the Federal government despite recognising the Federal government was not legally responsible.
Another problem with paying compensation was that the stories of removal would have had to be checked and public servants would need to be named and shamed. The potential problems of such checking was apparent when journalists took it upon themselves to check the history of some of the activists who said they had been stolen (something the Bringing them Home Report had failed to do.) In one case, a journalist revealed that Lowitja O'Donoghue, the former head of the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission, had not been stolen as she had previously claimed. In reality, her white father had placed her and her sisters in a Catholic boarding school, and paid for their upkeep. (Lowitjia's father had been somewhat forced to put his children into boarding school after the South Australian government amended the Aborigines Act to prosecute white men who were consorting with Aboriginal women. )
The publication of the story eroded the credibility of an Aboriginal icon. Furthermore, if O'Donoghue had not known the truth, the revelation undermined her identity and relationship to her family. Potentially, the deflating experience suffered by O'Donoghue would have been suffered by thousands of others who believed they had been stolen from loving mothers when perhaps the truth was they had been abandoned by parents who didn't care.
Shamming public servants had also been divisive. In the movie Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), Reverend Neville had been shamed as a racist, but his own descendants found the accusation to be defamatory and inconsistent with how he was thought of by the Aborigines he associated with.
Even though the federal government ruled out paying compensation, Aborigines were still able to access the courts to have their cases individually checked if they so desired. In 2000, legal action was initiated by Lorna Cubillo, 62, and Peter Gunner, 53 - both of whom had been removed as children in the Northern Territory (administered by the Federal government). Both Ms Cubillo and Mr Gunner wept as they testified about the way they were stolen from their mother's communities, and subsequently suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of missionaries.
Official records did not support their claims that the government had used skin colour to decide that they should be taken. The official records showed Lorna Cubillo was taken from her grandmother's care in 1940 and placed with the Aboriginal community in the Ration Depot at Seven Mile Creek. The community was moved to Six Mile Creek in 1942 and to the Phillip Creek Settlement in 1945. In 1947 she was taken from Phillip Creek to the Retta Dixon home in Darwin. She stayed at Retta Dixon until her 18th birthday in 1956. Peter Gunner was born on the 19th of September 1948 on Utopia Cattle Station. He was committed by the Director of Welfare, Harry Giese, to St Mary's Hostel in Alice Springs on the 24th May 1956. In a deflating revelation for Mr Gunner, the government was able to show that the committal was only approved after receiving the consent of his mother.
On August 11 2000, Justice Maurice O'Loughlin dismissed the federal government's liability on the grounds that there had been a failure to prove that the Commonwealth authorities had ignored the children’s best interests by removing them from their families.
To be mentioned in the Australian constitution
In 2012, a panel of Aborigines, appointed by the Federal government, delivered the Federal government a report outlining plans to change the Australian constitution to specifically mention Aborigines. The panel claimed to have consulted widely in Aboriginal communities and found that they wanted to prohibit the commonwealth, states or territories from creating laws that discriminated on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic or national origin. However, the panel added that this did not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of "overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group".
The two statements were contradictory and perhaps reflected the mixed feelings that the Aboriginal panel had in regards to Federal government power. On one hand, they recognised that previous empowerment programs had harmed Aborigines with their nannying policies. However, perhaps they also looked at the annual expenditure on Aborigines and imagined what they could do if they were able to administer or guide the programs themselves. Perhaps they also realised that if the Federal government did not have power to specifically target Aborigines, then it would be pointless for Federal politicians to speak to Aboriginal leaders in the future, or even create panels of Aboriginal leaders. Perhaps the panel realised that the Fedral government wanted it to deliver certain findings and if it didn't, the government would assemble another panel of Aboriginal leaders that would give the findings that the government wanted.
A constitutional requirement for Indigenous consultation
In 2017, 250 Indigenous leaders were invited to meet at Uluru with the intention of giving a united voice for constitutional change. The statement distanced itself from the Recognise campaign that had been supported by the Federal government. Specifically, the statement called for a constitutional requirement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be consulted on legislation and policy that affected their communities. In addition, it called for a ‘Makarrata Commission’, which some saw as a treaty. The word itself comes from the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land and refers to two parties coming together after a struggle and healing the divisions of the past.
