Part Thirty-seven of a history of European occupation, rule, and brutal imperialism of Indigenous Australia, by Dr George Venturini.
It seems fair to presume that people who have experienced the questionable ‘blessings’ of imperial or colonial domination – whether of a political or socio-economic nature – would welcome the final liberation from the condition of subject and the opportunity to belong to a republic. There is no magic in that; there are only guarantees which are contained in a truly modern constitution.
The experience of people coming from overseas may be different, but there is no reason to suspect that, in a truly open, informed, participatory society, people born in countries such as China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Italy, South Africa, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Germany, South Korea, Greece, Hong Kong, United States, Lebanon, Ireland, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Iraq, Thailand, Pakistan, Fiji, Ian, Singapore, Nepal would not appreciate the advantage of a modern, democratic, secular and peaceful republic.
There is still hope that the opportunity could attract even people from Australia, England, New Zealand and Scotland. It would make, at present, a balance of about seven million new-arrivals to seventeen million of mother-country-subjects.
Australia is a religiously diverse country and, although it has no official religion, one hears frequently a reference to the so-called ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’- an omnibus blanket to cover all sorts of things, and not always welcome. In public life in particular one observes frequently a ‘special kind of hypocrisy’, for instance: the various governments of Australia refer to the Christian God in their ceremonies, as do the various Australian Courts. And on the same line, Christian symbols appear on public buildings, such as universities, not to mention publicly-paid-for hospitals bearing the name of persons connected with the Christian religion and/or the name of this or that ‘royal’ celebutante.
All this prefaced, Christianity is the predominant practice in Australia, though this is diminishing, changing and diversifying. At the Census 2016, 52.1 per cent of the Australian population acknowledged to some variety of Christianity. Over the fifty years since 1966 the proportion of the population who self-identify as Christian, combining all Christian denominations, has fallen from 88.2 per cent. In 2016, 30.1 per cent of Australians declared “no religion”; a further 9.6 per cent chose not to answer the question. The remaining population is a diverse group which includes Muslims – 2.6 per cent, Buddhists – 2.4 per cent, Hindus – 1.9 per cent, Sikhs – 0.5 per cent, and Jews – 0.4. They may not say very much, and perhaps not many may be aware that they are in a similar position as in democratic countries, such as Norway or Sweden, but in no way as constitutionally free as the Fins.
Australia has no official language, but its version of English has always been entrenched as the de facto national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon, and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling. General Australian serves as the standard dialect.
According to the 2016 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 72.7 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. There was a considerable drop if compared to 76.8 per cent in 2011. Otherwise, the next most common languages spoken at home are: Mandarin – by 2.5 per cent, Arabic – by 1.4 per cent, Cantonese – by 1.2 per cent, Vietnamese by 1.2 per cent, and Italian – by 1.2 per cent. English is still the main language for three quarters of Australians, but there are 301 other different languages spoken in homes across the country. A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual.
Over 250 Indigenous languages are thought to have existed at the time of the invasion; less than 20 are still in daily use by all age groups. About 110 others are spoken exclusively by older people. At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous People, representing 12 per cent of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home.
When one comes to literacy and numeracy, it is difficult to speak about a truly open, informed, participatory society, in the presence of figures provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which show that 44 per cent of Australian adults do not have the literacy, numeracy and dexterity for problem solving in technology-rich environment, and even less skills they need to cope with the demand of everyday life and work.
Five years ago, approximately 7.3 million (44 per cent) non-Indigenous persons in Australia aged 15 to 74 years had literacy skills at Levels 1 or 2, a further 6.4 million (39 per cent) at Level 3, and 2.7 million (17 per cent) at Level 4/5. For the numeracy scale, approximately 8.9 million (55 per cent) Australians were assessed at Level 1 or 2, 5.3 million (32 per cent) at Level 3 and 2.1 million (13 per cent) at Level 4/5. The statistics are much worse for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders. Census data show just how badly Australia fared at closing inequality gaps. (Census data shows just how bad we’ve been at closing inequality gaps, N. Biddle and F. Markham, 25 October 2017, The Conversation).
Being literate means more than just being able to write, read or count numbers. Literacy generally refers to the ability to connect the things one hears and speaks about with written and read text, and to think critically about them. While some people may have basic spelling abilities, it does not necessarily mean they can comprehend what words mean and how they should/would be used. Numeracy likewise goes beyond being able to recognise a number; it is about being able practically to apply mathematics and problem solving to everyday life. It can also mean understanding quantities and measurements, such as metres/centimetres, kilos/grams, litres/millilitres, prices and even time, and this more than fifty years after the great reform brought about by the introduction of the decimal – no more imperial – measurements provisions.
