Clarrie Combo, Mrs Brown and Aboriginal soldiers in WW2



File 20180417 30570 1fksnvg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Yorta Yorta women and girls at the Cummeragunja Reserve in NSW with their knitting for soldiers serving in the second world war.
Australian War Memorial: P01562.001

Kristyn Harman, University of Tasmania

During the second world war, a young Aboriginal soldier, Private Clarrie Combo from New South Wales, exchanged mail with Mrs F. C. Brown from Loxton, South Australia — a white woman whom he had never met.

Very few letters penned by Aboriginal soldiers who served in either of the two world wars survive, yet one of Clarrie’s letters has endured in what might seem a surprising context. Mrs Brown contacted the young soldier after seeing an advertisement calling for volunteers to “adopt” Aboriginal soldiers. His reply was printed in her local newspaper, and its survival provides us with a rare opportunity to learn about military service from an Aboriginal soldier’s perspective.

Private Clarence Combo.
NAA: B883, NX30580

Clarence Combo was born in Wardell, New South Wales, on 14 September 1919. Young Clarrie grew up in a harsh environment — Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home near Kempsey. Consistent with government plans to assimilate Aboriginal people into white Australian society, children like Clarrie were forcibly removed from their families. At Kinchela, boys were called by their allocated numbers rather than names. Identities and cultures were stripped away.

In a country where discriminatory legislation and practices precluded Aboriginal people from earning a fair wage, voting, marrying non-Aboriginal partners, buying property or entering a public bar, it is not too difficult to imagine why some young Aboriginal men signed up for the military when war broke out. An estimated 1,000 Aboriginal soldiers served in the Australian Imperial Force as black diggers during the first world war. By the mid-20th century it was easier for Aboriginal men to sign up, so around 3,000 served Australia during WWII.

Comfort funds

Shortly after WWII began, the Melbourne-based Aborigines Uplift Society, founded by non-Aboriginal activist Arthur Burdeu, created a comforts auxiliary for Aboriginal soldiers. The idea was that women could “adopt” an Aboriginal soldier. They would correspond with him and arrange comfort parcels to be sent to him at the front.

In the Society’s August 1940 Uplift newsletter, Burdeu explained how “native women have not the resources to do as their white sisters, though they are already at work”. In Queensland, for example, children at the Purga Aboriginal Mission sewed underpants, toilet tidies, calico bags and hussifs (sewing kits), and knitted socks, mittens and balaclavas. Yorta Yorta women and children at the Cummeragunja Reserve (located in New South Wales) were also involved in knitting for the war effort.

Newspaper advertisements ran across Australia inviting women to contact Burdeu about “adopting” an Aboriginal soldier. With at least one son-in-law serving Australia, Mrs Brown may have felt compassion for those men whose families could not afford to send them parcels.

Corresponding with Mrs Brown

On September 25, 1941 the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record published one of Clarrie’s letters to Mrs Brown under the headline “Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter”. Clarrie opened his correspondence with Mrs Brown by thanking her for writing to him. He wrote: “it is very nice of you to write to someone you do not know”. At a practical level, Clarrie advised Mrs Brown that he wore size seven boots, as she had offered to knit socks for him.

Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter extract.
https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/109261185

The young private’s letter provides a unique perspective on his experiences serving abroad. “I was in action for the first time in Greece,” he told his correspondent. He described Greece as “the nicest country that I have been in since leaving Australia”, then marvelled at having seen snow for the first time.

However the horrors of war included being “attacked practically every day by the German planes”. He told Mrs Brown how “a few of my pals were killed over there … There were German planes in the sky all day long and they were always bombing”.

What’s left out of correspondence can also be telling. In War Dance: A Story of the 2/3 Aust. Inf. Battalion A.I.F., Ken Clift provides an insight into racial attitudes amongst some of the men, telling of an altercation between two Australian soldiers, an Aboriginal one named Clarrie and an Indian or Afghan soldier, Tom. As the men argued heatedly, Tom allegedly called Clarrie: “You black bastard”. Clarrie was said to have retorted, “Well Tom, you’re no bloody glass of milk yourself.” Clarrie’s correspondence with Mrs Brown omits any mention of such tensions.

Welcome home

Over five years’ service, Clarrie’s tours of duty included Egypt, Libya, Greece, Crete, Syria, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and New Guinea. He suffered illness and injuries. In 1941 he caught sandfly fever, an ailment commonly suffered by soldiers fighting in North Africa. His “Proceedings for Discharge” notes that Clarrie received two war injuries, one to his right forearm and the other, a gunshot wound inflicted in New Guinea in June 1945, to his left forearm.

Clarrie’s war experiences included seeing some of his mates injured or killed. He would also have been expected to fire on enemy combatants. However, his correspondence with Mrs Brown, replete with anecdotes about foreign lands and peoples, highlights how being part of Australia’s war effort in the mid-20th century also gave him insights into other places and cultures.

The ConversationFortunately, Clarrie survived the war. He was one of five Aboriginal soldiers welcomed home to Wardell by the Cabbage Tree Island Women’s Guild just before Christmas 1945. By the mid-1960s Clarrie was chairing the Aboriginal Cooperative at Cabbage Tree Island and participating in national conferences advocating equal rights for Aboriginal people.

