Me? Sit down

I am a Gamileraay woman who wants to leave this world better than it was when I arrived but we are going backwards which makes me angry and the result is I have a lot to say and sometime, the truth makes me unpopular.

I am also a suffering optimist, I try to see positivity in things but find that is generally only my family that provides the positivity in an otherwise politically depressing world.

Stick around and nod your head, join the discussion and give me a piece of your mind.

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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Chronic illness and its crippling clutch....and loving through it.

You've seen the memes shared around about chronic illnesses and invisible diseases, maybe you know someone who has one, maybe you suffer from one yourself, maybe you have no idea what it is but you empathise so you'll like or share the sentiment.

The memes? They're true - but how can they capture the essence of what chronic illness is like? How can they encapsulate the numerous types and symptoms? They can't.

Neither can I.

What I can tell you is I have a sister. She is the baby of the family and from birth she has been the cutest kid with limitless life spark and a mischievous side that never resulted in discipline because her cuteness and grin wiped her record clean. 

I remember when she started primary school, my brother and I fought over who got to play with her and integrate her into our friend group because she was just that rad.

All throughout high school we were close, we would hang out in each others' bedrooms and roll our eyes behind our parent's backs together. We would strategise together to ensure we got the takeaway we wanted on lazy nights, con Mum into calling in for a DVD and we would cause MAYHEM in the grocery store. If she's reading this - she will be nodding and laughing right about now.

Things were tough when, at the age of 18 I moved to Sydney for University. My parents were emotional at the big step but I really felt like I was leaving her behind which was the hardest part about pursuing my dreams. I felt like she was my baby because we spent so much time together and I was her confidant. Whenever they visited me at University my sister would stay with me in my little single bed while Mum and Dad stayed in a motel and we would relish in our special bond and talk all night.

Everything changed though.

I was home on uni break 12 years ago and my sister had recently returned from a New Zealand ski trip. She was tired, sore and unable to get out of bed. Most noticeably she was not herself - not my bubbly sister chomping at the bit to spend every waking moment talking my ear off.

I insisted on the doctors when the excuse of travel tired didn't sit well and Mum said she was glad because she knew something wasn't quite right either. When the doctor initially said it was Ross river fever and she needed rest I was an arrogant jerk and disagreed and after more testing - she got the news of being diagnosed with Lupus.

We had no damn idea what it was. No idea what was to follow.

I won't detail the last 12 years of treatments but I will say that she has had chemotherapy numerous times, is on anti-rejection drugs, steroids, high level pain relief. She is in kidney failure and early stages heart failure. Her hair is gone most of the time from chemotherapy and her skin is inflamed and painful. Her joints are that of a 90 year old with rheumatoid arthritis. Of a morning she can barely move and most days she cannot keep her medicine down due to CONSTANT vomiting. Years and years of vomiting. 

Her life is pain - literally and metaphorically. When her friends were paving their paths in life and partying and finding out who they are - she was confined to her home just fighting to be able to continue existing. She wasn't able to study, work, travel or experience the night life many of us take for granted.

The hardest part for all of us that love her is her struggle to keep smiling - after 12 years of fighting and now enduring more chemotherapy - her exhaustion and emotional pitfalls are understandable. Things that may seem trivial like the ability to simply go outside and enjoy a little sun in Summer is out of reach for her because the last time she was out in the sun her body shut down and she went into arrest twice on her helicopter ride to RPA in Sydney. Being able to style her ear length hair that has only started growing back after the last chemotherapy only to feel it coming out in chunks once again.

It would break me, anyone really, but she continues to amaze and inspire me. I love this beautiful human for all of her heart despite the struggles. She is incredible and I am both proud and awed by the fact that she's MY sister. 

A few weeks ago I felt that something was off and prodded until I cracked through her exterior strength and she told me she wasn't sure if she could get through much more. My baby sister was struggling so bad and the thought of this made me physically ache. My partner (who is a god among men) pushed me to get up there and just hold her, and so I did.

