Not all insults are racially motivated

Who are those claiming to be hurt and humiliated by words uttered by others? Should I have felt insulted by being asked repeatedly whether I would join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation?’ Instead, I saw the speakers as well-meaning but not educated. When, recently, a former Church worker claimed that the one and only God of the universe is a Christian god, all the other gods being ‘pantheistic,’ I challenged his arrogance. I suggested that Christianity is a late entrant in humanity’s search for the First Cause of all that is. Were these people racists?

At a political level, when Lee Kuan Yew, the former leader of Singapore, offered a more efficient definition of democracy, he was attacked by the West. Was he insulted? Instead, his Ambassador to the UN published ‘Can Asians really think?’ That closed down further challenges; were they racist?

Significantly, Singapore is ahead of Australia at so many levels of governance – from education to economic development, based on long-term plans; not, as in Australia, waiting for foreigners to invest (if they chose). A silly accusation recently was that, although students in Singapore are ahead of their Australian counterparts in maths, they could not possibly understand the underlying concepts. Racism or dented white superiority?

More ridiculously, the terms ‘race’ or ‘racial’ are applied, almost as a mantra, to a wide variety of allegedly hurtful utterances. Thus, Australia’s ‘racial’ legislation denying free speech is defended as offering protection against any criticism of Israel’s policies! The Catholic Church is also said to need similar protection (something I do not understand). The Australian Aborigines, the only First Nation Peoples not recognised in the Constitution, do need protection from insults; but how are they to access any protection which might be available?

Then, there are the seemingly newly-arrived immigrants who, unlike their predecessors over half a century, claim to be humiliated, hurt, or offended by foolish words by silly people. Offensive words? That depends on whether one is easily offended. Some people are. Why?

Were such people never spoken to disdainfully ‘back home’? Could there be any intangible benefit in claiming to be psychologically damaged by unfriendly or ugly words in Australia?

We early immigrants were genuine ‘adventurers’ who crossed land and sea to start a new life, and to better ourselves. We ignored (or retaliated occasionally) denigrating words. We were not wimps to feel ‘humiliated’ by words from the ignorant.

Words may hurt only if one lets them. Why allow that?

Did colonialism make Aborigines nomadic?

Was the Australian Aborigine made nomadic? A most illuminative book by Bruce Pascoe ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ suggests to me that British invaders of Australia, in their respective roles as explorers and settlers, forced the indigenes into a nomadic life. When the British drove away the Aboriginal people from their land by shooting or poisoning them (so it has been written), destroying their life chances, as well as their culture and lifestyle, where could the indigene go? How could they survive?

The imagined terra nullius of Australia and North America led to the despoliation of the First Nation peoples of these lands. They could not have been settled, could they? They had to be nomadic, owning no land!

The back cover of Pascoe’s book says: “Pascoe puts forward a compelling argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag.”

Pascoe is quoted on the back cover thus: “If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely that we will admire and love our land all the more.”

A reviewer (Lisa Hill) wrote “In 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he is not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily debunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complete civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority.

As a matter of interest, during a brief but bitter historiography war in Australia in recent times, a strident effort was made to play down oral history. Why? Without being tested through the adversarial processes of an Australian court, oral statements about the past could have no credibility. So, there go the Old Testament and any other artefacts of culture.

Pascoe’s work was preceded by the renowned Dr. Coombs. The following is an extract from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ Chapter 3 ‘To have a dream.’

“ A few years after the initial ‘discovery’ by Captain Cook, it was apparently known that the indigenes not only occupied the land and used it with economic purpose, but also (according to the highly respected Dr.Coombs) “… lived in clan or tribal groups, that each group had a homeland with known boundaries, and that they took their name from their district, and rarely moved outside it.” It was also known that they had, and applied, firm rules about trespass, kinship ties, marriage, child rearing and other matters, the hallmarks of an organised society; that they had a “habit of obedience” to their rulers and leaders, a hallmark of a political society; and that they had an ordered ceremonial life, reflecting the sharing of a spiritual vision, a hallmark of a civilisation. Apparently, they also had their own zodiac, which guided their activities. Their artistic records are also well known and respected.”

Sadly, government after government talked about ‘Bridging the gap,’ with no discernible improvement in the plight of their First Nation people (except for a handful of urban Aborigines, who seemed to have made good progress through personal effort). Quo vadis?