Kristyn Harman, Senior Lecturer in History; Graduate Research Coordinator, School of Humanities; Course Coordinator, Diploma of History, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Closing the Gap results still lag, as Shorten pledges compensation fund for Stolen Generations


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The tenth Closing the Gap report, to be tabled in parliament by Malcolm Turnbull on Monday, shows only three of the seven targets are on track to be met.

The targets for early childhood education and Year 12 attainment are on track, and the target to halve child mortality is back on track. But the remaining targets are not on track – for school attendance, mortality, employment, and reading and numeracy.

The government will hail this year’s outcome as the most promising result since 2011. Last year, only one target was being met – on improved Year 12 attainment.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will mark a decade on from then prime minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology by announcing Labor would set up a compensation scheme for survivors of the Stolen Generations in Commonwealth jurisdictions.

The scheme would give ex-gratia payments of A$75,000 to living survivors. There would also be a funeral assistance fund with one-off payments of $7,000 to Stolen Generations members to assist with their funerals.

The compensation scheme would be accessible to about 150 surviving members of the Stolen Generations in the Northern Territory and any members in the ACT and Jervis Bay.

Labor would also establish a $10 million national healing fund “to support healing for the Stolen Generations and their families – in recognition of the inter-generational effects of forced removals”.

Shorten will say that recently the number of children removed from their families has rapidly increased.

“In 2017, more than 17,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were living in out-of-home care, compared with about 9,000 a decade ago,” he says in a statement with the shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs, Patrick Dodson. In response, Labor would convene a national summit on First Nations Children in its first 100 days in office.

Shorten’s announcements would cost $17.1 million over the forward estimates.

With four of the existing Closing the Gap targets expiring this year – child mortality, school attendance, reading and numeracy, and employment – the Council of Australian Governments is working with Indigenous people to refresh the agenda.

The government will point to progress on a range of health indicators:

  • Child mortality dropped by one-third between 1998 and 2015.

  • Overall mortality fell 15% from 1998 to 2015.

  • Fewer Indigenous people are dying from chronic conditions. Deaths from circulatory diseases declined by 45% between 1998 and 2016; respiratory disease deaths fell by 24% between 1998 and 2015; kidney disease death rates decreased by 47% from 2006 to 2015.

  • The proportion of Indigenous adults who smoke fell from 55% in 1994 to 45% in 2014-15.

  • Efforts are on track to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem by 2020. The prevalence of active trachoma in Indigenous children aged between five and nine in at-risk communities declined from 14% in 2009 to 4.7% in 2016.

  • The gap in blindness and vision impairment halved between 2008 and 2016. Indigenous people have three times the rate of blindness and vision impairment compared to the non-Indigenous population. In 2008 the figure was six times.

  • Drinking during pregnancy halved between 2008 and 2014-15, and there was an 8% drop in binge drinking among Indigenous people from 2008 and 2015.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the results demonstrated “the power of a collaborative approach between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Even where we may not be on track, we have achieved solid progress in other target areas compared with a decade ago.”

The ConversationThe government will highlight the success of the Indigenous Procurement Policy. Its target was achieved three years ahead of schedule and it has now passed $1 billion in contracts to Indigenous businesses. Scullion flagged Turnbull would be announcing “new measures to turbo-charge the Indigenous business sector”.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6jqa7-8776fa?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Full response from Sherry Sufi for a FactCheck on native title


Lucinda Beaman, The Conversation

In an opinion piece published by Fairfax Media, WA Liberal Party policy committee chairman and PhD candidate Sherry Sufi argued that “native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded”.

The Conversation asked Sufi for sources and comment to support his statement, for inclusion in this FactCheck. Here is Sufi’s full response:

Disclaimer: My article in Fairfax Media and the correspondence with The Conversation are not statements on behalf of the WA Liberal Party or any of its constituent bodies. The views expressed are my own.

As one of the 193 member states of the United Nations, Australia exists as part of a rules-based world order.

Land conquests through war of aggression were only criminalised after World War II.

This prohibition does not apply retroactively. Doing so would throw the entire world map into turmoil.

It applies on future attempts to conquer. The status quo of international borders at the time was deemed ‘frozen’. Lands conquered before the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) are deemed lawful conquests.

Yale Professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro have comprehensively addressed this topic in their recent publication ‘The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World’. Check Part III, Chapter One.

So it follows that if Australia was invaded, then it has been conquered. This would technically negate claims to separate land rights for descendants of native populations.

Yet the Mabo decision rested on the presumption that Australia was settled, not invaded. Therefore, native title is safe.

Sources that support my argument that territories invaded and annexed prior to the prohibition of war are legitimate conquests:

“However, under the doctrine of intertemporal law and pursuant to the general principle of non-retroactivity of the law, the title to territory conquered and annexed at the time when international law allowed acquisition of title by a conqueror, remains legally valid.” – Boczek, A. (2005). International Law: A Dictionary. Scarecrow Press, page 213.

“ … that before the UN Charter and the recognition of the right of self-determination, conquest and colonisation were legal.” – McDonnell, T. (2009). The United States, International Law, and the Struggle Against Terrorism. Routledge, page 280.

Sources that support my argument that Australia was settled, not invaded:

“It is fundamentally to our legal system that the Australian colonies became British possessions by settlement and not by conquest.”
– Gibbs J in Coe v Commonwealth (1979).