My baby sister smiled again and selfishly, I relished in the knowledge that I could bring out her smiles. I didn't do anything special but I was able to hold her, kiss her, massage her and laugh with her. Distract her from the battle and get her on track for more chemotherapy.

It was confronting to see someone so dear so sick but when I saw my Mum and her strength and love that radiates to my sister I about broke. I have no doubt in my mind that my Mum would pull the illness out of my sister and accept it into her own body with a smile if she knew my sister would have some relief.

I never really 'got' it before but as a mother who sleeps beside her own daughter when she has the flu in full blown neurosis - I cannot fathom how my Mum and Dad have hurt for the last 12 years seeing their beautiful baby struggle so.

When I was there I saw the quiet and solid support of my Dad who can sense when my sister needs distraction or a laugh. His comfort and safety is instant - I felt it the moment I sat in his car when he picked me up - the ultimate protector of the family - unable to protect his baby from this dreadful disease. Imagine the pain he has to endure because of this helplessness - it's not his fault but there is nothing he can do to help her medically and that is a struggle for such a strong Dad to ensure. I saw the warrior woman that my Mum is; she cares for my sister so diligently and lovingly that I stared in wonder. She had to inject my sister a few times during my visit to ease her vomiting and even though I could see in her eyes how badly it pained her to stick a needle into her daughter, she struggled through it to provide relief.

I can see how deep and consuming Mum's love for my sister is. It is tough, she will never ever admit the toll it's has taken on her nerves and psyche to see her chronically ill daughter battle for the last 12 years but those who know her closely can see. There is a fragility in my Mum now that I can only see in the smallest windows of time because she bravely hides her own feelings to protect others and care for others but when I see it - it strikes me in the gut.

These two women who I have laughed with, laughed at, fought with and screamed at, cooked with, cleaned with, danced with and smiled with are powerhouses.

Their lives have irreversibly been altered by a disease so insidious that it kills everything healthy slowly and painfully and removes joy from the lives of the sufferers who simply dream of a day, hour or even a minute without pain.

Chronic illness changes people - it changes families.

Chronic illness is not understood by those who aren't in the trenches with it.

Chronic illness is a lifetime on the sidelines, battling for moments. A life not lived but endured.

The sufferers and their families are fucking warriors and I want to use these words to tell you of my love for you all, my respect for your fight and my wish that more people learn about chronic illness and urge our government to re-invigorate medical research funding so it is not so heavily reliant on private donations.

To my Mum, Dad and Sister - I love you more than I am ever say and wish I had one drop of your strength xxxx

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Indigenous Advisors? Maybe. Indigenous leaders? No.

An Indigenous Affairs advisor to Tony Abbott recently had to issue an apology following his poor taste costume to an American themed event – his choice – a Confederate flag shirt.

Unless you have been living under a rock or are a culturally sheltered white affluent right wing Australian, you would know that the Confederate flag is used by white supremacist hate groups in America in much the same way the Southern Cross flag was used by those in the race riots at Cronulla in 2005. Put simply, to wear this flag as a shirt at all, let alone in the cultural climate post black massacre in the U.S., you are either at the zenith of human stupidity or a blatant racist; either way, you certainly should not hold a senior position advising the government on matters of race.

This begs the question: what qualifies a person to be an Indigenous Adviser in Australia under the Abbott Government? Is there a criteria?

The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, was born in England, arrived in Australia in his teens and only just prior to becoming elected to the Australian Senate in 2001 did he relinquish his dual citizenship. A white Englishman entrusted with a portfolio of responsibility affecting the most marginalised population in Australia for 227 years. The Indigenous population marginalised by his mother country. Appropriate? Apparently so.

Perhaps I am being unfair? Surely there are some Indigenous people that get to have a say? Isn't there?

Of course there is.

