‘Recognition’ meaningless without sovereignty

June 27, 2014
Constitutional recognition must be accompanied by sovereignty, land rights and a treaty.

At its national conference over June 7-9, the Socialist Alliance adopted an amendment to its Charter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights, which stated that it does not support Constitutional recognition in the current form put forward by the government and the Reconciliation Australia initiative Recognise.

The policy now states that Constitutional recognition must be accompanied by sovereignty, land rights and a treaty.

Callum Clayton-Dixon, Anaywan Nation, wrote in Brisbane Blacks Monthly in 2012 that the proposed constitutional reform has “very little reference to what constitutional recognition will actually do for indigenous people”.

He asked whether reform would be a “step forward, or just another hollow formality?”

The Socialist Alliance policy says justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must begin with a “frank and full acknowledgement of the fact that ‘White Australia has a Black history’,” and a determination to make amends wherever possible.

It calls for:
• Constitutional recognition of the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the original and ongoing inhabitants of the land, and the negotiation of a treaty or binding agreement enshrining the rights of Indigenous people in law.
• Full reparation for the Stolen Generations.
• Full implementation of the recommendations of the 1997 National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families (the Bringing Them Home report).
• Full and immediate compensation for the stolen wages and for traditional lands ravaged by mining.
• Full implementation of the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The constitutional recognition model that is being promoted by the government and Recognise includes:
• Remove Section 25 – which says Australian states can ban people from voting based on their race;
• Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on race;
• Insert 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;
• Insert new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
• Insert new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were the country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.

These are important points, but Aboriginal people want sovereignty, land rights, treaties and dedicated seats in parliament. None of this factors into the present model. The mainstream media focuses on the removal of race-based discrimination as being the right thing to do and that it will facilitate reconciliation.

Aboriginal people are tired of tokenistic gestures by the government. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 was celebrated by Aboriginal people at first, but then Rudd continued the Northern Territory intervention and failed to keep his promises.

Rudd also promised to move “Australia Day”, but this never happened.

Reconciliation Australia has said that if “Constitutional recognition” is won, then treaty, sovereignty and land rights could be put to referendums. Yet of 44 referendums put forward since 1901, only eight have actually changed the Constitution.

Furthermore, while the government has poured $10 million over two years into the campaign to amend the Constitution, it has cut vital funds to Aboriginal services such as health, legal services and education.

[Sharlene Leroy-Dyer is a member of the Socialist Alliance and the NSW Division representative on the Indigenous Policy Committee of the National Tertiary Education Union. The Charter for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights can be read here.]

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