“Most legal commentators agree the ‘foundation case’ of the Australian legal system was the UK Privy Council judgement in Cooper v. Stuart (1889), which described the colony of New South Wales as having been ‘peacefully annexed’ by Britain in 1788.” – Windschuttle, K. (2016). The Break-Up of Australia: the real agenda behind Aboriginal recognition. Quadrant Books, page 376.

“The High Court’s decision in Mabo not only preserves the distinction between settled territories on the one hand and conquered or ceded territories on the other, but it also clarifies the law that applies in territories that have been settled in circumstances like Australia.” – Secher, U. (2005). The Mabo Decision – Preserving the Distinction between Settled and Conquered or Ceded Territories

Here are the relevant quotes from the Mabo decision that support my argument:

“International law recognised conquest, cession, and occupation of territory that was terra nullius as three of the effective ways of acquiring sovereignty.”

“As among themselves, the European nations parcelled out the territories newly discovered to the sovereigns of the respective discoverers … provided the discovery was confirmed by occupation and provided the indigenous inhabitants were not organised in a society that was united permanently for political action.”

“The acquisition of territory is chiefly the province of international law; the acquisition of property is chiefly the province of the common law. The distinction between the Crown’s title to territory and the Crown’s ownership of land within a territory is made as well by the common law as by international law.”


Response from Kate Galloway, lead author of the FactCheck:

As to whether the law deems Australia to have been settled, not invaded, the sources Sufi has cited above are correct.

However, Sufi’s final paragraph contains the reason that his claim that “native title can only exist if Australia was settled not invaded” is incorrect. As Sufi has cited from the Mabo decision, “the acquisition of property [native title] is chiefly the province of the common law”.

Following this, Sufi does not examine the common law rules about land ownership that would apply if Australia had been deemed conquered. This is the missing link in his original argument, and why the claim is incorrect.

The ConversationRead the full FactCheck here.

Lucinda Beaman, FactCheck Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

FactCheck: can native title ‘only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded’?


Kate Galloway

… there is a fundamental point which goes to the heart of this debate that literally no one, to date, seems to have picked up on …

Native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded.

– Excerpt from an opinion piece written by Sherry Sufi, chairman of the WA Liberal Party policy committee, published by Fairfax Media, January 20, 2018

Every January, the debate about the date of Australia’s national day intensifies.

The current date of Australia Day – January 26 – marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of Europeans in Australia. To some Australians, this date is known as Invasion Day, or Survival Day.

The Australian Greens party has renewed its campaign to change the date of Australia Day. Greens leader Richard di Natale has lent his voice to the argument that January 26 marks “the beginning of an invasion”.

In an opinion piece, WA Liberal Party policy committee chairman Sherry Sufi said Di Natale was “attempting to undermine native title by implying that Australia was invaded and conquered”.

Sufi argued that “native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded”.

Let’s look at the law.

Checking the source

When asked for sources and comment to support his statement, Sherry Sufi provided this response:

Disclaimer: My article in Fairfax Media and the correspondence with The Conversation are not statements on behalf of the WA Liberal Party or any of its constituent bodies. The views expressed are my own.

As one of the 193 member states of the United Nations, Australia exists as part of a rules-based world order. Land conquests through war of aggression were only criminalised after World War II.

This prohibition does not apply retroactively. Doing so would throw the entire world map into turmoil.

It applies on future attempts to conquer. The status quo of international borders at the time was deemed ‘frozen’. Lands conquered before the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) are deemed lawful conquests.

So it follows that if Australia was invaded, then it has been conquered. This would technically negate claims to separate land rights for descendants of native populations.

Yet the Mabo decision rested on the presumption that Australia was settled, not invaded. Therefore, native title is safe.

You can read Sufi’s full response and references cited here.


Verdict

Sherry Sufi’s claim that “native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded” is incorrect.

Native title is the legal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ property rights to Australian land that existed when the English took possession of the territory in 1788. Native title was recognised by the Australian High Court in the 1992 Mabo case.

Had Australia originally been deemed to be conquered – or “invaded” – rather than settled, native title would indeed have existed.

Under English law, if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were conquered, they would have retained their interests in land – or native title – under their own laws, until those laws were overturned by the English.


Responding to Sufi’s argument

As to whether the law deems Australia to have been settled, not invaded, the sources Sufi has cited in his full response to The Conversation are correct.

However, Sufi’s response contains the reason that his claim that “native title can only exist if Australia was settled not invaded” is incorrect.

As Sufi has cited from the 1992 Mabo decision, “the acquisition of property [native title] is chiefly the province of the common law”. Following this, Sufi does not examine the common law rules about land ownership that would apply if Australia had been deemed conquered.

This is the missing link in his original argument, and why the claim is incorrect.

In his article, Sufi justified his claim, in part, on the grounds that “international law recognises all territories acquired through invasion and annexation by force, prior to World War II, as lawful conquests”.

Whether or not that statement in itself is accurate is a matter for an international law expert to determine.

Because even if this is now the status of international law, it concerns the basis of sovereignty in modern times. To the extent that the means of acquiring sovereignty is relevant to native title law, it is sovereignty in 1788 that is relevant.

The High Court of Australia in the 1992 Mabo decision found that an Australian court does not have the power to challenge the basis on which the English claimed sovereignty in 1788.