Tony Abbott announced the formation of the Indigenous Advisory Council in September 2013 when he appointed – yes, you guessed it – Warren Mundine as chairman.
Warren Mundine’s appointment in this capacity sets the tone of how this government approaches Indigenous affairs in this country — a continuation of patriarchal colonialism.
Tony Abbott appointed someone who he knew would tell him what he wanted to hear in order to invoke policies that he intended to all along. Warren Mundine has been heavily criticised by the Indigenous community, particularly by his own family and community. Yet he was still appointed because he fits the mould of what Tony Abbott wants in an Indigenous advisor – he is a right wing Christian who has the same economic ideologies and a most colonial mindset on the topic of Indigenous communities, given his support of funding cuts and a push for policies that continue to demonise Indigenous people as bad parents and welfare dependents.

Even when Tony Abbott said the most vile and racially offensive things, his pal Warren could be counted on to smooth things over and make it look to mainstream media subscribers (Indigenous and left wing community knew better) that Tony Abbott was just a clumsily worded larrikin whose heart is in the right place. But when those who dare speak in support of Tony Abbott keeping his promise to Indigenous people call him out on it, he turns on the charm and calls them racist.

Warren Mundine personifies what is wrong with Indigenous Affairs in this country. The Indigenous community, by and large, do not support him or his ideas and he is aware of this. Yet, he still goes against the needs and wants of his community to speak on issues that he has no authority to, which is a continuation of patriarchal condescension of the Englishman at the helm.

The board that Warren Mundine chairs comprises Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians who advise Tony Abbott on Indigenous issues but they were careful in stating that the Council is not representative of anyone.

That is correct – an Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) that does not represent anyone – but advises the prime minister on Indigenous issues. The IAC is able to shape policy with its advice but the agenda of the members of the IAC have been called into question given that there have been funding cuts of over $600 million to grass roots service providers of essential health and justice services, but funding provided under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) has been generously provided to the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) of which Warren Mundine and Andrew Penfold, both IAC members, are on the board.

The funding direction taken by the IAC and decisions made under the IAS are self-evident – less justice and welfare – more school and jobs programs, all of which is well in keeping with the assimilation agenda.
We live in a country that is so co
ntrolled by corporate greed and individual short-sighted advancement that a suspected dual citizen, who would “do anything to get the job”, receives the honour of being prime minister on the back of a grubby media waging war against a female prime minister and then uses the said honour as a platform to progress his white supremacist agenda.

The Abbott Government and his so called advisors are completely disconnected from the Indigenous community.

The fundamental problem they cannot seem to grasp is that, we – the Indigenous community – decide who our elders in our own communities are and who speak for us. It is those people the government needs to listen to, not the token, quisling representatives they select that spout party policies and nod along with decisions made to the detriment of the community. Each Indigenous community in Australia has a unique set of issues and relationships, kinships and lores that the government – after 227 years – still does not grasp.

While Tony Abbott loves to continue to propagate the colonial rhetoric of Indigenous people being primitive people, the Indigenous people had and continue to have a sophisticated social and familial structure, understanding of biodiversity and ecological sustainability, and we know how to survive despite the 227 years of oppressive and racially targeted policies. We also know that for the last 227 years, the presence of the colonial oppressors has been an illegal presence and, whilst we know that an egg cannot be unscrambled, we do know that governments (particularly a right wing government) cannot be trusted, which is why we will continue to resist government-selected Indigenous advisors and advocate for our own affairs to be protected and self-determined in a Treaty.

With the prime minister whitesplaining history, Indigenous advisors complicit in racially targeted policies and engaging in racially inappropriate conduct – little explanation is needed about why Indigenous Australia is so damned angry.

If only more members of white Australia were willing to put down their Daily Telegraph and switch off the commercial channels to get angry with us, maybe then we would see some change?

Friday, 17 July 2015

Abbott Governent: Incompetent, Sinister, Immoral.

I DON'T know anyone that voted for the current government – perhaps I do and they’re too ashamed to admit it – but in any event, it feels as though every person I speak to is either in a haze of confusion or in a state of irate contempt. One thing is for sure, there is consensus among those I speak with that this government is not fit to represent us.