According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, with Finland and Sweden competing for the first place, many adult Australians struggle with the literacy and numeracy skills required in daily life. And the emotional, practical and financial toll of low literacy and numeracy can be severe, particularly in a world which assumes almost everyone can read and write. At the intangible level it makes for an attitude to life of ‘sh’ll-be-rightysm’, ‘no worries’ and indifference to the meaning of life itself. It makes for apathetic morons, stupid and ignorant consumers of the religion of ‘free market’ and submission to their snake oil representatives.
The word ‘nationality’ and ‘citizenship’ are employed interchangeably – and indifferently in Australia. ‘Nationality’ appears on official documents and forms; ‘citizenship’ is acquired ‘by operation of law’, or by application after a period of residence in Australia, under certain conditions. The first Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 came into force on 26 January 1949. It has been amended many times, notably in 1973, 1984, 1986 and 2002. The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 replaced the 1948 Act, commencing on 1 July 2007.
It is now administered by the Hon. Peter Dutton, since July 2017 he of the high-sounding title of Minister for Home Affairs, a newly engineered portfolio combining the oversight of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (spies), the Australian Federal Police (wallopers) and Border Force – the old Department of Immigration and Border Protection (abusers of asylum seekers).
Mr Dutton was 19 when he graduated from the Queensland Police Academy and then went to spend nine years as a policeman, during his ‘formative years’ attending to drugs, sex offences and serving the National Crime Authority. Not too bright quite probably, but equipped with an authoritarian personality and quite likely a limited education, he distinguished himself as Minister for Health (2013-2014), gaining in a 2015 poll the reward from the Australian Doctor magazine, as “the worst health minister in the last 35 years.”
But he is from the Queensland right-wing, actually extreme right-wing if that is possible, and ‘balances’ a terminal Turnbull government – which is going from fizzer to finished.
Mr Dutton is in an extremely powerful position: by law he may – or at least try – to impose a character test on people requesting visas to enter Australia. He exercises his power by presiding over the unlawful detention of thousand of would be migrants who have the nerve to seek refuge in Australia, but have no visa or ‘the right’ connections. He has seen fit ‘to gumshoe’ Green Senator Sara Hanson-Young during her visits to those asylum seekers’ concentration camps – the Immigration Department and the private company called for the operation confirming the truthfulness of the events.
He was overheard on an open microphone, prior to a community meeting on Syrian refugees, joking about the plight of Pacific Island nations facing rising seas from climate change.
In May 2016, before the federal election, Mr. Dutton said of refugees that many “many … won’t be numerate or literate in their own language let alone English”, and “These people would be taking Australian jobs.”
In November 2016 Mr Dutton said it had been a mistake by the Malcolm Fraser administration to have admitted Lebanese Muslim immigrants.
Mr Dutton is clearly an ignorant but powerful person, burdened with racial, sexual and religious prejudices, devoted to the fine art of the antonyms of bon mots, a come-to-life Javert who was born with the obsession ‘to punish the guilty’, true or imaginary, one Javert is a fictional character, the primary antagonist of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables. He was presumably born in 1780 and died on June 7, 1832. He is a police inspector who becomes, over the course of the novel, obsessed with the pursuit a … whom Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has needed to save from time to time for the display of those ‘qualities’ – Australian values, anyone?
Prime Minister Turnbull defended Mr Dutton on several occasions saying that he is an “outstanding Immigration Minister.”
During the whole of 2017 he has competed with Prime Minister Turnbull in extolling ‘Australian values’, without being able to define them or to explain how they can be conveyed. The only requirement on which they seem to agree is that would be migrants should have a Level 6, required for university entry, knowledge of the English language!
The Minister for Home Affairs is not an aberration: this is the way of the Englanders. Mr Dutton is only more uncouth than the ordinary ‘Liberals’.
They are, after all, those who quickly dismissed any suggestion of ‘a Voice.’
Australian Constituent Assembly
Indigenous People and Torres Strait Islanders should take comfort that in order to organise the gathering at Uluru they might have gained new contacts, a better organisational ability, and a stronger determination to assert their rights according to the only law which may protect them: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration should be seen as restoring the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples over the ancient continent of Sahul, part of which is modern Australia.
There are already in Australia organisations which have parallel if not similar purposes such as the secularists, the humanists, the rationalists, those who could be characterised as ‘conscientious objectors’ and a myriad of voluntary bodies such as those which recently prepared the document: Australian NGO Coalition submission to the Human Rights Committee, Australia’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Human Rights, September 2017. The work minutely details a long list of deficiencies, defaults, false promises and betrayed commitments, despite the rhetoric and because of the shameful behaviour – lately – of the Turnbull Government.