The status of Australian land law, including native title, is a different matter: it is determined under domestic law, not international law. Australian courts do have the power to alter domestic law, which is what the Court did in Mabo.

So Sufi’s statement about international law, whether correct or incorrect in itself, is not relevant to native title in Australia. The justification does not stand.

Let’s look at the relevant law.

Conquest or settlement?

To assess Sufi’s primary claim, we need to look at what happened when Europeans arrived in Australia in 1788, and at the 1992 Mabo case heard in the Australian High Court, which formed the basis of native title in Australia.

The Mabo case decision is the primary source document for this FactCheck.

In 1788, England sought to establish itself as sovereign – or the governing body – over Australian territory.

There are a number of ways to become sovereign under international law. In considering what happened in Australia in 1788, Justice Brennan – who wrote the leading judgment in Mabo – focused on the three most relevant. They were:

  • conquest – the acquisition of a territory by force,
  • cession – an existing state transfers sovereignty over its territory to another state, or
  • occupation – taking possession of a territory not under the control of an existing sovereign.

In his article, Sufi talks about the consequences of “invasion”. The international law described in Mabo refers to “conquest” rather than invasion. So that’s the term I’ll use in this FactCheck.

Fact or legal fiction?

Of those pathways to becoming sovereign over Australia, the English considered themselves to be ‘occupiers’.

The concept of ‘occupation’ relies on the land being ‘terra nullius’ – or belonging to no one. In its literal sense, this means there were no prior inhabitants in the territory.

Of course, that was not the case in Australia – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had been living in the country for at least 65,000 years before the First Fleet arrived.

But the arriving Europeans took the approach that Australia’s Indigenous peoples were “too low in the scale of social organisation to be acknowledged as possessing rights and interests in land”, and were deemed not to have laws, or to be sovereign over Australia.

This allowed for the application of what Justice Brennan described as an “enlarged notion of terra nullius”, and for the English to deem that they had occupied the land.

It’s important to note that in this case, terra nullius, and therefore occupation, is a ‘legal fiction’: an assertion of a state of affairs deemed by the law to be valid, even though it may not be factual.

Who owns the land?

Having established sovereignty, England needed to determine what law applied in the new colony – and in particular, what law applied to the ownership of land.

This was a question for English law, rather than international law.

Under English law, in territories that were conquered or ceded, the existing laws of the original inhabitants would continue to apply until they were overturned by the English.

Therefore, if Australia had been deemed to be conquered, or “invaded”, the existing laws of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including laws about land ownership, would have continued to apply until the English repealed them.

However, for territory that had been occupied or settled – as was declared to be the case in Australia – English law would be imported, including English land law. Under that law, the Crown owned all land.

The Mabo decision

These concepts were challenged in the Mabo case in the Australian High Court in 1992.

In the Mabo decision, Justice Brennan stated that the concept of terra nullius ignored the reality of the existing inhabitants of the territory.

The Mabo decision found that the legal fiction that Australia was uninhabited could no longer stand. It acknowledged that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did have a recognised system of laws.

The Mabo decision did not change the international law position that Australia had been occupied. What the Court did do was create a new English law category for working out what law applied: the territory was settled, but inhabited.

Based on this new category, sovereignty and land ownership were separated. The Crown was no longer automatically the owner of all the land.

Instead, the original occupants of Australia – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – remained the owners until the Crown extinguished their interests, or they were otherwise lost. This is native title.

Conclusion

So, what does that all mean for Sufi’s claim?

Sufi said “native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded”.

In 1788 Australia was, under English law, deemed to be settled. In 1992, the Australian High Court deemed Australia to have been settled, but inhabited. Because of that decision, native title as we know it today does exist. Land law stopped being English land law, and became Australian land law.

Had Australia been deemed to be conquered (or “invaded”), the interests in the land – the native title – would also have existed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would have continued to own the land until the Crown extinguished those interests.

Either way, whether Australia was deemed to be “invaded” or settled, Australian land law would recognise Indigenous interests in land – that is, it would recognise native title. – Kate Galloway

Blind review

The verdict is clearly correct.

It is not the case that “native title can only exist if Australia was settled, not invaded”.

As this FactCheck points out, it is to the contrary. It has long been a rule of English law that in a colony acquired by conquest the former laws continue to apply until altered by the conqueror, and rights to land continue until they are extinguished.

Some elements of the Mabo decision have been contested by scholars. This is not one of them. It is very clear that native title could exist if Australia were characterised as conquered. – Leon Terrill


The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit is the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

The ConversationHave you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Kate Galloway, Associate Professor of Law

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

First reconciliation, then a republic – starting with changing the date of Australia Day



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Changing the date of Australia Day is the first tiny step for Australia to begin the reckoning with its origins.
AAP/Dan Peled

Maggie Walter, University of Tasmania

As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And just for good measure, we’ll check the health of Australian slang along the way.


I have always been rather taken with Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon which depicts a man getting out of bed in the morning, reading a very large poster on his wall that says:

First pants, then your shoes.

This stating of an obvious but critical ordering of events has salience for the debate over whether Australia should become a republic. Reconciliation between the Settler and First Nations populations is a self-evident prerequisite for Australia cutting the ties of colonial dependency with Britain to stand on our own.