At best, it is the most incompetent and intellectually void example of elected government and at worst (and perhaps more accurately), it is the most sinister and immoral group of individuals banded together in a common goal of individual wealth accumulation (theirs) at the expense of the Australian people (us).

Read more here.

Monday, 13 July 2015

A Brighter Tomorrow?

Amnesty International released their report, ‘A Brighter Tomorrow’ (the Report) on 3 June 2015 at the National Press Club in Canberra.

The Report details the glaring statistics including the fact that youth incarceration is at its highest rate since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody some 20 years ago.

The report was launched by Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Salil Shetty who said:

Australia locks up Indigenous children, from as young as 10 years old, at one of the highest rates in the world. Overrepresentation is rising, with Indigenous children making up less than 6% of the population of 10–17 year-olds yet more than half (58 per cent) of young people in detention.”

The Report commended the numerous programs that are being initiated by Aboriginal communities, including the Justice Reinvestment Program which is part of the Maranguka initiative which is a grass-roots justice reinvestment project that aims to empower the Aboriginal community in Bourke and means ‘care for others.’

This strategy is a community led strategy where the money spent on incarceration is redirected to rehabilitation and education, in addition to, community programs which determine why the crimes occurred in the first place and addressing the individual and community issues which lead to crime. This multi-disciplinary approach not only addresses the issue of crime but it improves outcomes of the families of those assisted and the community at large because the educational opportunities undoubtedly assist in achieving a higher standard of living which flows through.

The intent is to stop youths from offending before they become part of the justice system and to find more appropriate ways to rehabilitate and educate to avoid reoffending. It may be that a youth involved in theft would be given an opportunity for further education or employment; a driving offender given assistance to obtain a legal license with safe driver training or perhaps a realistic plan for bail reoffenders from breaching their conditions.

Mr Shetty experienced this work in Bourke first hand when he visited and said:

I’m inspired by the innovative work Indigenous communities are doing across Australia to bring up a new generation of young people, but the Australian Government needs to catch up, and fund the programs that have been shown to work in keeping Indigenous kids out of prison, and making communities safer - it’s a win/win for all Australians.”

The Indigenous communities that are trailblazing in this new area of community based justice reinvestment are doing so for the benefit of their communities, however, there is the additional benefit that education and rehabilitation ultimately costs less than incarcerating.

Mr Shetty confirmed that:

In Australia it costs $440,000 per year to detain each child, meaning the cost of just one year of detention could instead put a young Indigenous person through an entire undergraduate medical degree.”

Mr Shetty confirmed that the Report makes a number of recommendations to the Commonwealth and state governments, including:

·                To conform with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for any person up to the age of 17 detention must be a measure of last resort

·                Any state of territory laws that treat persons below the age of 12 as criminally responsible should be declared invalid

·                Australia should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, and allow inspections of youth detention facilities to ensure standards are being met

·                Australia should recognise Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders as a disability under the National Disability Insurance Scheme

Mr Shetty reiterated the criticism Australia has received international with respect to its breaches of international obligations with respect to children, particularly Indigenous children, and affirmed a further recommendation of the adoption of the Indigenous Justice Reinvestment strategies:

Australia must seize this once-in-a-generation chance to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children out of prison and make communities safer.

The Sydney launch of the campaign took place in the Redfern Community Centre on 12 June 2015 where a number of speakers were empanelled to discuss the vast work ahead in combatting the numerous issues facing the Indigenous community, particularly the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in our justice system.

Shane Phillips, a Bunjalung, Wonnarua and Bidjigal man and CEO of Tribal Warrior and Program Coordinator of Clean Slate Without Prejudice spoke of his experience with the criminal justice system and the fact that there is a need for community driven change.

Mr Phillips having the experience of an uneasy relationship with police, following contact with the police to come to solution, set out to effect change to the lives of the Indigenous youth of Redfern who were mentored and provided with guidance to achieve success by using their time productively which has seen a reduction of criminal activity and success for the youths involved in the program.

