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A bad week for Aboriginal rights



According to anecdotal evidence conveyed by Ryan 'Fitzy' Fitzgerald this week on The Project, Pauline Hanson arrived at Uluru on Wednesday, climbed up to 'chicken rock' (where the chains begin for people who embark upon the full ascent), slid back down on her backside and then, several hours later, met with some Anangu elders to 'get permission' to climb Uluru. 

Pauline Hanson at Uluru (@PaulineHansonOz via Twitter)It was an elaborate media stunt by Hanson, geared around showing just how little respect she has for the local traditional owners and their ruling to close the climb in October while she concurrently pretends to respect traditional owners by posing for photos with them and expressing 'concern' with regards to impacts on regional tourism should the climb close. Why do I say this? For the simple reason that for months she has been exhibiting this disrespect in the media while she stirs up the rabid hordes who hang around her social media channels.

This entire disrespectful farce was but one illustration of how this week has gone when it comes to showing respect for Indigenous rights and views.

It's been a big week. On Monday, there was an episode of ABC's QandA on Constitutional Reform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Voice to Parliament. It could have been quite an interesting discussion.

Instead, key debates were truncated for the purposes of television, audience questions went unanswered at times, and the only guest opposed to constitutional reform for recognition and a voice was Jacinta Price. I'm not saying Price should not have been a part of the conversation, but as she is a conservative tending alt-right at times, Price was incapable of adequately representing the views of a much larger group of Indigenous dissenters — the sovereignty activists.

It's ironic really. Had it not been for sovereignty activist voices eventually breaking through the cacophony of ill-informed white men and highlighting Indigenous dissent to the Recognise campaign as well as the lack of community consultation, combined with some members of the Expert Panel highlighting just how far the government had taken the discussion off course, community consultations may not have even taken place leading eventually to the summit at Uluru.

Both Price and Clayton Simpson were correct in highlighting that there were community members who walked out of that gathering, but when it came to QandA properly discussing why, the audience was left wanting. 


"How on earth can a government who cannot value the cultural heritage of the people they're meant to be negotiating treaty provisions with even pretend that they are working in good faith with these communities?"


In short, despite all that had been learnt from the expensive fiasco which was the Recognise campaign, the media still persists in painting pro-recognition voices as progressives and anti-recognition voices as conservatives. The reality of the situation has always been far more complex. If Australia is potentially going to go to the polls to vote on constitutional change based on Indigenous rights, they owe it to themselves to be across the breadth of Indigenous views relating to these questions. 

Finally, in Victoria this week, there have been two major developments when it comes to the fight for Indigenous rights. The first has been the announced forced eviction of Djab Wurrung Tent Embassy, who have been fighting for over a year to save birthing and placenta trees being bulldozed in the Victorian government's Western Highway expansion project. Apparently saving a few seconds driving on a highway is worth significantly more than 800 year old cultural sites used to bring approximately 10,000 Djab Wurrung people safely into the world. 

To rub further salt into the wound, alternate routes which would save these trees that were both shorter and cheaper to build had been proposed — former Senior Advisor for VicRoads David Clark has this week gone on the record to criticise VicRoads for not even considering the 'Northern route'. As also highlighted in this excellent piece in the Conversation, the Victorian government is concurrently seeking heritage listing of parts of Melbourne's Eastern Freeway, thus continuing a long history of valuing roads over Indigenous heritage and the livelihoods of society's most disadvantaged. 

At this moment, the Victorian government is seeking to advance treaty discussions in this state. How on earth can a government who cannot value the cultural heritage of the people they're meant to be negotiating treaty provisions with even pretend that they are working in good faith with these communities? Surely protection of culture, heritage and lands should be a core part of any such discussions. Instead, Premier Andrews stated that protesters had 'made their point' and it was time for them to move on. As protesters continue to amass at the Embassy in support of the Djab Wurrung, it appears that Andrews is missing the point entirely, unlike thinking members of his constituency.