If we can’t work out that we need to complete the peacemaking between Indigenous Australians – the sole occupiers of the Australian continent for upwards of 60,000 years – and those whose ancestors arrived at or post-1788, we are not ready to be a republic.

We might be attracted to republican prestige, with its sense of a national coming of age, but we can’t just take the title. Being a republic brings with it the responsibilities of being a grown-up country.

Changing the date of Australia Day is the first tiny step for Australia, both as a nation and a society, to begin the reckoning with its origins. The Australian nation-state is founded on the dispossession of the people of the lands the nation-state now occupies, and from which it draws its wealth and identity.

It’s as simple as that. No ifs, no buts. Australia Day observed on January 26 celebrates the date on which the British flag was first raised in Sydney Cove in the act of colonisation.


Further reading: Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


The debate over the date

I am heartened by the growing calls from so many non-Indigenous people and groups to change the date of Australia Day. But I am also despairing that so many still do not seem to understand why celebrating January 26 is deeply hurtful to Indigenous people.

Perhaps, as Henry Reynolds suggests, many non-Indigenous Australians simply do not know what January 26 represents. Maybe. But most do know that the date is connected in some way to Indigenous dispossession.


Further reading: Henry Reynolds: Triple J did the right thing, we need a new Australia Day


It is also well known what this day represents for Indigenous people: the massacres, the near-genocides, the abduction of women, the forced relocations, and the denial of basic human rights dictated by the euphemistically named Aboriginal Protection Acts – some not fully repealed until the 1970s. Why would Indigenous people choose to celebrate that?

Or, as Mark McKenna writes, for many, Australia Day is constructed as cut loose from history. The past is the past, it is argued, so why can’t we all just celebrate what’s good about Australia on January 26?


Further reading: More than an excuse for a long weekend – how we came to love Australia Day


Yes, colonisation is a fact that can’t be undone. Nobody knows this better than Indigenous people. But celebrating Australia Day on that date is the opposite of a present/future focus.

January 26 was selected purposefully to commemorate that past by declaring the initial act of colonisation as the most important event in the Australian historical calendar. Why does non-Indigenous Australia choose to celebrate that?

That the political proponents of keeping the date as it is know what January 26 is actually celebrating is clear in their deployment of noble sentiment as obfuscating defence.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, in a 2017 speech on the topic, is fairly typical in this regard. Castigating the Yarra Council over its decision to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day, Turnbull argued Australia Day is the day on which we recognise and honour our First Australians and our newest migrants – and to change the date would be to turn our back on Australian values. He has made similar remarks in recent days.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmalcolmturnbull%2Fvideos%2F10156167474656579%2F&show_text=1&width=560

I don’t dispute Turnbull’s sentiments. What he describes is what Australia Day should be. But what he describes is not what it is now.

Dressing up the pre-eminent day of commemoration in the Australian calendar as something other than this, as somehow about Australian values or a day that all Australians can take pride in, or – even as Turnbull asserts – a day when we recognise First Australians and our history, is just a dishonest diversion from the actuality.

We are convincing no-one, not even ourselves, that we are doing anything else on January 26 but celebrating colonisation and the dispossession of Indigenous people.

If we aren’t celebrating the colonisation of Australia, then there should be no problem in changing the date. If we are, then be honest about it without resorting to self-deceptions.

An Australia Day worth celebrating

Again, on January 26 this year, I, along with many other Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, will march down Elizabeth Street to the Tasmanian parliament lawns for rousing speeches and emotional protest.

In fact once the date is changed – as it inevitably will be – I will miss the event’s camaraderie. It has become a January ritual.

But imagine what Australia Day could be. What if Australia Day was actually those things Turnbull says it is. What if Australia Day was a genuine celebration of all that’s good and unique about Australia? What if Australia Day celebrated our 60,000 years or so of human history as something that belongs to all of us – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and that we can and should all take pride in?

What if Australia Day was a day on which we came together rather than celebrating the dispossession of one by the other?

Now that is an Australia Day worth celebrating.

But that day has not yet come. Instead, our leaders resolutely insist that this is the date most appropriate to hold our national day of celebration – and sanction those who disagree.

For Indigenous people, this tenacity can only be read as callous disregard. To do so in the shadow of overt refusal of the efforts of Indigenous people to advance reconciliation through the Uluru Statement from the Heart reinforces the political message of callousness. It also demonstrates a national immaturity.


Further reading: Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?


A developed society reconciles its past with its present, resolving what needs to be resolved, settling what needs to be settled. For Australia, the result could be a new national narrative: one we wouldn’t have to resort to duplicity to celebrate, one more befitting an aspiring republic.

Drawing from the wisdom of the Far Side cartoon: Australia, first change the date to begin a just settling, then contemplate becoming a republic.


The ConversationCatch up on others in the series here.

Maggie Walter, Pro Vice Chancellor (Aboriginal Research and Leadership) and Professor of Sociology, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As costs mount, the government should abandon the Cashless Debit Card


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The Cashless Debit Card trial disproportionately targets Indigenous people, despite what the government says.
AAP/Richard Milnes

Elise Klein, University of Melbourne

A Senate inquiry has recommended that trials of the Cashless Debit Card be continued and expanded to new sites in other states next year. This is despite Labor and Greens senators providing separate dissenting reports that rejected the recommendation that legislation for the bill should pass.