Mr Phillips is proud of the Indigenous youth that he has mentored over the years and considers the positive change of one Indigenous child to be a success. Mr Phillips said:

“the success is plain to see, all you need to do is come down to the gym before school one morning to see the kids and how they are making healthy decisions.”

Mr Phillips said that his formula is not complicated:

“all you need to do is help them with setting up a routine from reasonable bed times to ensuring attendance at school and healthy physical outlets and their pride follows when they can see the results for themselves.”

Mr Phillips says that it is rewarding to see the sense of self and pride in them as they succeed in their goals.

Kerry Graham, a social justice advocate with Just Reinvest NSW, spoke of her experience in children’s justice and how the situation is complex but the answer to addressing this injustice is so simple. Ms Graham says, “the answer lies within the communities, the elders and the cultural teachings are what will make a fundamental shift.”

Elizabeth Wymarra, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander from the Wakaith people from Badu Island in the western Torres Strait region of far north Queensland and the Gudang Aboriginal people from Injinoo and Mapoon community in Cape York; is a writer, performing artist and youth worker who was most passionate in her discussion during the launch.

Ms Wymarra spoke of the importance of speaking about the reasons why there are such atrocious statistics; racism. Racism is at the heart of every policy and governmental decision which has subverted Indigenous people over the last 227 years and Ms Wymarra is passionate about the education system getting a shake up to ensure future generations of Australians don’t continue the racist policies.

While Amnesty International is committed and passionate to contributing to a brighter future for Indigenous people, at the heart of the problem is the fact that change will always fail where the community is not consulted and/or the drivers of change.




Friday, 3 July 2015

Inspiring Wiradjuri Woman!

Sue Townsend (nee Green), a Wiradjuri woman and Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales has graduated with her PhD in Social Work and was further awarded the Dean’s award in the form of a grant to publish her thesis.

The PhD thesis examined how Aboriginal welfare policies were formulated and implemented within the colony of New South Wales, through an examination of key colonial documents, such as governor’s instructions, correspondence between governor’s and the Colonial Secretaries Office including a number of inquiries into the conditions of Aboriginal people that occurred prior to 1860.

This research will be quite pivotal to understanding of the social aspects of policy formation and the effects of such policies and there can be references made to current policies and their success or failure may be more readily predicted.

Mrs Townsend, before taking her teaching role as Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, was the Director of Nura Gili Indigenous Student Centre for 8 years. During this time she commenced the ground breaking Winter Schools and Pre-Programs which exposed High School students to the university and inspired them to continue on for further studies. She was also instrumental in not only an increased presence of Indigenous students at the university and raising awareness internationally of Indigenous Australians; the culture, the history, the social policies and ramifications of such social policies through her teaching.

Mrs Townsend was very hands on in her role as Director of Nura Gili and would engage with students and staff alike to ensure the needs of the students were addressed and all assistance provided to ensure ultimate success with studies. Mrs Townsend instigated the academic skills assistance to ensure students who were having difficulties were taught strategies to overcome learning difficulties and flourish throughout their studies.

Mrs Townsend, until recently marrying, was a single mother of three children while working and completing her studies and attending hospitals for extended stays for her eldest son who was battling leukaemia for a large part of his childhood.

The academic heights being achieved by Mrs Townsend would not be possible for ordinary people, Mrs Townsend is quite simply every bit the warrior woman that Wiradjuri people personify and she is a most deserving recipient of academic accolade. Her colleagues, students past and present and her community are most proud of her success which continues to inspire.
I know Sue personally and cannot express how honoured this makes me. I have been mentored and believed in by a woman who I respect more than I can ever say. Sue took th time to get to know the students that attended UNSW and came to Nura Gili, she considered them under her care and anything we were going through - she would want to help. At the tender age of 18 I left everyone I knew to move to Sydney for University and Sue assisted me in finding accommodation, showing me where to shop, gave me her personal mobile number and always had her office door open for me. I would often stop by just to chat with Sue because I felt like she was a great sounding board for me and always made me consider angles I hadn't previously thought of. She taught me a great many things in her classes that I took and outside of class in her manner and conversations. I developed a love for her children who became friends I still see today because, like their mother, they are tender hearted but strong beyond compare. Their mother taught them well.
Sue, thank you - for all that you have done for me personally and all that you continue to do for our people. You inspire me and I am so proud to have had my character and outlook on life shaped by you.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Why we should all be worried about Recognise.