The signatories are in total 56 organisations.
When they are ready, the representatives of the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders and of a movement representing all people living in Australia, should inform the Speakers of the House of Representatives and of the Senate, as presently constituted, that the movement demands the election of a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of drafting a constitution which represents modern Australia and acknowledges the pre-existence of Sahul – the only authority having sovereignty over the whole of the continent.
For these purposes the only function of the existing Australian Government should be that of remaining in charge of the day to day business, of providing the means for the free, peaceful exercise of the people’s decision, of arranging the elections, guaranteeing its calm and fruitful results, and – in the end – securing a peaceful transition to a new and truly representative form of government.
A constituent assembly is a form of representative democracy; thus it demands that election of its representatives take place by a universal, proportional method – one head, one vote, one value, no preferences, compulsory or otherwise, no tricks.
Recent events have confirmed the absolute necessity of changing the Australian voting system to improve the quality as well as the ethos of the institution of Parliament. The postal survey on marriage equality was a clear demonstration of the failure of a tired, ‘use-by-date’ Australian political system, with the results as condemned by Professor Allan Patience.
What was obviously the duty of the Parliament – of the parliamentarians, actually – was thrust upon an initially bewildered electorate. Was not the matter to be decided by Parliament, rather than spending 122 million on a non-binding plebiscite? Perhaps the only good thing which came out of the experience is that it showed, in the end, that the electors of Australia are better than the official politics. In limine, one could say that the response to the postal survey proved that Australian professional politicians do not really represent the people. They actually represent a conglomerate of pressure groups, perbene clubs, camarillas, in-crowds, cabals, packs, clientèles, inner circles, coteries, and supporting party branches banding together for hidden interests. Of course, one hears from time to time a loud praise for the ‘wisdom of the Australia people.’ Such courting words are designed to keep ‘the people back home’ happy and proud, albeit marginalised and controlled – which is the ultimate purpose of the Philistine exercise.
What is not said is that the leaders think that people are really too stupid, or ignorant, or uninterested – and often altogether – to be allowed to speak about their own affairs. That presently ‘the people back home’ may see through Turnbull but have reservations on Shorten is something to be patched up with reassuring slogans. Governing the place is to be left to the ‘intelligent minority’, who should be protected from “the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd”, the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”, the “rascal multitude.” According to the circles of courtiers or favourites who surround the leaders of the ‘two party system in the Westminster tradition’ the real role of the general population is to be ‘spectators’, not ‘participants in action’. (C. Rossiter and J. Lare (eds.), The essential Lippmann, A political philosophy for Liberal democracy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.1982, at 91-92) And so, much more interest is gained by sport, sport of any kind, invariably attached to gambling. Politics, when it comes to be talked about, is given the hazy time left after a serious imbibing, when what is belched fits the expectations of the professionals: a quite apathetic populace given to ‘no worries’.
The professionals: “do not speak of them, but look and pass them by”, Dante, Divine Comedy, Hell, III Cant, verse 51.
The Constituent Assembly is to elect from among its members a Constitutional Commission of a designated number of representatives, with the duty to prepare the constitution’s general layout. The Commission could be further divided into a certain number of sub-commissions, to deal, for instance, with the: rights and obligations of the citizens, the constitutional organisation of Australia, the economic and social relationships et cetera.
A more specialised Commission, of a number to be designated, will have the duty to write the constitution in accordance with the work of the previous sub-commissions.
The Assembly members will be charged with putting a referendum to the electors for the proclamation of a republic.
Certain guarantees of democratic principles and practice should be introduced by the adoption of an electoral proportional representation as it is operating in countries like Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, and up to 21 of the 27 countries of the European Community. Up to 87 countries have adopted the system, occasionally modified in details but not in the ultimate substance: New Zealand, for instance has a mixed-member proportional representation, with a 5 per cent – or 1 district winner – threshold.
No one in her/his sane mind would doubt the democratic nature of government in any of those countries. And they are not alone. Of the 87 countries which have adopted the proportional representation electoral system to fill a nationwide elected body, the overwhelming majority proceeds by party lists – the electors voting directly for a party or for candidates whose vote total will pool to a party, as in Finland, often with a percentage threshold, roughly between 3 and 5 per cent.
The road to reform and acceptance could be a difficult one, but not impossible and certainly not impassable.
Continued Monday with: What Sahul could recognise
Previous instalment: A movement of people in Australia (Part 1)
Dr Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.
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