Is reincarnation not real?

Many sceptics claim that there is no reliable evidence for the reincarnation process. However, there are many real experiences which say otherwise. One strand comes from reliable professional research on volunteered (that is, spontaneously uttered) past-life memories of very young children – usually aged between 3 and 5 (up to 7). Then there are my experiences; these I am unable to deny, although I tend to be a sceptic by nature. (I am not gullible.)

As well, there are tribal beliefs in every continent which accept the reincarnation process in one form or another. Most of the major Western religions also seem implicitly to accept the possibility of reincarnation (refer the New Testament); whereas the Eastern (Asian) religions accept reincarnation. The oldest version – in Hinduism – is based on the soul going through many Earthly lives on a path of moral purification.

The scientific method (based on the null hypothesis), has no role to play in this matter. How could it be applied? Any institutional religion based on authority and rigid control can have little credibility on this issue. I have read that, against the prevailing background of many cultures in the world holding a belief of some sort in reincarnation, the early Christian Church decided that control of the lives of its followers necessitated the rejection of reincarnation.

Indeed, reincarnation, with its cause-and-effect trajectory, can, according to Colin Wilson (a renowned writer on paranormal phenomena), be seen as reflecting free will. During each life, through free will, one could shape one’s future life. Otherwise, the reincarnation process is meaningless; that is, without purpose or direction. Unlike the early Church’s intention to interpret God’s Will, human free will may be less dependent on the Will of God or spirits.

Colin Wilson also refers to Hans TenDam’s book ‘Exploring Reincarnation’ as the great definite work on reincarnation. “ … he has written, not as a believer, but as a detached observer …” The back cover of the book (1990) states “Unlike some writers in the field, Hans TenDam examines, freely and frankly, the range of explanations of past-life recall – the many different hypotheses about body and soul. None fits the evidence, he concludes, as well as reincarnation.”

The most persuasive of the evidence for the reality of reincarnation comes from the extended and substantial work of Dr. Ian Stevenson. According to the great debunker Ian Wilson (refer ‘The After-Death Experience’), “Dr. Stevenson’s reports … are prodigiously detailed and, as such, undeniably represent the most authoritative and scientific approach supportive of belief in reincarnation available in any language.”

Not surprisingly, some of the professional debunkers did embark upon some strange means of studying the issue. One approach was to weigh a body before and after death to see if the alleged soul had weight! I am reminded of those scientists who measured the skulls and weighed the brains of Australia’s Aborigines: was that to see if they were fauna?

There will also be researchers who, being human and thereby holding religious views, cannot accept explanations arising from studies which challenge that religious position.

Here is what TenDam has to say in his extraordinary book.
“So a great many people belief in reincarnation. Why? The majority undoubtedly because they have been brought up to believe in it. But in the final analysis, belief is based on experiences, reflections, and arguments that convince people of its plausibility.”

“People having apparent memories of their own past lives is an area of experience like any other. We need neither doubt that these experiences are what they profess to be, nor believe that they are beyond sober analysis and criticism. I can easily accept past-life recall, because I have had such experiences myself, and have hundreds of times observed other people having them, but I don’t take them for gospel.”

I too have had intimations of an immediate past life, supported by a spontaneous vision by a seer; yet, I am far from convinced. But I have no doubt that life continues after Earthly death; the spirit realm provided the evidence.

Why are the desert religions aggressive?

All the major religions in the world have the same God, the one and only Universal Creator of all that is. Creation may have occurred all at once or through an evolutionary path. The Creator God may be unknowable, except through a deep meditative process; or knowable, perhaps through revelation. Asking what was there before Creation, or about the origin of God, are meaningless questions. (Ask the cat which looks behind a free-standing mirror for that other cat.)

Most of us need a saviour offering succour, primarily in terms of survival in our normally harsh environments. Others may have lesser needs, but which can loom large in their lives, depending on how insecure or greedy they are. Wants may be greater than need.

A significantly powerful personal need, but which can (in an exaggerated state) threaten the very existence of other humans who are also believers in God, is the need to believe that one is on the only path to God; or that one’s path to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father is the more efficient one. This Abode may offer angels, or dancing girls, or advanced spirits, or ever-lasting peace. (Or perhaps a wondrous mansion filled with gee-gaws of great value, and serviced by valets galore.)

