Part Eighteen of a history of European occupation, rule, and brutal imperialism of Indigenous Australia, by Dr George Venturini.
For the past four years the time has been spent in an attempt ‘to recognise’ as a side-show of the Abbott-Turnbull continuing duel.
Amidst so much moral and political misery one can find small solace in the sublime remembrance of Gough Whitlam by Noel Pearson. And if for nothing else, Mr Pearson is due an enormous respect for that eulogy he delivered on death of “this old man” – as he lovingly sang of Gough.
This said, and equally from the heart, one must unequivocally point out the inconsistency of speaking of a dual sovereignty, as the Uluru Statement does.
One must respect in the most solemn way the depiction of a civilisation, the oldest on this earth in fact, which strives to survive. One must appreciate the words, the lyrical words:
“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty.”
But how could one, in the same breath, declare that Indigenous sovereignty “has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown? [Emphasis added].
Yet, Mr Pearson is not alone. With him are all those who spoke in agreement at Uluru – probably the majority of the attendees.
On 16 June 2017 Senator Patrick Dodson delivered the 2017 A.N.U. Mabo Commemoration Oration at University House. The Mabo Commemoration Oration was held to recognise the 25th anniversary of the Mabo ruling.
Patrick Lionel Djargun Dodson is a Yawuru man from Broome in Western Australia. He has dedicated his life work to being an advocate for constructive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples based on mutual respect, understanding and dialogue. He is a former Roman Catholic priest, a recipient of the Sydney International Peace prize. Senator Dodson has extensive experience in Indigenous Affairs, previously as Director of the Central and Kimberley Land Councils and as a Commissioner in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and has previously served as inaugural Chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and as Co-Chair of the Expert Panel for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
Prior to his endorsement by the Australian Labor Party as a Western Australian Senator in March 2016 Senator Dodson was a member of the A.N.U. Council and Co-Chair of the National Referendum Council.
Senator Dodson referred in detail to history, from the invasion to present days and to the tragedy of the Indigenous Peoples and their tribulations since Mabo.
He lamented that “the judiciary and the legislature have become less generous since the Mabo ruling.”
As to the Statement from the Heart, Senator Dodson said that he looks “forward to more information on how the idea of an entrenched Voice can become a systemic, secure and successful legislative reality. Because we need to address the systemic racism that exists in our nation’s founding document, Australia’s Constitution. [Emphasis added].
We want our past to be acknowledged and we want to be involved in decisions about our future.
The Uluru Statement called for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First nations and truth-telling about our history. Many rejected the idea of any ‘symbolic’ acknowledgement in what they saw as a racist document, the Constitution. This may well have been a statement from the heart.”
And he proceeded:
“It is time we acknowledged that Indigenous people were not included in the Constitutional Conventions that were held all over Australia in the lead up to Federation. The Australian Constitution was written by people who thought Indigenous people were lesser beings; a dying race with no sense of land use and development. [Emphasis added]
“The dynamic of racism in Australia is institutional and it is structural.
The foundations of racism are entrenched, persistent, in this nation’s founding document.” … “It would be a mistake to consider constitutional reform as merely ‘symbolic’.
Nothing about our Constitution is symbolic. There is not even a preamble that could point us to something symbolic.” [Emphasis added].
He warned: “Having an Indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution, without amending the Constitution to remove racially entrenched ideologies, is puzzling. It seems to assume that an Indigenous voice in the Constitution could be strong enough to challenge the entrenched structural racism which shapes the policies and laws that affect the lives of Aboriginal people without removing the racist elements of the Constitution.
We know these policies and laws. They are the policies of assimilation, of forced social and cultural change. These are the policies that continue to remove Aboriginal people from their families, country and culture.
These are the policies that have caused Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make up approximately one quarter of Australia’s prison population, despite making up just 3 per cent of the total population. These are the policies which have led to Indigenous Australians dying a decade earlier than non-Indigenous Australians.”
Senator Dodson condemned the existence of such policies “alongside a constitution that is the legacy of a colonial settler narrative, a narrative that saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as lesser beings and Australia as a land belonging to nobody.”
Senator Dodson concluding words are significant of the confusion – to be generous – among Indigenous People who should know better:
“Australia cannot move forward while our founding document, our birth certificate, embodies our racist past. The stubborn stains in our racist Constitution must be erased.” [Emphasis added]
Correctly Senator Dodson observed that in the Constitution “there is not even a preamble that could point us to something symbolic.”
Maybe it is worth recalling the opening words of that act, which is still and only an act of the British Imperial Parliament. They are:
“Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:
And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies and possessions of the Queen:
Be it therefore enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:” The Constitution proper follows. Incidentally, the Ireland mentioned in constitution has been an independent republic since 1937!
One wonders: how could an intellectually well-provided member of the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander People speak about ‘our Constitution’ without blushing?
Or is it, perhaps, that as Paulo Freire – the well-known Brazilian educationist – warned: “The oppressed, having internalised the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.”