Since the gathering was by invitation only, many Indigenous people who were not invited felt that they were not represented. Furthermore, 7 of the 250 who were invited refused to sign the statement out of fears that recognition within the Australian constitution would amount to a concession that Aborigines do not have sovereignty. One of these dissenting voices was Jenny Munroe, who said,
For various reasons, the Uluru statement was later rejected by the federal parliament with concerns coming from both sides of parliament. Some MPs (including Indigenous MPs) encouraged support for the previous Recognise campaign. Others felt there would be an inevitable conflict when an elected parliament would have to consult a representative body that may or may not have been elected itself.
To express their own voice
Many of the Aboriginal protesters at Canberra's tent embassy refuse to talk to government. They are not on any hand-picked advisory panels, they do not write reports in return for funding, and they do not receive awards on Australian Day and proceed to give a speech supporting government policy. In many ways, they are the closest thing there is to an authentic Aboriginal voice in Canberra.
Tent embassy protesters express their voice
Questions to think about
How would politicians feel about being subjected to the policies that politicians have imposed on Aborigines?
Over the last century, politicians have developed numerous strategies to counter problem drinking in Aboriginal communities. Meanwhile, binge drinking has been rife in Parliament House. For example, Australia’s first prime minister, Edmond Barton, was known as Toby Tosspot" due to his fondness for a drink. Another Prime Minister John Gorton, inspired the euphemism "Gorton's Flu" in reference to a hang over. Still another, Bob Hawke, held an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. Aside from the leaders, countless politicians have been renowned for their long lunches, and their use of grog to pass the time. More recently, it was alleged that Peter Slipper, the former Speaker of the House (deemed to be the most moral position in parliament), got drunk and urinated out a window, frequently passed out in Parliament House from drinking red wine, and was thrown out of a bar for being drunk and obnoxious.
Would the following strategies would be effective in countering problem drinking amongst politicians:
What is Aboriginal “disadvantage” ?
According to Posselt (2000)
Look at the pictures below. They were taken in Darwin in 1981 and show Aborigines and non-Aborigines drinking on the opporsite side of the street.
How does defining the Aboriginal stereotype with statistics of social failure influence how individual Aborigines are treated?
There are tens of thousands of media stories written about Indigenous people. A common thread in the stories are
ANU academic Nicholas Biddle believes all Australians need to know that every part of Australia indigenous status predicts poorer socioeconomic outcomes. Do you agree?
The Aboriginal Industry
In 2016, Chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, said,
Likewise, in 2013, the Indigenous Mayor of Palm Island, Alf Lacey, said,
There are many possible examples of the waste and gravy train referred to by Mundine and Lacey. In 2005, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs spent $327,784 to administer funding of just $34,318. Likewise, in 2005, the NSW parliament heard allegations that The Hillsong Church had exploited black groups to gain federal funds. It was alleged that the Hillsong church received $415,000 in funding to run programs for the Riverstone Aboriginal Community, based around Blacktown in Sydney's west. The budget proposed that most of the $415,000 would pay the salary for the project officer and administration. Community activities, such as dance nights and social integration lessons, would account for only a few thousand dollars.
1)Binnie, Kerrin (2010) Rocks, leaves on Indigenous learning agenda http://www.australianews.com.au/australia/queensland/darlingdowns/toowoomba/story?cityid=9901bdf5-f527-4b68-852d-149172949fd4&storyid=5b859ac9-bc45-4663-9894-630f7b9c9ef6
2)Hughes, P., A More, A. J Williams, M (2004). Aboriginal Ways of Learning. Adelaide.
3)Robinson, N (2010, September 30). Indigenous urban dwellers better off but not happier The Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/indigenous-urban-dwellers-better-off-but-not-happier/story-e6frg6nf-1225931996865 Accessed 2010
4)Beckett J, Reay M (1964) Aborigines, alcohol and assimilation. In: Aborigines Now. Sydney: Angus & Robertson
6)Fight for the right to drink on Palm Island, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/fight-for-the-right-to-drink-on-palm-island/story-fn9hm1pm-1226589532727
7)Wilson M, Stearne A, Gray D, Sherry S (2010) The harmful use of alcohol amongst Indigenous Australians. Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet. http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/uploads/docs/alcohol_review_june_2010.pdf
8)FactCheck Q&A: is $30 billion spent every year on 500,000 Indigenous people in Australia?http://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-is-30-billion-spent-every-year-on-500-000-indigenous-people-in-australia-64658