Political vs. religious rights

“… religious persons are still citizens with an equal right to be heard on matters such as abortion and euthanasia as anyone else.” So said a Catholic professor of theology recently. As it only a political statement, it is thereby contestable.

Why are Roman Catholics who oppose these 2 practices, because their Church leaders require them to do so, entitled to deny non-Catholics a right to the practices? “I am not allowed these; so you can’t have them”: Is this how Australian multiculturalism is supposed to work?

Do man-made arbitrary definitions of human life and their ownership (which are not universally accepted and reflected in the dogma of the many religions available, have priority over alternative, equally arbitrary, values and beliefs of other religions, especially those seeking succour from the same God?

Or, would religious Muslims have a right to have a say about Catholic practices which they oppose? That is, could Muslims have a right to require legislation which reflects their edicts rejecting non-Muslim theologically-based practices?

More importantly, why would religious Roman Catholics have a right to interfere in the lives of others, when the values and practices of those others do not in any way impinge upon the freedom and lifestyle of Catholics?

Religious dogma divides a people – for no good reason other than enabling the exercise of authority by a controlling religious institution. Why would religiosity require control? Religion is surely intended to guide humans to God, and not to say whose God is superior, or whose theology takes one to God more quickly or with certainty.

Would it not be a measure of relative religio-political rights were each one of us to be free to follow a belief-path of personal choice, without interference from any one, or interfering with any one’s beliefs?

The available evidence shows that the basis of morality is significantly innate. Observe young children carefully. Throughout most of the world’s population, moral behaviour is also not engendered by a controlling priesthood. Humanity at large shares a culture of co-operation voluntarily. A family of atheists could easily guide their children to a spiritual life without any intervention by a dogma-driven religious institution; and aided by professional school teachers.

It is a truism that there will always be someone, or a group, or an institution, to tell us how to live our lives. We need to tell them to back off, leaving us free to make our own decisions about how we live.

I do believe that we are innately inclined to bond with fellow-humans, in the way we instinctively yearn for communion with the Divine.

I have also argued that the major religions are equal in their potential, in that they all share 2 core beliefs: that there is a Creator of all which exists; and that, as co-created, we humans have a bond with, and responsibility for, one another. While religious dogma may play a role in bonding the members of a faith, they surely should not be used to divide people – as has happened, and continues to happen. Who gains from division?

Read the endorsement for my approach to religions by the late James Murray, formerly the Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Australian’ in my book ‘The Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Refer my WordPress blog or amazon.com.

Racism and tribalism

When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased. Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, Australia could safely join the Family of Man.
However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant. In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?
My experience of Australia’s racism and tribalism is indicative of how far we have come in terms of tolerance. The credit for much of this improvement must go mainly to our school teachers, their students, and those Anglo-Aussies who reached out to us foreigners; as well as to us, the immigrants.
From the earliest times, groups or collectives of human beings would have necessarily fought one another to obtain sustenance or resources. Or, learn to work together for a common cause. Because an urge to dominate and thence to control (an inheritance from our faunal, that is, animal, ancestors) is found in some members of humanity, conflict is often unavoidable. Competition for resources (including women) would lead to inter-tribal clashes. Tribes may also split through the young bull taking on the old bull, or through an alpha-male going on the rampage.
Traditionally, an extended family (one sharing a common ancestor) would co-exist with other extended families, were they to be a settled people occupying a specific location, with a common language and shared cultural values and practices; they would represent a clan. A number of co-operative coherent clans would represent a tribe. A tribe would look after, fight for, its interests with vigour and cunning.
A typical example would be the Roman Catholics of Australia, mainly of Irish descent. They would do everything they could to keep separate from the Protestants; This included a separate education system. They would practice discrimination, even as they complained about being discriminated against. This was the divided Australia I came into in the late 1940s. Yet, both sides of this divide had one significant attitude in common; they were, in the main, tribal and racist.
The shared religious prejudice may now have been dissipated or become tactically subterranean. There is some evidence of an on-going strategy for supremacy by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Officially, the racism of the official White Australia policy has gone. The racism in the populace has been substantially diluted; only the yobbo expresses any ignorantly-held prejudice. Racial vilification laws exist to contain those who need to display their superiority.
(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’ This is an end-of-life rear-vision look at the progress Australia has made in its human relations.)

