Media watchdog’s finding on Sunrise’s Indigenous adoption segment is justified


File 20180906 190665 164t3v1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Protestors rally outside Channel 7 studios in Sydney following the controversial segment on Aboriginal adoption.
AAP/Crowdspark

Alana Schetzer, University of Melbourne

In March this year, Sunrise aired a panel discussion about the removal of Indigenous children from dangerous or abusive family situations.

It wrongly claimed that Indigenous children could not be fostered by non-Indigenous families and one panellist, commentator Prue MacSween, suggested that the Stolen Generation might need to be repeated in order to save children from physical and sexual abuse.

The reaction was swift and fierce: the segment was condemned as racist and insensitive, with many questioning why the panel featured no experts or Indigenous people. There were protests at the show’s Sydney studio, and multiple complaints were made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

This week, ACMA announced that the Channel Seven breakfast show did indeed breach the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in airing false claims that Indigenous children could not be placed with white families.

It was also found that the segment provoked “serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the Code as it contained strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group”.




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Seven has defended their actions, labelling the ACMA’s decision as “censorship” and “a direct assault on the workings of an independent media”. They are also considering seeking a judicial review of the decision.

However, it is not correct to assess ACMA’s decision, nor its role, as censorship. Rather, the ACMA monitors and enforces basic journalistic principles governing ethics and responsibility.

The decision is more symbolic than material – Channel Seven will not be forced to pull the segment from online; indeed, it is widely available. ACMA also has no power to order any compensation to be paid to a wronged party or fine the broadcaster; nor can it force Channel Seven to apologise or correct its error.

This dispute is but one of many examples that raises questions over the power of the media and what happens when media make a mistake, deliberately bend the truth or publish information that may cause harm to people, especially from marginalised groups.

In his research on the media portrayal of Indigenous people and issues, and the difference between sensitivity versus censorship, Michael Meadowsargues the media are resistant to admitting there is a problem with racist or insensitive coverage. He writes:

Aboriginal Australians have had to be content with a portrayal which is mostly stereotypical, sensational, emotional or exotic, with an ignorance of the historical and political context in which these images are situated.

While “censorship” is a label that is often used by the media in response to criticism, actual censorship in Australia by government or media watchdogs is thankfully rare to nonexistent. Other issue such as defamation law are greater sources of censorship.

In a 2018 report released by Reporters Without Borders, a worldwide organisation that advocates for a free press, Australia ranked 19th out of 180 countries on press freedom. This was a fall from ninth in 2017 due to of media restrictions on reporting on asylum seekers and refugees in offshore detention centres, not the role of ACMA. In fact, ACMA and the Australian Press Council were not even mentioned.

Australian journalists are expected, although not obliged, to abide by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Code of Ethics. This states that journalists should “report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts” and to “do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors”.

ACMA’s finding on the Sunrise segment that featured sweeping claims such as “children left in Indigenous families would be abused and neglected”, is simply holding those responsible to the minimum standards expected, not just within the industry, but from the public, too.

In the era of “fake news”, it is not surprising that the public’s trust in journalists is low; a 2018 surveyfound only 20% of Australians deemed newspaper journalists as being “very” honest and ethical, with television reporters fairing even worse, at 17%.




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The ACMA was created in 2005 following the public outcry over the infamous “cash for comment” scandals in 1999 and 2004. At the time, the then-Australian Broadcasting Authority was criticised for being “too soft” and ineffective in response, the ABA was abolished and replaced by the ACMA.

It’s incorrect to label the ACMA’s role as playing “censor” when they do no such thing. In fact, there is criticism that ACMA, like its predecessor, is a “toothless tiger” that lacks any power to actually hold the media to account.

No media can operate without a basic framework that places public interest, a commitment to accuracy and responsibility to the public.

In a statement released on September 4, ACMA chairwoman Nerida O’Loughlin highlighted this important distinction:

Broadcasters can, of course, discuss matters of public interest, including extremely sensitive topics such as child abuse in Indigenous communities. However, such matters should be discussed with care, with editorial framing to ensure compliance with the Code.

With “clickbait” and inflammatory opinion increasingly finding a home in the media, it’s more important than ever that the media respect and abide by their responsibilities to fairness and the truth. And when they cannot or do not do this, regulatory bodies such as the ACMA are essential.The Conversation

Alana Schetzer, Sessional Tutor and Journalist, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How will Indigenous people be compensated for lost native title rights? The High Court will soon decide


William Isdale, The University of Queensland and Jonathan Fulcher, The University of Queensland

Today, the High Court of Australia will begin hearing the most significant case concerning Indigenous land rights since the Mabo and Wik native title cases in the 1990s.