How does such a strange need of exclusivity or superiority arise? Surely through the priesthoods. Why would priesthoods need to compete with one another? The exercise of power, or a collective ego-gratification?

Religious belief systems arose in widely dispersed regions of the world over a long period of time. Each could not have known about other belief systems unless traders from afar displayed their foreign faiths. See what happened when Hindu and (later) Buddhist traders influenced the cultures of South East Asia and the islands of the adjoining archipelago now known as the Indonesian. So many individuals there have names and even facial features which reflect this cultural infusion.

Of course, marauding armies would also have imposed a new religion here and there. Or, a ruler, by accepting a new religion, had all his people follow him.

Priesthoods would also tend to protect their reign when they control the path to eternity. As evidenced in Egypt, when Aten replaced Amon temporarily, it was allegedly the prevailing priesthood which recovered the status quo. Was this also the earliest evidence of a closed trade union?

But then, why did Christianity, which offers a loving universal god in place of a fearsome desert god, set out (through colonialism) to convert peaceful followers of the forest religions of Asia? What drove Islam, the successor to Christianity, to use the cutting edge of weaponry to convert all and sundry? Do not these religions have a record of destroying the followers of other faiths, and sects of their own religions, here and there? In my experience, these are the only 2 religions whose followers talk a great deal about their faith, whereas the others simply live their religion.

It is surely undeniable that the 3 major desert religions have been, and are, the predominant warring nations of the globe. Humans will, of course, attack one another for material gain. Our simian genetic heritage is probably responsible. But what gain is there in collecting souls? Why not take the coveted materials, and leave beliefs alone? More efficient control of the ‘other,’ using priests?

In any event, the diversity of beliefs reflects merely the diversity in approaches to the Divine. The paths do vary, thanks to differences in man-made theology and dogma – all arbitrary, and replaceable. On what basis would a priesthood claim superiority or priority?

Would not the wanton destruction of fellow-humans and their societies in the name of one’s religion affect one’s chances of finding peace in the Hereafter? Or, do the guilty deny the existence of a meaningful Afterlife?

Why not live in faith on Earth, and allow others to live with their respective faiths too? In the Afterlife (Hereafter or Heaven) all souls will surely be equal as non-entities!

Has religion been used in a civilisational war?

When the buccaneers of the British East India Company gradually increased their control over the Indian sub-continent, from a small trading post to most of the principalities, they chose to adopt the mode of governance and lifestyles of the rulers they deposed. Many reportedly took Indian wives, and sent their tinted children to appropriate schools in Britain. (There, these very wealthy offspring were seemingly described as ‘having a touch of tar.’) That is, the buccaneers seemed to have adapted to India (with substantial benefit) rather than the reverse.

Then the British Government decided to replace the East India Company. Were certain politicians and their officials a little jealous, or were they horrified at their people going ‘native’? Probably the latter, as a claimed cultural superiority usually attaches itself to the militarily superior – a very human attribute.

The claimed innate (ie. genetic) superiority of the ‘white race’ was then extended to an organised despoliation of the cultures of India, especially its millennia-old religion. The denigration and destruction of the cultures of any people who had been invaded successfully or over-run enhances the control sought by the ambitious new arrival. European Christian colonisers did this rather well.

While I prefer to read history in 300-year rolling cycles (a useful statistical approach) – and this period corresponds to the 300-year circuit of planet Saturn – an examination of the intent and effects of European colonialism should desirably cover the totality of the 5 centuries that this human virus had effect.

Post-WW2 European neo-colonialism – including changing ruling regimes and some national or tribal borders – is a less-virulent infestation; and it too will pass when global governance becomes tripartite – and fairly soon. The newest empire, the hegemonic one, based on exceptionalism (on the one hand) and globalisation (on the other), will eventually fade away; planetary movements should have a role to play in this withdrawal. In any event, no empire has lasted more than 300 years (plus or minus a standard deviation of, say, 50). Look at the Roman Empire.

When the British invaded, for settlement, North America, New Zealand and Australia, they destroyed the First Nation Peoples in these territories. In Australia, according to the renowned Dr. Coombs, they demolished a long-established civilisation as well. Leaving aside for the moment the comparable depredations in other parts of the globe by other European buccaneers, in India, the British set out to damage to the longest-lived civilisation of mankind.

