Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Australia: First nations need to sign treaties

Each Aboriginal nation should sign a treaty with the federal government that would recognise that group’s title to land and sea, Tony Abbott’s chief adviser on Aboriginal affairs has proposed in a provocative Australia Day address.

The head of Mr Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council, former ALP national president Warren Mundine, said indigenous Australians needed to “forgive Australia as a nation” and permit themselves to “love their country (and) take pride in Australia’s successes and achievement”.

In an Australia Day address in Melbourne, Mr Mundine also called for a treaty between Australia and each individual Aboriginal nation, and for Australian governments to automatically acknowledge these nations’ title, circumventing drawn-out native title cases.

“An indigenous nation which signs on to a treaty would receive formal recognition as a nation and as the traditional owners of a defined area of land and sea,” Mr Mundine said.

“In doing so, their native title claims should be recognised and concluded.”

Mr Mundine’s proposal came as Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson urged the Abbott government to make progress on practical reforms to indigenous affairs in order to garner support for the constitutional recognition of Aborigines.

The election of Mr Abbott as Prime Minister has produced a “once in a blue moon” opportunity to push through a referendum recognising Aboriginal people in the Constitution, Mr Pearson says in an opinion piece in The Australian today.

The chairman of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership also calls for a simultaneous push on practical measures to win over sceptical voters.

“Constitutional reform will be very hard to sell to an Australian citizenry who I believe have great goodwill and earnest hopes for reconciliation, but who naturally want to be convinced that proposed reforms will lead to a better future for indigenous peoples,” he says.

“Without real demonstrable traction on the practical agenda, the symbolic reform will face sceptical Australians, black and white,” he says.

“A narrative that explains the relationship between the symbolic and the practical will be needed,” he says.

Mr Pearson says the only hope for constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians is a highly conservative leader of a conservative government being prepared to swing the country behind a yes vote.

He says Mr Abbott, as a disciple of previous prime minister John Howard and a fellow supporter of recognition, is best placed to shepherd the referendum to success and build on the steps achieved under Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd.

“I once said that if John Howard was not going to lead this reform, then it would have to be a leader in the same vein as Mr Howard,” Mr Pearson writes.

On reconciliation, Mr Mundine said nothing could address the wrongs of the past, but society had moved a long way to overturn prejudice, and reconciliation needed both “the wrongdoer and the wronged taking steps towards each other”.

“It seems to me when we talk about reconciliation in the context of Aboriginal affairs, we talk a lot about the sorry part but we don’t talk much about the forgiveness part,” Mr Mundine told the annual Australian Unity Australia Day address at Parliament House in Melbourne.

“For real reconciliation, it is not enough that the country says sorry, feels remorse, rejects racism and seeks to make amends: for real reconciliation, indigenous people also need to forgive.

“I’m not suggesting that indigenous people should forgive wrongdoers as individuals.

“However, I do believe the time must come when indigenous people forgive Australia as a nation,” he said.

His comments run counter to the views of some Aboriginal leaders and individuals who refer to Australia Day as “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day”.

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