The majority report’s proposal dramatically contrasts with most of the submissions accepted by the inquiry raising significant concerns and arguing against the trials. These submissions outline a variety of serious issues that have been largely overlooked.

What is the card?

The trials for the Cashless Debit Card began in early 2016 in Ceduna, South Australia, and the East Kimberley in Western Australia.

The card quarantines 80% of social security payments received by all working-age people (between the ages of 15 and 64) in the trial sites. It attempts to restrict cash and purchases of alcohol, illegal drugs and gambling products.

The card compulsorily includes people receiving disability, parenting, carers, unemployed and youth allowance payments. People on the aged pension, on a veteran’s payment or earning a wage are not compulsorily included in the trial, but can volunteer to take part.

The issues left unanswered

The trial disproportionately targets Indigenous people, despite the government claiming the card is for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous welfare recipients. This is disingenuous, given the card was first proposed as a key recommendation in mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s Review of Indigenous Training and Employment.

This recommendation followed various other forms of income management, including a program that was part of the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007.

The Intervention required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to explicitly target all Indigenous people on welfare. Concerns about human rights breaches continue, and most were overlooked by the Human Rights Joint Committee’s commentary on the Cashless Debit Card bill.

The trial of the card has increased hardship in people’s lives. This is not only because of the experiment’s disorganised and ill-conceived implementation, but also due to the trial’s design.

People are being compulsory included because there is an assumption that they engage in problematic behaviours, such as the over-consumption of alcohol, gambling, or the use of illegal drugs. But this is not the reality for most people.

Being put on the card has made people’s lives harder because limiting cash restricts people’s ability to undertake day-to-day activities to help their family’s wellbeing. This includes getting second-hand goods, paying for transport, and buying gifts.

This hardship is reflected in the final evaluation of the trial, in which 32% said their lives were worse since being on the card (only 23% said their lives were better).

Further, 48% of participants reported that the card does not help them look after their children better. This is concerning, as recently completed research into income management programs indicates a correlation with negative impacts on children – including a reduction in birth weight and school attendance.

Getting the assumptions wrong has pushed already vulnerable people into even more vulnerable situations. Medical specialists have raised concerns with the card being used to treat addiction.

Both crime and domestic assaults increased under the card in the East Kimberley. Superintendent Adams of the Kimberley Police District told the Senate inquiry that in the 12 months to June 30, 2016, there were 319 domestic assaults in Kununurra, but in the 12 months to June 30, 2017 (and the time of the trial), this figure had increased to 508.

Flawed evidence

The government used both the interim and final evaluations as key evidence to justify extending the trials.

Both evaluations have been severely criticised as being methodologically and analytically flawed: from the way interviews were conducted, to having no baseline to test government claims of success, through to an over-emphasis on anecdotal improvements and discarding important issues such as the increase in crime and domestic violence.

The decision to implement the card was not a community decision that represents the regions’ diverse interests or population. And some have had more say than others.

For example, the Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation noted that, although the:

… Department of Social Services states that the Cashless Debit Card program was co-designed with local leaders in Kununurra … in reality, only four local leaders were consulted in relation to the introduction of the [card] in Kununurra.

Consultations themselves have not been about co-design, but have been tokenistic to convince people to support the card.

In a perverse twist, the only way people can get themselves off the trial is to get a job. Yet in both Ceduna and the East Kimberley, the biggest cause of unemployment is the lack of formal, dignified and secure jobs. Linking to unemployment, some people included in the trial are also subjected to the punitive Community Development Program. This compounds poverty, as the program’s nature induces high breaching rates.

Even if a few support the card, many more have suffered material and emotional hardship. The community has been fractured through such heavy-handed intervention. And the A$25 million spent on it has demonstrated no credible evidence of sufficient benefit to justify an ongoing rollout.

That the card continues to be pursued by government exposes its dogged obsession with implementing neocolonial and punitive policy for some imagined political gain at the expense of vulnerable people.


The ConversationThe author would like to thank professor Jon Altman and Sarouche Razi for comments on earlier drafts.

Elise Klein, Lecturer in Development Studies, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the government was wrong to reject an Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’



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Indigenous people feel powerless in their own country, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
AAP

Harry Hobbs, UNSW

Indigenous leaders have decried Malcolm Turnbull’s rejection of the Referendum Council’s recommendations as a “real kick in the guts”, having “broken First Nations’ hearts”, and derailed the process and likelihood of Indigenous constitutional recognition.

The council had recommended a referendum be held to change Australia’s Constitution to establish an Indigenous “Voice to Parliament”. While details were to be worked out in discussion with Indigenous communities, it was envisaged that such a body would empower Indigenous people to have a voice on legislation and policy that affects them.

This idea followed an 18-month process of consultation and debate, including six months of regional dialogues with Indigenous people across Australia. At these dialogues, Indigenous people documented their feelings of voicelessness in Australian politics.

The process culminated in a constitutional convention at Uluru, where around 250 delegates agreed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.


Further reading: Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?


Why was the Voice to Parliament rejected?

Turnbull, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Attorney-General George Brandis set out the three reasons why cabinet rejected the Voice to Parliament.

  • First, the government did not believe such a body was “desirable”, arguing that the “radical” proposal undermines equality and the principle of one-person one-vote.

  • Second, the government considered it was unclear how the Voice to Parliament would work.