Freire could be regarded as one of the leading representatives of ‘Christian liberation theology.’ The historical roots of that theology are to be found in the prophetic tradition of evangelists and missionaries from the earliest colonial days in Latin America – churchmen who questioned the type of presence adopted by the church and the way Indigenous Peoples, blacks, mestizos, and the poor rural and urban masses were treated. One would face some difficulty in recognising that in Australia.
Freire contributed a philosophy of education which came not only from classical approaches stemming from Plato, but also from modern Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. In many ways his Pedagogy of the oppressed (1970) may be best read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Omar Fanon’s The wretched of the Earth (1961), which emphasised the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern – rather than traditional – and anti-colonial, that is to say not simply an extension of the culture of the coloniser. Fanon was an uncompromising political radical and Marxist humanist concerned with the psychopathology of colonisation, and the human, social and cultural consequences of decolonisation.
In Pedagogy of the oppressed Freire, reprising the oppressors-oppressed distinction, differentiates between the positions in an unjust society: the oppressor and the oppressed.
Observations similar observations to those made by Freire had already appeared in the works by Fanon, a Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism. Fanon’s first book, Peau noire, masques blancs – Black skin, white masks was published in 1952 and deals with is written about his own experiences in addition to presenting a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanisation, inherent in situations of colonial domination, on the human psyche.
Black skin, white masks is one of Fanon’s important works. In it Fanon psychoanalyses the oppressed Black person who is perceived to have a lesser value in the ‘white’ world in which s/he lives and, because of that, studies how to navigate the world through a performance of ‘white-ness.’ Particularly in discussing language, Fanon talks about how the black person’s use of a coloniser’s language is seen by the coloniser as predatory, and not transformative, which in turn may create insecurity in the black’s consciousness. He testifies that he himself faced many admonitions as a child for using Creole French instead of ‘real French,’ or ‘French French,’ that is, French as used by the ‘whites’. Ultimately, he concludes that “mastery of language [of the white/coloniser] for the sake of recognition as white reflects a dependency which subordinates the black’s humanity.”
Fanon completed Black skin, white masks while living in France, but most of his work was written in North Africa. It was during this time that, in 1959, he came up with works such as L’an cinq de la révolution Algérienne – Year five of the Algerian revolution, which was later republished as Sociology of a revolution and later still as A dying colonialism.
But Fanon has become best known for the classic analysis of colonialism and decolonisation: Les damnés de la terre – The wretched of the Earth. It was first published in 1961 with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. In it Fanon analyses the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. A dying colonialism and The wretched of the Earth established Fanon in the eyes of much of the ‘Third world’ as the leading anti-colonial thinker of the 20th century.
Fanon has had a strong influence on anti-colonial and national liberation movements. The wretched of the Earth was a major influence on the work of revolutionary leaders such as Steve Biko in South Africa, Malcolm X in the United States and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba.
In Black skin, white masks Fanon would note that: “Every colonized people – in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality – finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation; that is, with the culture of the mother country. The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother-country’s cultural standards,” and that “there is an extraordinary power in the possession of a language.”
Of people who are or appears lifeless, apathetic, completely unresponsive to their surroundings, or indifferent to politics, he said: “Zombies, believe me, are more terrifying than colonists.”
Meanwhile, as he observed in The wretched of the Earth, “The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because he constantly refers to the history of his mother-country, he clearly indicates that he himself is the extension of that mother-country. Thus the history which he writes is not the history of the country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all that she skims off, all that she violates and starves.”
Of a place turned into a quarry by foreign interests and their local managers he said: “Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole of a country. It contents itself with bringing to light the natural resources, which it extracts, and exports to meet the needs of the mother-country’s industries, thereby allowing certain sectors of the colony to become relatively rich. But the rest of the colony follows its path of under-development and poverty, or at all events sinks into it more deeply,” and “The native must realize that colonialism never gives anything away for nothing.”
“The people he said should “come to understand that wealth is not the fruit of labour but the result of organised, protected robbery. Rich people are no longer respectable people; they are nothing more than flesh eating animals, jackals and vultures which wallow in the people’s blood.”
As for the future, “The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”
Strong words, perhaps too strong for people who are still absorbed in advocating for Australians – by it is meant real-Australians – to remain “comfortable and relaxed.” (John Howard: Comfortable And Relaxed, And Enjoying Bob Dylan’s Music, 19 February 1996, Australian Politics).
There is a sense of security in knocking down open doors and repeating old clichés without much conviction that a solution to ancient problems – and by that it is not meant less important – is possible.
Reforming some section of the Constitution, without much reference to the very spirit which informed its preparation, has now become a problem better discussed in the quite academic halls, not in Parliament where such duty belongs.
So one can appreciate the return to the subject by the director of the A.N.U. National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Professor Mick Dodson.
Michael James ‘Mick’ Dodson is a member of the Yawuru people of Western Australia, and, incidentally, the brother of Senator Patrick Dodson. Professor Dodson holds degrees in Jurisprudence and Law from Monash University. Following graduation, he practiced as a criminal solicitor for the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, and later as a criminal defence barrister at the Victorian Bar, where he still practices as a barrister specialising in native title. He has also worked extensively as an academic in Indigenous law. He is currently Professor of Law at the Australian National University, as the director of its National Centre for Indigenous Studies, and he lectured as a visitor at the University of Arizona and Harvard University.