As we know, the constitutional debate is heating up with the government's constitutional summit scheduled to be held in Sydney shortly. The venue and participants are a secret, but one thing is for certain, dissenters and those that are asking questions are certainly not on the guest list.

There is a massive amount of confusion and debate within the Indigenous community regarding whether you are for or against constitutional recognition and, more specifically, the Recognise movement.

The major issue I have with Recognise is that the campaign started to garner support before the substantive wording and legal ramifications were put to Indigenous communities for consultative discussions. The fact that this is a campaign championed by Abbott himself and for us to be suspicious, we need only look to the bread crumbs he has already left us.

The Liberal policy document says:

".....the ordinary law of the land is observed – in indigenous communities no less than in the general community

... The key objective of a referendum will be to achieve a unifying moment for the nation, similar to that achieved by the 1967 constitutional referendum."

What is important is not what is said in the policy document, but rather what is not said. The government does not consider that the constitutional recognition will be anything more than a unifying moment for the 'nation.' This means that white Australia can pat themselves on the back for something.

There is no mention of sovereignty, there is no mention of addressing social and cultural injustice, there is no mention of reparation for historical injustice and genocide.

The intent of the government is clear. If the above breadcrumbs were not clear enough, let us consider the conduct of the government with respect to Indigenous Affairs since being elected:

Here is a quick summary of the cuts we know about so far:
Now, here is what the Government is actually doing:
  • Building more police stations in Aboriginal communities;
  • Initiating the following ‘programs’:
    • jobs, land and the economy;
    • children and schooling;
    • safety and wellbeing;
    • culture and capability; and
    • remote Australia strategies
What these programs actually entail, is the opposite of what the rhetoric suggests; in essence, it is the continuation of assimilationist policy through completely destroying Indigenous communities through closures, child removals, incarceration and disenfranchising people and communities.

The supposed 'Indigenous Advancement Strategy' has lead to numerous further funding cuts to essential Indigenous services, including the telephone service for Aboriginal people who find themselves in custody. It has lead to very profitable businesses for certain organisations that are willing to capitulate to LNP party policy (support for Recognise is on the application forms).

The more disappointing outcome of this debate is perhaps the underhanded behaviour of many of those involved with Recognise.

IndigenousX recognised a theme on social media among the Indigenous community, and the theme was that there was large pockets of opposition to Recognise or suspicion of its motives given that there has not been any official wording provided for community consideration. A community based survey then did the rounds and the findings were analysed by Celeste Liddle and demonstrated that the majority of those surveyed were against constitutional recognition as it stands.

Rather than recognising (pun totally intended) that the Indigenous community affected by the proposed changes were in large part opposed or undecided, and informing the community and allowing consultation. Recognise came out and attempted to undermine the credibility of the community run and analysed survey.

Let me be clear - this government and Recognise do not want dissent. They also do not want a treaty where they will be held to agreed standards of policy, reparation and land rights.

This means to undermine us and if you are in doubt, follow the bread crumbs left for yourself.
I will leave you with this pearler:

“… nothing but bush … the Marines, and the convicts and the sailors … must have thought they’d come almost to the Moon…. Everything would have seemed so extraordinarily basic and raw…”

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Constitutional Recognition? Treaty First!