  • Third, and consequently, the government argued that it would “inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament” and would therefore not be “capable of winning acceptance in a referendum”.

These reasons mirror those of an Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) research brief that was distributed to all federal MPs in July this year. The IPA argued an Indigenous voice to parliament is “radical”, “divisive and undemocratic”, and “vague”.

The IPA noted further that “Indigenous Australians already have a voice to parliament” – like all citizens, they have an opportunity to vote in elections.

Are these reasons fair?

The government’s reasons have been attacked as “dishonest” and “disingenuous”.

The Voice to Parliament was widely regarded as modest change. Instead of a judicially enforced prohibition on racial discrimination, the body was designed to provide “active participation in the democratic life of the state”.

This is important. The body would actually rectify a persistent democratic fault in Australian society. Although Indigenous people enjoy “full equality” in the electoral arena, their position as an extreme numerical minority makes it difficult for them to be heard by government.

As the Uluru statement articulates, Indigenous people feel powerless in their own country. A Voice to Parliament would merely empower:

… the First Peoples of Australia to speak to the parliament and to the nation about the laws and policies that affect them.

In this sense, such a body would not challenge Australian democracy. It would instead realise its ideals. For this reason, it was supported by many constitutional conservatives.

Further, it is unfair to dismiss the proposal as lacking detail, as it was shaped to allow parliament to design the body. In any case, issues of design had not been ignored. The Cape York Institute provided a 78-page report to government detailing design options.

Finally, in defending the decision not to proceed to a referendum, Scullion said the government knew it “would have absolutely zero chance of success”. It is unclear, however, how the government knows this for certain.

Scullion explained further that:

I don’t need evidence … we have done a lot of polling, not on this particular [] matter, but on other matters.

Ultimately, it is impossible to tell whether the body would achieve support at a referendum. Although many surveys indicate support for constitutional change, they were all conducted in the absence of a specific proposal. No polling has been done on a Voice to Parliament.

Where to now for constitutional recognition?

A Voice to Parliament is not yet dead. At the Garma Festival in August, Bill Shorten committed to the body, recognising that it represents a strong consensus aspiration of Indigenous people.

However, without government support, a referendum will not be held.

The government has said it will establish a joint parliamentary committee with the opposition to examine alternative proposals for constitutional change to benefit Indigenous people. It remains:

… confident that we can … develop constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only.

But it is difficult to see how this is possible.

Indigenous people were asked directly what recognition meant to them. They have responded, and the government has dismissed their views. It is likely, then, that Indigenous people will campaign against a proposal devised by parliament. They will continue to push for a “voice”. Their struggle does not end.

Treaty, now?

The Uluru statement also proposed the establishment of a Makarrata Commission. The commission would supervise a process of agreement-making between Indigenous people and governments, and truth-telling about Australia’s colonial past.

It is not yet clear whether Turnbull supports these proposals. However, to some degree, it is immaterial.

Steps toward treaties have already been made in several Australian states and territories. Indigenous people in Victoria and South Australia are discussing how negotiations with state governments should be conducted. The Northern Territory has also committed to a process of treaty negotiations.


Further reading: Will treaties with Indigenous Australians overtake constitutional recognition?


Treaties are constitutional recognition. They can also be realised without a referendum.

Treaties have long been a desire of Indigenous people. However, they have re-emerged in recent years as Indigenous people have become frustrated at the national process of constitutional recognition. It is only natural that efforts will redouble in this area.

But while treaties are important, they will not empower Indigenous peoples at the national level. A Voice to Parliament remains a key aspiration.

In the Uluru statement, Indigenous people invited non-Indigenous Australians to:

… walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

The ConversationThe Turnbull government has chosen to ignore this call. But there’s still time for the rest of us to accept this invitation.

Harry Hobbs, PhD Candidate, Constitutional Law and Indigenous Rights, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull government says no to Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has rejected the Referendum Council’s call for a national Indigenous representative assembly to be put into the Constitution, effectively taking the debate about constitutional recognition back to square one.

Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney-General George Brandis and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, responding to the council’s report, said: “The government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum”.

The proposal for the body came late into the debate about recognising Indigenous people in the Constitution. It was driven by prominent Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, and taken up by the May convention of Indigenous people in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, before being put forward by the council.

The cause of getting an Indigenous voice also gained support from some constitutional conservatives who preferred it to adding to the Constitution or rewriting parts of it.

The longer the debate about a constitutional change has gone on, the less chance there has seemed of community consensus. It has become clear that Indigenous people will not countenance a minimalist position, while a more radical proposal would not get the support required in a referendum, which must obtain an overall majority and win in a majority of states.

ALso, many Indigenous people are now more interested in pursuing a treaty than the earlier-canvased options for constitutional change.

The council proposed that the “Voice to Parliament” would have “the right to be consulted on legislation and policies that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The government’s Thursday statement said: “Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national parliament.

“A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.

“It would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament. The Referendum Council noted the concerns that the proposed body would have insufficient power if its constitutional function was advisory only.”

The challenge was to find a constitutional amendment that would succeed and which did not undermine the principles of unity, equality and one-person one-vote, the statement said. The government wants consideration to return now to work done over the past decade “largely with bipartisan support”.

The rejection of the Voice to Parliament was backed by Tony Abbott, who as opposition leader and prime minister promoted constitutional recognition of Indigenous people. He favoured a minimalist model and at one stage aimed for a May 2017 referendum, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic 1967 referendum.

