For a culture and economy that seemingly had no currency for 65,000 years, Aboriginal Australians have certainly twigged to the power of money. As benefits, privileges and priorities to advance aborigines increased, so too has the number of people claiming aboriginality, up 25% to over 900,000 between censuses. Whether or not all are genuine Aboriginal people, many have committed to cash in on taxpayer (gubmint) largesse.
Should the “Yes” vote get up, intention is for “Voice, Treaty, Truth” and whatever that may mean in terms of racial discrimination, additional bureaucracy, entrenched guilt and reparations. One percent of GDP in reparations (annually?) is being claimed by activists, whether on top of the extraordinary current investment, we do not know, as it is not spelled out. Power is paramount: power to influence the direction of Australia over and above Constitutional governance.
Funds specifically assigned for Aboriginal needs already cost the taxpayer quite a lot. With the aim of “closing the gap” between Aboriginal life metrics and the rest of the population, around $33billion is directed into the Aboriginal industry annually. A further $2.4 billion funds the National Australian Indigenous Agency, with 1400 staff to service the very objectives of the closing the gap initiative, virtually rendering obsolete stated objectives of the Voice referendum: health, housing, education, jobs.
Recognition of first inhabitants in the Constitution is acceptable, so long as the efforts of British settlers and immigrants who have enriched Australia are also recognised. Former PM Tony Abbott suggested such a change to the Constitution.
Recently I felt discomforted and sad having sat through a lovely school grandparents’ day ceremony spoiled by indoctrination of passive small children with Aboriginal welcome to country and recognition of Aboriginal elders, rather than the elders of the children present. Gross distortion of reality occurs when no recognition is afforded to the extraordinary efforts of British settlement, the Enlightenment, the soldiers who died for our freedom and migrants who came after – from which comes the very science and industry essential to closing the gap.
In my book Becoming, the crucial importance of context is emphasised when making major decisions, otherwise outcomes are flawed and costly. Cost is key to our future InVoice.
English author and columnist, Douglas Murray, also specifies that “Context is everything” in his article in The Australian, “Sorry, but can we all please move on from the guilt trips for non-Aboriginal Australians?”
Guilt and victimhood have increased, says Murray, yet most serious ethicists of the last century, believe,
“An apology can work only when it comes from someone who has done a wrong and is accepted by someone who has been wronged. If it comes from someone who has themselves done no wrong and goes to someone who has not actually been wronged, then the deal is a fraud.
Instead of appreciation for having the country to themselves uninterrupted for 65,000 years, Australian Aboriginal people experienced the inevitable humanity of having others settle in this vast land at a time of expansive European exploration and conquest.
In her brilliantly researched book, Beating France to Botany Bay: the race to found Australia, Margaret Cameron-Ash outlines the fierce competition to acquire new settlements, especially between Britain and France, but also Holland, Portugal and Spain. Would others have done better settling this country? Perhaps China, Germany or Russia?
As it was, Captain Arthur Philip who led the first convoy of settlers to Australia, beat French Captain La Perouse to Botany Bay by a mere five days. Messages had been directed to La Perouse from France, across Asia to Kamchatka on the east of Russia, ordering him to hasten to Botany Bay to claim Australia for France. Subterfuge between Captain Cook and the British Admiralty had kept secret the “gem” of Cook’s discoveries, the best deepwater harbour in the world in Port Jackson, now Sydney. Botany Bay was a decoy.
At great expense of ships and personnel, Britain had at that time, fought grand naval and political battles to stop the terrible slave trade. British orders to Philip were to establish a settlement where all people were equal under law and to respect the native inhabitants. Philip proved to be the man for the job, holding true to his orders and his beliefs through the arduous first years of settlement, to establish an imperfect, yet admirable system of justice.
Botanist on Cook’s ship Endeavour, Sir Joseph Banks, was ever an avid promoter of settlement in Australia, especially following the American war of Independence (1776). An associate, Prof Heyne is cited by Cameron-Ash, in 1791, explaining that:
“The colony was a new concept, from which a new human culture may arise and develop its distinctiveness out of this island, which could be sowing the seeds of a great empire which will come along centuries later”.
Heyne showed amazing prescience. Australia has evolved to become one of the least racist countries in the world, with reliable democratic governance systems, if imperfect, attracting migrants from all corners of the globe.
Understanding the context from which settlement arose demonstrates how the seeds of a free, democratic society, in which all people are equal, were sown in 1788. ‘Yes’ to the Voice would mean reverting to a society in which grievances of an ancient culture dominate and divide. And it will cost us dearly.
