Warren Mundine had a very thoughtful op-ed on the Uluru Statement in the AFR yesterday.
One is there be “a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution”. The statement doesn’t detail what this means but the idea comes from a model proposed by the Cape York Institute of a representative body enshrined in the constitution to table advice in Parliament on “matters relating to” Indigenous people and requiring both houses of Parliament to consider the advice in debating those laws.
I’ve always disagreed with this proposal and still do.
He is exactly right – this smacks of the 1983 Apartheid constitution that created separate and unequal political chambers for racial minorities in South Africa.
I realise this may be controversial but I am open to the second proposal – a treaty or as Warren Mundine suggests treaties.
I’ve always supported treaties between governments and Indigenous First Nations. I use the plural deliberately. In Australian politics people talk about a treaty between Indigenous people as a whole and the government. This idea has never got anywhere and never will. No one speaks for Indigenous people as a single group. Even if government offered a treaty and identified someone to sign it, Indigenous people wouldn’t recognise it. We identify with our nation group or our “mob” as we call it. I’m Bundjalung. I’d only recognise a treaty between a government and the Bundjalung nation.
I’ve proposed the government offer each First Nation a treaty recognising them as traditional owners of their land and sea and concluding any native title claims over those areas. There should be an established governing body for each nation group representing it on matters specific to the group: to hold any native title, land and other assets, to be the responsible body for cultural and heritage rights and language. Only members of a nation should be members of its governance body using an objective, transparent test for membership. Having a single, authorised and identified representative body for each First Nation also provides certainty for organisations needing to deal with Indigenous people on projects on traditional lands.
Let’s clear away some deadwood. I’m happy to accept that the broader Australian population might not like the idea and I’m happy to accept that any actual treaty (or treaties) that ever got negotiated might not be good treaties. But I would still like to hear the arguments for and against and keep an open mind to the idea.
Although this seems more radical, it’s actually happening now. Native title groups already enter into agreements with governments which, once registered, bind all members of the group, even those who didn’t personally sign it. These are, in a sense, a form of treaty.
What’s more we don’t need a constitutional amendment to implement it. Governments can do it now.
It seems to me that a lack of economic opportunity drives a lot of indigenous disadvantage and social dislocation. If a treaty (or treaties) approach were to drive or attract economic activity towards indigenous communities it is, at least, well-worth exploring the idea.