These were the prongs of this attack:
• Missionaries began to gather heathen souls to the bosom of Christ by rubbishing their traditional beliefs and practices
• The peoples of the sub-continent were also told that they prayed to a large number of ‘gods’, when the reality is that the so-called gods are deities who are representations of a single universal creator God – who is unknowable, but is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
• They were also told that a superior ‘white’ species, the (mythical) Aryans had over-run and civilised the local ‘black’ peoples previously living there. This is false history!
• From about the 18th Century, European scholars claimed that, not only was the white ‘race’ superior to all other ‘races,’ but that no coloured peoples could possibly have contributed to the origins of human civilisation. These inferior races included the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, and Indians (while the Christian Bible draws heavily on the Sumerians). Dear, oh dear!
• Some European scholars also decided that Hinduism could not go back beyond 1300 BC. This is the earliest possible origin of the Europeans’ religio-cultural ancestors, the peoples of  Samaria and Judea. No faith could apparently be older than that of the Jewish people. Furthermore, all learning was claimed to have originated with the Europeans’ intellectual ancestors, the ‘Greeks’ (viz. Athenians). Yet Athens was said to been established by the Egyptians, with many Athenians studying in Egypt. Pythagoras apparently studied there for 8 years.
• The Indians were also told that Hinduism had been derived from Christianity!

This religious war on India’s civilisation was not successful, despite a reportedly brutal rule by the Kaiser of India, leaving the Indians to sort out their caste and related societal problems after independence.

Contrary to Prof. Huntington’s theory that a war of civilisations is probable in the future, such a war began with the rise of European colonialism; and it continues virulently in the Middle East. What a waste of human lives and spiritual potential.

Will dogma continue to smother compassion?

Has not the dogma of the religious sect supported by a minority (less than 25%) of Australia’s population prevented voluntary (repeat, voluntary) euthanasia, or physician-assisted merciful death?

Offer compassion to those suffering severe unalleviated pain, and for whom palliative care has been shown to be inadequate, and there will arise stern warnings about ‘killing.’ This is a favourite word for those whose religiosity (involving arbitrary definitions) over-rides all other considerations. This will be followed by a further warning about the ‘slippery slope,’ a concept denoting a downward-spiral of communal morality.

Ah, the certainty of it all. Commence with a definition of choice, and following pure logic, one can reach a conclusion to satisfy one’s bias.

The following letters to the Sydney Morning Herald should be read by those for whom theology has a right to bury compassion for fellow-humans.

“The proposed NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill would establish the most tightly controlled regime of any of the 13 jurisdictions in the world that allow choice (‘Euthanasia poll: most doctors and nurses back bill on assisted death,’ June 25). The NSW bill is based on the Oregon model, operating for 25 years. It has strong support from the community and medical profession, and similar regimes have been adopted in five other US states, plus Washington, DC. Eligibility criteria are clearly and strictly defined, and there is no slippery slope. Opponents try to sow seeds of fear and doubt, but their claims are not supported by evidence. Out MPs must be guided by facts and not fear.” Dr. Sarah Edelman, President, Dying With Dignity, NSW

“Finally, palliative care doctors are breaking ranks to acknowledge they cannot alleviate all suffering and that voluntary assisted dying can be part of a continuum of medical care for the terminally ill. (‘Euthanasia poll: most doctors and nurses back bill on assisted death,’ June 25). In jurisdictions where assisted dying is legalised, it works hand-in-glove with palliative care. This is the model we want.” Penny Hackett, Willoughby.

Western democracy of the Australian kind allows our politicians to dance to a beat determined by their respective controllers. If politics allow, surely they will dance to the beat of their religious beliefs.

We will remain a backward nation for another generation or two.

When Mass had great weight (2)

“Do you realise that you are frightening the s..t out of your fellow Section Heads in the Branch?” asked my new boss. He too was a Roman, but was an outsider, recruited from a university. He nodded when I replied “You know my work.” He then asked “How is it then that you are frightening the s..t from my peer group? When I simply smiled, he said “Tell me “

This is my story. Out of the blue I received an invitation from the head of another department (a man I did not know) to transfer across, with a promise of promotion to the Senior Executive Service as Branch Head. A week after my arrival, the head of management asked me if I would consider a particular task. After examining the job, I agreed. To that, his strange reply was “Don’t be a bloody fool.” That was because I had only 10 weeks to implement necessary structural and operational changes, and to inform all overseas posts about the new policy.