In slightly more positive news, it was announced on Thursday that public drunkenness laws — laws which, as highlighted in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, have been used to disproportionately criminalise Aboriginal people — would be repealed in Victoria. This announcement followed a long campaign by the family of Aunty Tanya Day — an Aboriginal woman who had been arrested while taking a train journey and died from an injury sustained while in custody. Following the announcement by the Victorian government, Tanya's family released a statement in which they express:

'This is a bittersweet moment for our family and community that have lost (a) loved one to this discriminative law. Had the government acted on the royal commission's recommendation that were presented nearly 30 years (ago) our mother and other Aboriginal people would still be here today.'

Certainly, while people of Victoria owe Tanya's family a debt of gratitude because their fight in their mother's name has, at the end of the day, benefited us all, we should never forget that had the Victorian government listened and acted upon the royal commission recommendations, Tanya and others would still be with us today. Many other Aboriginal people would not have criminal records or experiences of police harassment either.

To summarise, it appears that when it comes to listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, most politicians and the media do no better than an outward 'performance' of listening — whether it's posed photos with Elders, statements on treaties, or holding forums on the Voice while actually excluding some key voices. At the end of the day, all it really demonstrates is how deeply embedded racism is in Australia's structures and how far we truly have to go.



Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is a trade unionist, a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Pauline Hanson at Uluru (@PaulineHansonOz via Twitter)

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, Pauline Hanson, Recognise, Aboriginal sovereignty



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Existing comments

Celeste, thanks for this article. In particular your reference to the differences in opinion between First Nations Peoples in regard to constitutional recognition as aired on the recent Q&A program. As a non-indigenous person struggling to become better educated in regard to my indigenous brothers and sisters, it is often difficult to find in deeper sources of information, and it is extremely frustrating when worthwhile discussion is truncated. I am a great admirer of Price, and extremely curious as to why her view on the Uluru statement and the events surrounding it are so diverse from her indigenous brothers and sisters, and will be searching for more information on this. Thanks again for your article!

Di Mann-Povey | 24 August 2019  

Thanks, Celeste. Articles like this are an important contribution in informing a community that has had limited educational opportunities to appreciate the richness of indigenous culture, and remains influenced by a discriminatory presentation of the real history of our country. It's time for the Australian community to embrace our full history beyond the forced colonisation of recent centuries.

Peter Johnstone | 25 August 2019  

Thanks for a well written article Celeste It is very sad that the information is so depressing. I remember in 1967 working to promote the YES case for the recognition of Aboriginal people in the Constitution. Along with many friends, I was very excited that the YES case won. Many Australians who care about reconciliation and equality would no doubt, like me, have been heartened by the 1991 the 1991 Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission results, the 1993 Mabo decision, the great turnout for the 2000 March for Reconciliation and then PM Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generation in 2006. However, these events were largely about good intentions, but what have they brought about in terms of real justice for Aboriginal people in Australia? When I see how dismissive our politicians and bureaucrats towards the hopes of indigenous people on the issues highlighted by Celeste, I can understand why so many of them have become very frustrated. Progressive Australians need to revitalise the Reconciliation movement to ensure that Aboriginal people are referred to in our Constitution, that they have a national consultative council to consult with governments, that governments action the recommendations in the 1991 Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission that Australia Day is not held on Invasion Day and that there is respect about the significant sites on their land. We have a lot more to do.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 25 August 2019  

Thank you Celeste for your summary of recent events and your insights. I agree the Q&A program left many of feeling as puzzled as we felt informed. Please write something more about the sovereignty activists and what they are calling for.

Janet | 26 August 2019  

"How on earth can a government who cannot value the cultural heritage of the people they're meant to be negotiating treaty provisions with even pretend that they are working in good faith with these communities?" The previous Liberal state government in Western Australia negotiated a very broad native title settlement - which many cited as a model (not THE model, but A model) for any future treaties, at the same time as fighting a bitter dispute with Aboriginal people about building industrial infrastructure on the coast. It is possible to be doing both at the same time and I would suggest to the author that it would be better to approach treaty negotiations as if the other side were negotiating in good faith.

