A most dangerous and foolish exercise to remake Australia:
HISTORIC changes to the Commonwealth Constitution to acknowledge indigenous Australians face almost certain defeat unless significantly amended, after a 300-page proposal presented to Julia Gillard yesterday prompted a chorus of concerns from some indigenous leaders and legal experts…
The expert panel of 19 high-profile people, who included Cape York leader Noel Pearson, indigenous academic Marcia Langton, father of reconciliation Pat Dodson, prominent lawyer Mark Leibler and politicians, travelled the country last year holding public meetings on the issue.
First problem is the recommendation to make “good” racism part of our constitution:
Controversially, a new section 116A would be established that would prohibit the commonwealth, states or territories from creating laws that discriminated on the grounds of race, colour or 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”.
So we must never ever discriminate on the grounds of race, unless we discriminate on the grounds of race to “help”. Nicolas Rothwell is right to point out the contradiction:
Voters have a no-nonsense approach to such matters. The expert panel is asking them to accept several measures that tug in different directions: both to deracialise the Constitution and to insert in it a clause recognising the special need for indigenous advancement; both to prohibit racial discrimination and to recognise the special place of Aboriginal languages, cultures and ties to the land. Equal rights – and a special role as well…
At core, the dilemmas lurking in the referendum lurk there because of the bedevilling concept of race and a keenly maintained conviction of indigenous difference. The expert panel’s aim is virtually to ban racial thinking, while exalting a particular racial category.
Then there’s this:
Chief among (the critics’) worries is the recommended insertion of a clause to prohibit racial discrimination, which Tony Abbott suggests may amount to a “single-issue bill of rights”.
It is not difficult to see how this will lead to further restrictions on our ability to even discuss such issues:
Conservative constitutional expert Greg Craven said the proposal to prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity or nationality was a “dog” of a proposal that must be struck out. “The problem is there’s an almost infinite category of things that can be connected to ethnicity, race or colour and if you’re saying to the High Court that you have a blank cheque to decide that something is a problem you have no idea where that provision will go,” he said.
And this attempt to racialise Australian law contains yet another invitation for division on racial grounds – and of the kind that could further cripple the education and integration of Aboriginal children:
The panel wants it recognised that the continent and islands known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – acknowledging the continuing relationship of indigenous people with their traditional lands and waters; respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of indigenous people… There is also a suggestion for a new section 127A to provide for the “recognition of languages”. This states that while the national language of the commonwealth of Australia is English, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages “are the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage”.
The proposals are not just offensive and dangerous in recommending racial divisions be formalised in our constitiution. They are also utterly useless in the battle to lift the living standards of Aborigines.
Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am. He is also heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of radio station MTR 1377, and his book Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.