My small team of 3, backed by 3 Division Heads, and assisted where necessary by 3 other agencies, did meet the normally impossible deadline which the Minister had set. The Departmental Head, having expressed his thanks, then asked me to accept the job of Chief Ethnic Affairs for the State of Victoria, based in Melbourne. The task was to implement a new policy of financially assisting the smaller immigrant communities in their settlement. The government would fund the employment of a social worker by each ethnic community. I was to investigate these communities.

My new small team of 3 immigrants made considerable progress, aided by my direct access to the Minister, and my ability to talk freely, on an ethnic to ethnic basis, with community workers and leaders. They liked that.

When the Departmental Head retired without promoting me, I returned home. The new Head, a returned Ambassador, told me that, instead of being promoted, I could head our London Office. Did that office need a Mister Fix-it? Or, was it a sop by a Laborite? I rejected that suggestion. Had I not proven myself – not once, but twice?

In the meantime, No.1 on the promotion list became Branch Head. I, as No.2, was ignored. A few ranked below me were sequentially promoted; and I had to work under them. With one exception, I experienced petty discrimination, and was moved frequently, with a new job each year. It was made clear, with not much subtlety, that I was not one of them. I suspected that I was expected to crack under persistent pressure.

Yet, I was untouchable, indestructible. The Chairman of the National Ethnic Affairs Advisory Council, Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki, had already commended me for the depth of my work and my speed of report. A few members of that Council, plus a few other ethnic community leaders in the relevant State, then supported my application for the position of Chairman of the Ethnic Community Council of South Australia and, later, of Western Australia. The pay was the same. For the record, parochialism prevailed in both States; and a new position of Deputy Chairman was then created in each State.

Ironically, because I had been sequentially responsible for all the migrant settlement (or integration) policies, I was able, after retirement, to write (with a prior prod from the spirit realm), about the great value of these policies. Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki was a leading supporter of the first 2 of my books. He died soon after. He had also written to me to say that he agreed with all that I had written in ‘Destiny Will Out’ – my first book – except on voluntary euthanasia. No devout Roman Catholic could support that policy of compassion.

In areas of social policy, Mass (even with limited attendance) has strong gravitational pull in Australia. Papal Bull rules! Just look at the controllers in federal Parliament.

My experiences on matters Aboriginal

“I have met very few Aboriginal people over half a century in Australia. How am I to meet them? Our paths are so far apart.” … …

“The first Aborigine I sighted was inebriated. I saw him hit on the head (yes the head), and chucked (yes chucked) into a paddy wagon. This was in Melbourne more than fifty years ago. In Brisbane and Perth in the following years, I saw Aborigines being harassed by the police. Since I was with an inter-varsity hockey team in Brisbane, I should have been safe. Yet, one night, walking back to the campus alone, I was scrutinised by the police in a way which I found uncomfortable.

Regrettably, in the early 1990s, I saw young Aborigines, well dressed and behaving themselves, and in the company of young whites, being harassed by the police. In the late 1990s, I was followed by a motorcycle cop, on an Easter Sunday, for many kilometres before being stopped. I fear that he had assumed that a brown fellow driving an old car sedately had to be a ‘coastal blackfellow’, with all the implications of that for the latter.

In a small seaside town north of Perth, nearly fifty years ago, I was in the company of a dark Indian, with the even features found in South India, and a pinkish Eurasian. The latter claimed proudly that he had a Malay grandmother, although this was not discernible. We had got off a small boat and, at the bar of the nearest pub, were asked if we were Aborigines. Surprised (how on earth could we be, given our appearance?), we said no — and were permitted to drink on the premises. The barmaid explained that Aborigines were not allowed to be served.” … …

A few years later, a tall Chinese Malaysian, an even-featured Sri Lankan, a tall Indian Malaysian and I (with Ceylon Tamil ancestors) happened to find ourselves in a bar in a country town. Our car had broken down, and we were lost. A group of men at the far end of the bar showed a great deal of interest in us. Then the largest fellow in the group came up to us and said something strange, and in a gruff voice: “Where are you boys from?” Seeing that this was none of his business, and taking a punt, I responded with “What’s it to you, mate?” in what my Aussie friends describe as a British accent.