In an interview by The Saturday Paper, Professor Dodson expressed the presently prevailing view that recognition should be secondary to ridding the Constitution of racist powers.
Fair enough, but what chances are there in the composition of the present Parliament? Most representatives keep lamenting, correctly, that it is hard to amend the Constitution. That is true and should be seen as the ultimate gift by the Crown to its remaining loyal servants – all ‘white’, of course – gathered at the many conferences for the preparation of the project submitted to the Imperial Parliament.
Asked “What do you think of the outcome of the Referendum Council’s consultations and Uluru process?” Professor Dodson replied: “In my view it is a little disappointing. It’s not that I disagree with the recommendations. They are things we ought to pursue. But I think it’s a bit back-to-front. We’ve had almost five years now talking about and doing things regarding the Constitution. It’s clear the problem we have is with our Constitution, and the report of the Referendum Council does not address it. Our constitution at its heart is racially discriminatory. Subsection 26 of section 51 allows the parliament to pass laws that can discriminate against any Australian on the basis of race. That’s the problem. There’s also another section, section 25, which contemplates the possibility that states can ban people from voting – disenfranchise them – on the basis of race.
Now, in a modern democracy like ours, we wouldn’t expect to have those provisions in our constitution in the 21st century. Racism is a scourge across the world. We shouldn’t be boasting about it in our constitution. The Uluru result doesn’t deal with that. How are we expected to deal with that? My understanding of the whole process and the terms of reference of the Referendum Council was to deal with these questions. I’m disappointed because it doesn’t.” [Emphases added]
One may well understand Professor Dodson’s sense of frustration, but the difficulties with the constitution should be acknowledged well beyond the content of section 25 and placitum 26 of section 51. Clearly, they are an affront to the Constitution of a modern democracy. But is Australia a modern democracy?
Professor Dodson lamented that reforming the constitution requires “dealing with complex, not just legal but social, cultural and language issues.”
Whether Professor Dodson gave the issues of culture and language the same meaning as intended by Freire and, particularly, Fanon is a mute question. A guess would incline for the negative, in light of the following clarification by the speaker, who gave an unflattering interpretation of the ‘Voice’ proposed in the Uluru Statement.
“I don’t know what happened at Uluru. But I’m disappointed by the result because it’s not going to deal with the constitution. The idea that we go cap in hand to the parliament and ask them to set up a representative body is not dealing with our racist constitution. Secondly, if we’re talking about a treaty and having some sort of recognition of at least a residuum of Indigenous sovereignty, this concedes our sovereignty upfront. [I suggest we] go to the parliament and say: “Please listen to us.”
And the speaker went on with rather sharp words: “I didn’t give permission to Uluru to cede my sovereignty. I think there’s an element of a sort of residual sovereignty that’s left that will enable us to at least get some autonomy or some self-government – some way of sharing power. The problem with our policy approach is we don’t have any power in the game. It’s all up there [in Parliament].”
Asked if he was concerned that the suggestions of the Statement were entrenched in the form proposed and, they could actually be a backward step, Professor Dodson replied: “Yeah. I think it’s saying: “Well, you’re the sovereign one. We want you to deal with us decently.” It’s not saying: “Hang on a minute, we didn’t concede any sovereignty to you. You came and took the place off us without our consent. Can we sit down and talk about that?”
Professor Dodson was quite explicit on ‘recognition’ not being mentioned in the Constitution:
“ … My position has been against a statement of recognition in the constitution because I think that’s unrealistic and too hard to get in and we’re never going to agree on the words. So perhaps that’s okay if you want to legislate some sort of statement through the parliament, that’s fine. But do something about the constitution that gets rid of the racist elements.”
Professor Dodson expressed a rather negative view of the future: “Nothing’s going to happen because neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor Party support what’s come out of Uluru.” [Emphasis added]
Should the process be restarted?
“I don’t know what we do,” said Professor Dodson. “But I thought this was about reforming the constitution, not going cap in hand to the parliament and saying, “Please can I have some of the power?”
And that brings one back to a profound observation by Freire in Pedagogy of the oppressed: “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.”
Not too far away are the words of Fanon: “When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
As to how widespread among the Indigenous People were his view, Professor Dodson said he did not know, but there were people who shared his view.
As to the mass of Australians, he said that “ …there’s something in the Australian psyche that goes back to colonisation and the way in which present-day Australia came by the country and there’s fear of facing up to that truth.”
In conclusion, Professor Dodson insisted: “I’m not saying put aside the results of the Referendum Council’s review exercise. I’m just saying they’re arse-about. Let’s do that after we sort out the constitution.”
That is what he had repeatedly called our constitution, presumably the expression of Australia as a modern democracy – words which ordinarily come with the Westminster System, and a lot of slogans such ‘law-and- order’. (Karen Middleton, Mick Dodson on fixing the constitution, The Saturday Paper, 7 October 2017).
Continued Friday with: The dangers of appeasement (Part 3)
Previous instalment: The dangers of appeasement (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.
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