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Left fails to confront S.44's racist legacy

  • 13 November 2017


When this debacle around Section 44 of the Australian Constitution started becoming apparent, I found myself amused. The fact that a group of white politicians were falling victim to a section I believed was inherently xenophobic, particularly when some of those same politicians have been integral in fanning xenophobia to win votes, contained a delicious irony.

Yet as the weeks went by and more and more politicians started having their citizenship scrutinised, as an avowed lefty I increasingly found that I was out of step with much of the left's reaction. We were not laughing for the same reason.

It seemed enough for many 'progressives' that the majority of the people who had fallen by the dual citizenship wayside were Coalition members, with the added bonus of Malcolm Roberts of the One Nation Party (pictured). I witnessed statements about how these politicians did not 'follow the rules'. I saw Greens who were similarly afflicted stand down in respect for 'the rules'. I began to wonder why what is essentially an issue of racism and discrimination was not considered a priority for those who state they believe in social justice.

I have been a vocal critic of the campaign for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I maintain a hard line that first and foremost, we need to rectify the wrongs and come to agreements in the form of treaties. I believe we need land rights, the return of Stolen Wages, due compensation for the Stolen Generations and a respect for our self-determination as peoples.

Constitutional recognition was never going to do this. Indeed, as the years dragged on it became apparent that the only type of recognition the government was interested in was symbolic — confirmed by Prime Minister Turnbull's recent rejection of the conservative proposal to have an Indigenous political voice enshrined in the Constitution. Though ultimately it was the determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to fight for real rights which brought the Recognise campaign down, by the time the government was through with it we may as well have voted 'yes' to Howard's weak preamble proposition in 1999.

Yet that movement did not start out this way. When the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition handed down their report in 2012, it was an extensive document which examined not only a wide variety of community responses to the type of recognition we were interested in, but also the