He stared at me, then relaxed. Sticking out a bloody great big paw, he introduced himself by first name. We got on well. I realised later that we had been in ‘boong’ (blackfellow) country, and that the big lad must have been the local sergeant of police.” … …

“Somewhere along the line, I set about trying to help Aborigines in the public sector in Canberra to improve their skills, thereby raising their confidence and presentation. I offered training in chairmanship and public speaking (skills shown to benefit everyone); and on their own terms. They could have their own Aboriginal club within Rostrum, an Australia-wide organisation well regarded for its training capabilities, and whose graduates were in senior positions in both the private and public sectors. Or, we could provide training in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there being no indigene employed elsewhere. Or, they could train themselves in that Department under our expert guidance. We had the skills and the will. There was, regrettably, no interest, in spite of my trying to persuade the highly-regarded Captain Saunders (ex-Army and an indigene), and the Department’s senior management that what I offered was valuable. So, that was that. Since it would have cost the Aborigines nothing, except a little effort to learn and to practice …!”

“After retirement, in my township, I met a wide range of Aborigines, a few seemingly full-blooded. There were those who were apparently well paid, driving expensive cars, and employed by Aboriginal organisations. I was told by a couple of them that, in spite of their academic or professional qualifications, there were no jobs available to them in the private sector.” … …

“The most impressive Aborigine I have met to date is a young lady, who (as she said) developed her Aboriginal heritage only after reaching adulthood. Today she is an elder, busily guiding her people, as well as building bridges between black and white. I sense, with regret, that only a minority of whites are interested in reconciliation, and in assisting the Aboriginal people to develop themselves. In the light of the country’s history, any effort to reach out to the Australian indigene in an un-patronising manner is surely a most progressive step. However, when I attended, as a member of a local adult education committee, a reconciliation study, I was impressed with the understanding and goodwill displayed by the white people participating, and the way local Aboriginal women guided the group.”

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ published in 2005. However, I am aware that quite a number of Australian Aborigines are now highly qualified, and hold high positions – unlike the early 1950s, when (during my psychology course) we were told that clever Aboriginal students were dropping out of high school, saying ‘What’s the use?’ How terrible that must have been for those youngsters!)

 

 

 

What about sovereignty and sea rights?

The redoubtable historian, Prof. Henry Reynolds, set the cat amongst the pigeons by noting that the Australian High Court had not dealt with the issue of sovereignty when it dealt with the associated issue of land rights. He stated that “the High Court’s decision to recognise prior rights of property but not sovereignty lines Australian law up with the international lawyers writing at the high noon of imperialism”. This decision has therefore left intact the traditional view that, when the British annexed parts of the Australian continent in 1788, 1824, 1829 and 1879, the Crown acquired sovereignty over the land; and that sovereignty is indivisible.

The professor argues instead that, under international law, sovereignty is a ‘collection of powers’, often ‘separated one from another’; that British colonial arrangements displayed a division of sovereignty, ranging from spheres of influence, to protectorates, to outright colonial possession; and that both the USA and Canada have accepted that their indigenous peoples have residual rights of sovereignty, carried over from pre-colonial days; and that such rights can be extinguished by the state, but only by a ‘clear and plain intention to do so’. It was also British colonial policy to recognise customary or traditional law, where established by usage, and where not inconsistent with British concepts of justice.

I also note that the High Court ignored the issue of sea rights under native title. As for claims by Torres Strait Islanders for sea rights, were the government to be driven by justice, it could foster the development of fishing co-operatives by these Islanders, and issue them with exclusive licences to fish in the seas they claim as theirs.

So, is there some doubt about sovereignty in Australia? Sovereignty to the Crown by occupation on the one hand, and residual sovereignty to Aborigines by prior right on the other?  As indigenous peoples, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders would seem to have rights to self-determination. This includes the right to autonomy or self-government in certain areas, especially in relation to maintaining and developing their cultural distinctiveness. Would this also include the right to special seats in the federal parliament? So, I ask: can the Aussie black afford to have a dream, as did the African-Americans a generation ago?

Special arrangements, including a treaty, for a small cultural minority would be abhorrent to those inured to political dominance by white people over all others –– as in the colonial era. Special arrangements could be abhorrent also to a nation of diverse but assimilated peoples — as in the White Australia era.  Or even to a multicultural nation-state composed of a variety of tribes who have integrated (but not assimilated) with the mainstream population.