Between the Recognise campaign and Noel Pearson’s latest support for a conservative campaign for Declaration of Recognition, one thing is certain, constitutional recognition is on the agenda. Despite noted Indigenous support, these campaigns are looked upon with suspicion mainly because of the fact that the question remains over whether it would affect the sovereignty of Indigenous people, especially with respect to land rights.
In order to effect the changes suggested by the constitutional recognition campaigns, we would need to have a referendum. This would not be our first referendum.
On 27 May 1967 a referendum was held to seek a determination of two questions. The first question, referred to as the 'nexus question' was an attempt to alter the balance of numbers in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The second question was to determine whether two references in the Australian Constitution, which discriminated against Aboriginal people, should be removed.
The Constitution was changed, giving formal effect to the referendum result, by the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967 (Act No 55 of 1967), which received assent on 10 August 1967.
The proposed changes put forth by the Recognise campaign are:
·     The removal of section 25 which states that the States can ban people from voting based on their race;
·     The removal of section 51(xxxvi) which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;
·     The insertion of a new section 51A to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the ‘benefit’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
·      The insertion of a new section 127A recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.
A new proposal for recognising Indigenous Australians drafted by Constitutional conservatives Damien Freeman and Julian Leeser supports a separate declaration of recognition as opposed to a symbolic preamble to the Constitution or a new Section 51A. This approach is supported by Noel Pearson.
The Constitutional conservatives are against the Constitution containing any racial discrimination prohibition on the grounds that it would diminish the power of the Parliament.
Most constitutional law experts who have expressed their support for constitutional recognition have also expressed their support for Treaty due to the fact that they consider that the changes to the Australian Constitution merely redress the many racist provisions within the nation’s founding document and the issue of sovereignty must be conveyed in a Treaty.
Megan Davis, an Aboriginal and South Sea Islander woman who is the Director of the Indigenous Law Centre and a UN expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, has stated “constitutional recognition—whether amendment of the race power or a non-discrimination clause—does not foreclose on the question of sovereignty. The Australian legal system is a system that was received from the Imperial British Crown. Aboriginal people have never consented nor ceded. Sovereignty did not pass from Aboriginal people to the settlers” following the Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in 2012 however, there still seems to be concerns within the community regarding the threat to land rights.
These concerns are real and relevant and those in positions of power to effect change, ought to make steps to liaise with community leaders to address concerns.
Without seeing the wording of the proposed changes, I cannot form a view on whether I am for or against but currently, without information - I cannot support it in good faith.
Further, I am an unapologetic advocate FOR Treaty FIRST.
The discussion surrounding treaty, for me, is inherently frustrating. There are so many obstacles to treaty; from the lack of awareness of non-Indigenous Australians as to what a Treaty is and why on earth Indigenous people would want one; the political factions (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) competing between Treaty or Constitutional recognition as if it is a one or the other dilemma; and ultimately, the political machinations of how a treaty would be put together functionally to ensure maximum support of the Indigenous people and the government.
Despite many attempts to rewrite and sanitise history, we know that, under English law at the time of Governor Philip’s claim, there were three legal regimes under which a colony could be acquired:
1.        Settlement – where territory is uninhabited and the ‘settlers’ brought English law with them;
2.         Conquest – where territory was inhabited and the native laws survived provided they weren’t  discordant with laws of the crown; or
3.        Cession – where the territory was inhabited and the sovereignty was ceded to the Crown and the applicable law would be determined by agreement, but in the absence of any agreed changes, local law would continue to apply.
The prevailing legal doctrine is that Australia was acquired through settlement despite the presence of an Indigenous population because the English common law contained a definition of ‘uninhabited lands’ which considered lands uninhabited if they contained peoples ‘uncivilised’ by the 18th century English norms.
Ultimately, through the doctrine of terra nullius – Indigenous people were subverted as savages and this was integrated into the Australian Constitution which was drafted on the premise of Indigenous people being so inferior as to not garner a mention and considered to be a fading race in any event.
Terra nullius was a deliberate social construction designed to enable settlement, parcel of land at a time to enable expansion of colonial settlements and to do so without any compensation to the lawful owners.