Getting value from our InVoice
All of us want Aborigines to succeed, to close the gap. The question is how that may be achieved where positive initiatives and an estimated $trillions have so far failed the 25% who exist outside mainstream Australia. The other 75%, mostly of mixed race, lighter in colour than I am, have attained educational, health, job and housing objectives similar to other Australians.
If “Truth” telling is to be an outcome of the Voice, then we need to recognise that, skilled as Aboriginal people were, they lived short, brutal lives in a nomadic economy and culture. Isolation from other cultures ensured their evolution in 1788 was pre-medieval. Modernity brought by settlement would have been a shock causing crisis.
Any psychologist worth their salt recognises that the way out of crisis is assertive action, working through the tunnel of the wave of turmoil, letting go of what is no longer relevant and adapting to the best of the new culture. Individual responsibility is key; blame and guilt merely hold back evolution. No one else can pave the way out of crisis: it must be undertaken by the individual/group. Compassionate others can merely support along the way.
My own inexpert feeling is that too little account is taken of aboriginal anthropology developed over tens of thousands of years, ingrained in their way of life, hindering the way forward. Marshall Sahlin’s 1966 essay, The Original Affluent Society, a comparative study of nomadic people, understood basic practices, some of which are tabled below. Some differences to be bridged to transition to a modern society are suggested.
|Anthropological understanding||Gap to be bridged|
|Need to work only 3-5 hours a day to attain adequate nutrition||Modernity expects greater work disciplines to pay for static modern housing, food, health, education (providing that is what they choose).|
|When travelling, they took only what they could carry; tools and weapons could easily be crafted (hence no building or storage)||Living in modern housing anchors Aboriginal people in one place. Regeneration is not possible, maintenance not understood, unsanitary conditions develop, and health conditions decline.|
|Constant moving meant the land regenerated seasonally.|
|Plenty of time for ritual||In this area of modernity, aboriginal skills excel, are applauded and rewarded: in sport, theatre, TV, radio, politics and leadership.|
|Aboriginal ‘confidence in the hunt’, meant food caught or collected was consumed on the day||Deferred gratification evolved over centuries in modern societies, as did agricultural cultivation and storage. Remote community reliance on welfare too often means most expenditure occurs on the day of payment, leaving little for food and essentials later, impacting nutrition and health, especially of children at vital early life stages.|
|In the tribal society, everything is shared||Entitlement to housing, food, bed and earnings of others in modern society becomes problematic; overcrowding houses, leaving children hungry with nowhere to sleep, vulnerable to predators, humbugging working people, making it hard for them to get ahead.|
Adjustment of expectations is necessary. Closing the gap between Aboriginal life metrics and the rest of the population as a reason for changing the Constitution is a folly, when progress on education, housing and health for the rest of us has been attained only over recent decades. Realistically, a lag for very remote communities living pretty much traditional lifestyles should not be surprising. In fact, vast improvements have been made on all fronts, thanks to the efforts of many who have put their lives on the line to work in the remote communities, a lag that will eventually be bridged (without the Voice and racial division it will entrench in the Constitution).
Reasonable expectation is a crucial factor in engendering progress and harmony between people (see my Maturity Model for decision making). Unrealistic expectations burden others, causing disharmony, fragmentation of individuals and groups, resulting in high social and economic costs, just as we are seeing. All parties become less mature. Blame is a function of immaturity.
Solutions to bridging the gap between anthropology and modernity may be found in more practical ways, additional to those generated by the community (cashless debit card, alcohol restrictions). Roving teams of young Aboriginal tradies on three-month circuits, maintaining and repairing housing could spark business and employment, similarly with health and education.
A sunset clause on all Aboriginal policies and programs would demonstrate seriousness for resolution by expecting Aborigines to be able to care for themselves in a way that they claim for over 65,000 years. Should certain funding programs cease, say, after five years, others after 10, and all after 20 years (one generation), then there would be an urgency to lift performance and welcome them to modernity. Traditions and language can still be conserved, yet in the context of irreversible modernity.
A ’Yes’ vote will divide Australians on race in the Constitution, betraying the hard-won sacrifices and noble intent of the founding settlement, which set out to ensure all people in this country would be free and equal.
We could accept the wisdom of Douglas Murray, who believes that:
Australia has the choice of conceding that it is wicked and that all failures of the Aboriginal peoples in the past and present are directly due to the “settlers”. Or it can concede that one of the least racist countries in the world should at some point give itself a break. The English did nothing wrong. Neither did any of you.
As Aboriginal Senator Jacinta Nampijimpa Price says, for the “NO” vote, “If we don’t win the day, our Constitution will forever divide Australians by race”.