Abbott said in a Facebook post on Thursday that recognition should “come in a way that brings all of us together and this proposal, for a further level of indigenous representation, was unlikely to achieve that”.

But Labor’s shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs, Pat Dodson, one of several Indigenous members of federal parliament, described the government decision as “a real kick in the guts for the Referendum Council”.

Pearson told the ABC Turnbull had “broken the first nations’ hearts of this country” expressed in the Uluru Statement.

“The prime minister and his cabinet have arrogated to themselves the entire judgement of this fundamental issue of how do we recognise Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“Why not just put it to the Australian people, as we are putting to a plebiscite the question about same-sex marriage at this very moment?”

The Uluru Statement Working Group said it was disappointed at the government’s decision. Its co-chair, Josephine Crawshaw, said Turnbull understood that a minimalist approach would not satisfy many Indigenous people.

The Conversation“Our aspirations are high, but the prime minister appears to believe that the Australian people will not support those aspirations. This is a very unfortunate view for the prime minister to hold, particularly when he has the highest platform to inspire all Australians to achieve great things for this country and for all its people.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

With a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Australia must fix its record on Indigenous rights



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The UN Human Rights Committee challenged the Australian government to produce policy that truly includes Indigenous people.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Anna Cody, UNSW and Maria Nawaz, UNSW

It was a big week for Australia at the United Nations last week. It won a seat on the leading international human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council, for a three-year term. The UN Human Rights Committee also reviewed Australia’s compliance with a key human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

One would assume the Human Rights Council seat means Australia will lead on issues of human rights domestically, including in the area of Indigenous rights (one of the five pillars of Australia’s bid) and self-determination.

However, as the UN Human Rights Committee review showed, Australia is failing to meet basic human rights standards for Indigenous peoples.

Violence against women in Indigenous communities

To its credit, the Australian government delegation was open and frank in its dialogue with the committee. The delegation acknowledged key areas in which the country needs to improve.

One of the pressing issues affecting Indigenous communities is family violence. Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. The severity of the violence is also greater, with higher rates of hospitalisation.

The government delegation acknowledged that the rate of violence against Indigenous women was “appalling”. It referred to “A$25 million for Indigenous-specific measures” and a “trauma-informed approach for children affected by violence”. This is just one measure the government is adopting to deal with violence against Indigenous women.

The NGO coalition, led by Kingsford Legal Centre and the Human Rights Law Centre, agreed with the government delegation that an area for hope was the recent appointment of June Oscar as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. Oscar has been at the forefront of effective, Aboriginal-led initiatives to deal with family violence in Fitzroy Crossing.

Indeed, the NGO coalition called for the government to include Indigenous women in the monitoring and evaluation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. It also called on it to fund Indigenous community-controlled services with expertise in working with victims/survivors of family violence.

Indigenous incarceration rates

An area in which Australia continues to breach international human rights standards is Indigenous incarceration rates. The national imprisonment rate for Indigenous adults is 13 times higher than that for non-Indigenous adults. While Indigenous people are only 2% of the population, they account for 27% of the prison population.

Mandatory sentencing and imprisonment for fine default, as canvassed by the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry, are key contributors to these statistics.

The UN Human Rights Committee repeatedly noted its concern about Indigenous incarceration rates and focused on policing of Indigenous communities. A committee member raised the case of Ms Dhu, who died in custody in Western Australia after being arrested for defaulting on fines. He asked why the laws providing for imprisonment for fine default had not yet been “scrapped”.

The committee also raised the recent case of an Aboriginal woman who called WA police for help in a domestic violence situation. She was taken into custody for a fine default, leaving her five children without support.

The Australian government was asked how this represented a “trauma-informed” approach to dealing with family violence.

Self-determination and constitutional reform

One of the key areas of interest for the NGO delegation and the committee was the response to entrenched disadvantage through effective policy. This connected closely with the identification of constitutional reform as advocated by Indigenous delegates at the regional dialogue process that produced the Uluru Statement.

The NGO delegation highlighted the need for Aboriginal-led policy design as articulated in the Redfern Statement and by numerous movements agitating for Indigenous rights since colonisation. The government delegation was keen to focus on constitutional recognition, while the NGO delegation advocated strongly for constitutional reform in accordance with the Uluru Statement.

In fairness to the Australian delegation, it certainly recognised the need for Indigenous-designed policy and implementation. This flies in the face of the government’s actions in cutting funding to Indigenous-controlled organisations, including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

In 2014, funding for Aboriginal services was substantially cut from $2.4 billion to $860 million under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. And 55% of grants were allocated to non-Indigenous bodies, effectively mainstreaming services.

Where to from here?

The UN Human Rights Committee challenged the Australian government to produce policy that truly includes Indigenous people.

One of the challenges of human rights treaty reviews is to ensure that the government implements the recommendations that the committee makes. Australia has a terrible record in this area, being called out for “chronic non-compliance” by the committee.

The ConversationHopefully, the seat on the Human Rights Council will encourage the government to heed the words of the UN Human Rights Committee and ensure real progress on Indigenous rights.

Anna Cody, Associate Professor and Director, Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW and Maria Nawaz, Law Reform Solicitor/Clinical Legal Supervisor, Kingsford Legal Centre, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.