The illegality of the actions of the Crown was clear even as far back as 1832 where the Chief Protector of Aborigines at Port Philip, George Robinson wrote;
I am at a loss to conceive by what tenure we hold this country, for it does not appear to be that we either hold it by conquest or by right of purchase.
This is not new to Indigenous people, we know that this country was not ‘settled.’ We know that sovereignty was not ceded. It is this disparity of understanding between what we know and what white Australia is told happened that we need to overcome.
This is a critical point to the success or failure of any cause – the truth and the wide acceptance of truth as fact. The average Australian simply does not know about the fight for equality and rights that the Indigenous people have been waging for 227 years.
The don’t know that Indigenous people were the subjects of forced and violent dispersals from their cultural lands; they were the victims of massacres and murders; rapes and retributory attacks to any resistance; there were genocidal policies based on pseudoscience of Indigenous inferiority; there were sinister attempts to murder countless Indigenous people when the introduced diseases weren’t killing enough Indigenous people to the white man’s liking and there was a pervasive  mindset of the Indigenous people being sub-human.
Some Australians may recall the 1967 Referendum and all of the hope and positivity surrounding the concept of equality in the lead up to the vote and think that following this purportedly momentous event in Australian history that the Aboriginal people then had the equality they fought for.
We know that is not the case, however, there are many generations - especially the younger generations, that are simply not taught about the history of this nation, that are not taught about the Indigenous culture beyond boomerangs and spears, they do not know that statistically we have the highest Indigenous incarceration rate compared to non-Indigenous people in the world, they do not know of our appalling mortality rates, they do not know about the welfare indicators that demonstrate Indigenous people are the lowest on the socio-economic pyramid.
This is not an indictment on the Australians that do not know, this is an indictment on the education system and those that draft the curriculum that perpetuates the ignorance that pervades our country and it is an indictment on main stream media for failing to report on the real issues, on the brave men and women agitating for the very thing that Australia hangs its hat on: A fair go!
A fair go cannot be achieved without a Treaty.
A Treaty would be the basis upon which the sovereign Indigenous people of Australia and the Government could negotiate the terms of rights to land, minerals and resources and the self-governing of communities. It would be a binding agreement that would have sanctions that would deter breaches of the terms of the treaty.
Whilst I advocate for treaty, I am not flippant in thinking that getting a treaty is going to be easy because it is the least palatable option for Governments because it holds them to a set of obligations that they ordinarily would not live up to.
Treaty is essential because 227 years after colonisation we remain at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid; because after 227 years children are still being removed arbitrarily from Aboriginal families; because after 227 years racism remains rife in society and none more so against Aboriginal people; because after 227 years we are still being subjected to cruel punishments including water being switched off, communities being closed and being forced into work programs that provide less than the minimum wage and then having to buy groceries in government run shops that charge $6 for a kilo of flour.
To arbitrarily decide the fate of our people without our consultation and agreement will always be met with resistance.
And for those who champion the Recognise campaign and its intent to change the constitution to recognise Indigenous people, I say:
We have the benefit of hindsight and know that constitutional recognition, will not change the mortality or incarceration rates of our people. It will not stop the removal of children or turn the water back on in remote communities.
Constitutional change is symbolic, it is not a cure all.
A treaty is vital to the future of this nation, of this I am certain. But again, I do know that it is not a cure all.
A Treaty is the first meaningful step in ensuring that there is engagement of all in the success of its outcomes. It will leave Indigenous people empowered and part of something positive in history as opposed to disillusioned and disappointed at the millions of broken promises and setbacks we have suffered over the last 227 years.
The two critical elements to bridging the cultural divide, in my mind, are empathy and education.
In my mind, one cannot achieve true empathy without an education that sets the context for empathy. Education is critical and the education of this nation’s black history will provide the major shift in consciousness that we yearn for.
People need to learn about Indigenous history and culture and do so with an open mind and pure heart. Once they know and truly understand and consider the impact such devastation would have on their lives, their well-being, their resolve to fight another day – only then will we really be able to have a meaningful discussion about what it is going to take to heal hurts and have hope for a future our ancestors would be proud of.
Treaty is the insurance policy we need that we can hold the government accountable for their actions so real gains can be made for the Indigenous people of Australia.