For the first time, the High Court will consider how to approach the question of compensation for the loss of traditional land rights. The decision will have huge implications for Indigenous peoples who have lost their land rights and for the state and territory governments responsible for that loss.

For Queensland and Western Australia in particular, the outcome will likely provide clarity on the significant amounts of compensation they may be liable for in the future.

Western Australia, for example, has areas of determined native title that are collectively larger than the entire state of South Australia. Within those boundaries, there are a number of potential native title claims that could be compensable in the future.

In 2011, the state’s attorney-general, Christian Porter, reportedly described potential compensation claims as a “one billion dollar plus issue”.

Background on native title

The Mabo decision first recognised, and the Wik decision later clarified, how Australia’s common law acknowledges and protects the traditional land rights of Indigenous peoples. Following some uncertainty and political clamour caused by both of those decisions, the Native Title Act 1993 provided a legislative structure for the future recognition, protection and compensation of native title.




Read more:
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The act provides a right of compensation for the “impairment and extinguishment” of native title rights in a range of circumstances. However, it provides little guidance on what compensation means in practice. Parliament decided to leave the details to the courts.

Surprisingly, it was not until the end of 2016 that the first-ever compensation claim wound its way to the point of judicial determination – in the Timber Creek decision.

The Timber Creek decisions

The case coming before the High Court today is an appeal following two earlier decisions by the Federal Court.

In Griffiths v Northern Territory (the first Timber Creek decision), Federal Court Justice John Mansfield made the first-ever award of compensation for loss of native title rights.

Mansfield awarded the Ngaliwurru and Nungali peoples AU$3.3m in August 2016 for various acts of the NT government going back to the 1980s. These acts included grants of land and public works affecting areas totalling 1.27 square kilometres near the remote township of Timber Creek.

Mansfield approached the compensation award in three steps:

  • Firstly, he worked out the value of the land rights in plain economic terms. He did this by looking to the freehold market value of the land, but discounting it by 20% to reflect the lower economic value of the native title. This is due to the fact its use is limited to rights under traditional law and custom, such hunting and conducting ceremonies, but does not include a right to lease the land, for example.

  • Secondly, he considered how to compensate for the loss of the non-economic aspects of native title, such as cultural and spiritual harm. This involved having to:

…quantify the essentially spiritual relationship which Aboriginal people … have with country and to translate the spiritual or religious hurt into compensation.

  • Thirdly, he gave an award of interest to reflect the passage of time since the acts of the NT government occurred.

The decision was quickly appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court, which corrected a few errors and reduced the award to just over AU$2.8m. But in broad terms, it approved the three-step approach Mansfield used to calculate the award.

Whether the High Court will follow the same path remains to be seen. A number of new parties, including various state governments, have now become involved in the proceedings, each with their own barrow to push.

The challenge of valuing native title

The challenge is that conventional methods for valuing land may not be suitable to reflect the unique nature of native title rights and the significance of those rights to Indigenous peoples. New principles, or adapted versions of old ones, may be needed.

For example, in most cases where a piece of land is resumed by a government for an infrastructure project or some other purpose, the principal measure of compensation is the market value of the land.

But in the case of native title rights, there is no market to value the land. Native title cannot be sold, mortgaged or leased. Further, native title is different in every case, with no uniform content. Native title rights can include everything from a right to exclusive possession of land to a very limited right to conduct traditional ceremonies on a piece of land.




Read more:
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Whether the Federal Court has taken the right approach – or whether a new approach should be adopted – will be the subject of debate in the High Court.

The Ngaliwurru and Nungali people contend the correct approach would have seen them awarded roughly AU$4.6m. The NT government is arguing, however, that the amount should be no more than about AU$1.3m.

The politics of Timber Creek

Just as Mabo and Wik resulted in political furore, so, too, may Timber Creek.

One sore point is between the federal government and the states and territories over who will pay any compensation. Under both the Keating and Howard governments, the Commonwealth undertook to pay 75% of the compensation a state or territory may be required to pay in future claims (with some exceptions).




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But in 2011, Porter tabled in the WA parliament a letter from Prime Minister Julia Gillard renouncing any Commonwealth obligation “for the cost of native title compensation settlements”.

Porter may now find himself on the opposite side of the table, having shifted from state supplicant to his new position as a Commonwealth purse holder.

Just how much political friction there will be will depend on the High Court’s approach to determining compensation and the potential cost if hundreds of other native title groups pursue compensation claims in the future.The Conversation

William Isdale, Postgraduate Research Student, T.C. Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland and Jonathan Fulcher, Program Director, Energy & Resource TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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.

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.

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.