Russell | 26 August 2019  

Interesting to hear Pauline Hanson last night debating a group of young Aboriginal women at Uluru. She claimed to be an indigenous person which in fact all of us born in this English speaking country are. The word also means native. (Concise Oxford English Dictionary) I imagine that to refer to the Aborigines as natives rather than indigenes would be white racism?

john frawley | 27 August 2019  

Sorry to have missed the Pauline debate. It’s an odd point that anyone born here can claim to be indigenous. If I was born in Japan I could use the same logic to say I was indigenous Japanese. I don’t think the Japanese would agree. I’m a sixth generation Australian with mainly Scottish/Irish ancestry and a Chinese gold miner great-great-grandfather. I doubt the Chinese would recognise my claim to be Chinese and my British ancestry doesn’t get me anything over there. Hanson is being too cute claiming to be indigenous. She is Australian and that should be good enough. John F may be right in strictly literal interpretations of indigenous and native and applying them to all people born here, but in Australia “indigenous” has come to be synonymous with Aboriginal as an accepted term for Australia’s first people. I should not even have to make that point, it is accepted around the world on the same basis. Thanks to Hanson, Aboriginal people can’t even distinguish themselves as indigenous without non-Aboriginal people trying to take that over as well. Same old same old.

Brett | 30 August 2019  

I am disappointed with this article as it is not balanced and very biased. For goodness sake can you make reports balanced and fair without the bias.

Greg | 31 August 2019  

You are quite correct, Brett, in pointing out that the term indigenous refers to the Aboriginal people - native to a particular place. What was surprising was that Pauline had the capacity to apply it to being born in a particular place - I suspect some of her minders suggested the usage (Please explain!). Even more interesting in the interview, however, was that Pauline claimed to have made the visit to seek permission from the Elders of the local community to climb Uluru before the ban comes into effect in a few weeks time. The Elder of the local people gave her permission and said she did not support the ban on the climb because of the effect that might have on tourism on which the local resident Aboriginal community depended for paid employment in the various tourist facilities, trade in its art and other artefacts and support. As you are probably aware, tourism at Uluru is largely centered on the local Aboriginal community and without that community and the spiritual significance Uluru has for the local Aboriginal people there is no Uluru experience. It is otherwise just a bloody big rock in the middle of nowhere! The Elder's take on the ban on the climb surprised me. It seems the ban might have nothing to do with the local community, the traditional owners of Uluru, but on the politically active city dwellers (many of whom I suspect have never been to Uluru!)

john frawley | 31 August 2019  

Would a Voice to the Parliament of the Nation have made a difference here as against the masters of a state assembly in a power-sharing federal system? Would a Voice to the Victorian Parliament have made a difference? This is precisely the sort of thing that a Voice stakes its dignity on representing, and any failure will render it a dwarf in king’s clothing. As it’s not hard to predict that a Voice will often be sidelined in the future, it’s better for indigenous dignity if they save the trees but sink the Voice.

roy chen yee | 31 August 2019  

RE the term Indigenous - the very reason why many Aboriginal people especially I understand in South Australia - refuse to use this term. The late Dr Alitya Rigney Kaurna Narungga Elder and Stateswoman was just one of the many who waged a long campaign against this word - saying exactly this would happen: all born in a country would claim to be indigenous. Wonder why PM John Howard used to insist so strongly on the term. Thanks again Celeste

Michele Madigan | 31 August 2019  

Michele Madigan. Clearly, the Elder you quote understood the prime meaning of the word indigenous as being born in a particular place and saw its usage as including the Aboriginal people as homogeneous with all others born in Australia. The word 'native' also applicable to one born in a particular place would obviously for her evoke the same objection. 'Aboriginal' has a completely different primary meaning according to the Precise Oxford English Dictionary - "inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists". Long overdue that we dropped the term 'indigenous' in favour of 'Aboriginal', an act which would establish beyond doubt and without confusion the sovereignty of the Aboriginal people in this country.

john frawley | 02 September 2019  

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