Yet, if after more than 200 years, the indigenes of Australia still want to remain separate peoples and to control their way of living, how can they, as first nation peoples, be denied? Is it not time for them to receive their share of justice? After all, isn’t Australia already a multicultural nation?  Perhaps what is needed is for the colour-sensitive Aussie to stop fearing that the blacks will become rich and politically powerful. What if some of them do? As Nelson Mandela said, “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’)

 

Extinguishing Native Title – Keating 2011

Extinguishing Native Title through 10-point Plan  (June 1  2011    Sydney Morning Herald)

The 10-point plan that undid the good done on native title – Paul Keating

As prime minister, the pastoral lease question was a vexing and torrid one for me. And for this reason: notwithstanding that the Commonwealth government’s legal advice was that the Mabo (No. 2) judgment had the effect of extinguishing native title on lands subject to pastoral leases – I did not agree with that advice. That is, I did not personally agree with the logic behind the advice.

I had lots of supposedly good people urging it upon me; like the former leader of the National Party Tim Fischer, who was doing his level best to turn pastoral leases into quasi-freehold titles at the expense of Aboriginal people.

I knew there was a massive potential loss here for Aboriginal people – because in 1993 a very large proportion of the land mass of Australia was subject to pastoral leases. In Western Australia it was 38 per cent of the state, in Queensland 54 per cent, South Australia 42 per cent, NSW 41 per cent and the Northern Territory 51 per cent.

Given the scale and importance of it, I was determined not to deny Aboriginal people the chance to test this question before the High Court. So to keep the naysayers at bay and to fend off the opportunists, I decided to record in the preamble of the bill that on the government’s view, past leasehold grants extinguished native title.

I had these words in the second reading speech and in the preamble to the act but I refused to make extinguishment a fait accompli under the operating provisions of the act.

I knew that the whole idea of pastoral leases over Crown land arose because squatters decided to move on to land for which they had no title and where their activities, grazing or otherwise, were uncontrolled. The motivation for the legislative regime, first in NSW in the late 1820s, was to put some control on squatters without conferring on them a freehold title to vast tracts of the country; country largely occupied by Aboriginal people. So I understood that when the various colonial and state governments came to issue pastoral leases they did so knowing that the pastoral activity would occur over lands where Aboriginal people were still conducting a traditional way of life.

I told officers of the Attorney-General’s Department at the time that I regarded their advice as black letter property advice, wherein they failed to understand how and in which ways the High Court was peering through the common law to the development of native title rights over the course of Australian history following European settlement.

As it turned out, in the Wik decision of 1996, the High Court held that the grant of relevant leases did not confer on the lessees exclusive possession of land under lease and correctly, in my view, made clear that, in the case of the Wik and the Thayorre people, that a relevant intention to extinguish all native title rights at the time the grants were issued was not present. That is, the grants did not necessarily extinguish all incidents of the native title rights.

Of course, that decision of the High Court was attacked mercilessly by the Howard government. That villain Tim Fischer boasted that there would be bucket loads of extinguishment, in the Howard government’s response to the decision.

Many will be familiar with the sorry tale that became part and parcel of the Native Title (Amendment) Act 1998. That amendment arose from the Coalition government’s so-called 10-point plan, a plan facilitated in the Senate with the support of Senator Brian Harradine under the advice of the Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

As an aside, and as a Catholic, let me say, wherever you witness the zealotry of professional Catholics in respect of indigenous issues, invariably you find indigenous interests subordinated to their personal notions of justice and equity: because unlike the rest of us, they enjoy some kind of divine guidance. And so it was with the Wik amendments.

The amendments were titled ”Confirmation of past extinguishment of native title”. But it was never clear that all freehold grants and leasehold grants permanently extinguished native title. Mick Dodson said at the time: ”By purporting to ‘confirm’ extinguishment by inconsistent grants, the Commonwealth is purposely pre-empting the development of the common law – not allowing sufficient time to integrate the belated recognition of native title into Australia’s land management system. This does not require the obliteration of indigenous interests so as to favour non-indigenous interests.” Quite so.

The Howard government’s 1998 amendments cut across the spirit of the Keating government’s 1993 act; the notion that the legislation was, first and foremost, of a beneficial kind – enacted to redress historic inequities, rather than to compound ones sanctioned by earlier acts.

Paul Keating was prime minister from 1991 to 1996. This is an edited extract from the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration delivered at the University of Adelaide yesterday.