 

Jesus Christ quotes

For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
 

(From BrainyQuote)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Australian attitudes towards Aborigines

The attitude of Australian whites to their indigene is bifurcated. There are, firstly, the lamp lighters and flag bearers. These are the humanitarians. Colonial values do not cloud their perceptions. They look forward, not to the past. They support reconciliation (a more accurate word might be conciliation) and efforts to have the viability of, and the respect shown to, the Aboriginal people raised to that of the rest of the Australian people. These include the honest people who recognise thefirst nation’ status of the indigene. They seek to have fellow non-indigenous Australians become more aware of the history, cultural values and traditions, art, environmental wisdom, and spirituality of the Aborigines.

Then, there is that majority (a large number of whom have told me about their feelings), with their soul-destroying perceptions of the indigene. This is a grab-bag filled with an interesting assortment of human failings. First, there are the greedy and the rapacious, who may be the cultural descendants of some of the founding fathers, and their protectors in government. Then there are the intellectually-deprived, with their retinal after-image of the white coloniser’s cultural and racial superiority. These are followed by the emotionally damaged fear-filled, lacking the confidence to relate to those not like themselves.  Those afflicted with subconscious guilt about the terrible things done to the inoffensive indigene by their predecessors, not all of whom were linked to them genetically, are also found in this grab-bag. One can sympathise with these. … …

Refusing to accept that the indigenes got the rough end of the pineapple collectively, whilst their women were collaterally used freely to create a new creole people, some modern moral purists argue that the major cause of the initial near-extinction of the indigene was not slaughter but disease. One of these iconoclasts even claimed that it was the Chinese and other Asians who had brought the deadly diseases to Australia. How many Chinese did Cortez take with him into America?

Another defender of ethnic cleansing claimed that the Aborigines should thank God that they were “displaced by Christian people”. On the contrary, I think that the Indians and Chinese might have treated the indigenes better. Their historical record, from the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Tonkin, down to Bali, suggests that.  … …

The same sort of negative attitudes surfaced when the report on the ‘stolen generations’ was released, except that the counter-attack was strangely bitter. The authors of the report, their motives, methodology, definitions, and findings were all attacked, but only by a noisy handful. The semanticists, pretending to be fair, focussed on the meaning of ‘stolen’ and the scope of the word ‘generation’. The other critics, seemingly less erudite, simply went ballistic, with all manner of quaint arguments. Yet, no one could deny, that many, many, lighter-skinned children were removed from their mothers (pounded may be a more appropriate term in some cases) in ways which were both immoral and illegal. … …

The claimed motivation for removing the children seemed to be multi-faceted. The need to save them from a terrible future amidst the dust of the cattle stations was one claim. A related caring claim was that, as part-whites, they could be assimilated through separation from their mothers and the rest of their people. If these motives were genuine, how did those in authority see the rights of the mothers and their communities? Since the children were to become no more than servants, what did assimilation offer them?

In the event, what does this policy say about the morality of those involved?  A more honest motive was to ‘to fuck them white’, in order to avoid a biological throwback to their indigenous heritage. Preventing the allegedly ‘quick-breeding half-caste’ from contributing to the growth of the creole community seems a more honest motive. As the Aborigine was then seen to be an early version of the Caucasian stock, there were thus hopes of breeding out the black peoples as a whole. But was there any intention to have white families adopt these poor kids, as claimed by a friend of mine?  What were the odds of white families even considering such adoptions?  I am inclined to believe that some did.

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ published in 2005. Regrettably, Aborigines lacking that attractive tan colour are alleged by some as not being Aboriginal. So, colour remains a determinant of culture and heritage in the eyes of those who want Aborigines to assimilate; yet imported ethnic peoples are able to integrate, with their cultural values intact, into the nation. Why is there so much prejudice?) 

 

 

 

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.

 

Demonising Native Title rights for indigenes

Following the decision by the High Court in the Wik case that a pastoral lease did not necessarily extinguish native title; and that, in some cases, some native title rights can survive the grant of a lease, farmers and pastoralists on Crown pastoral leases sought ‘certainty’ for themselves, by the federal government formally extinguishing native title.

Certainty also means the freedom to diversify their operations beyond the terms of existing leases. This would effectively make the leases de facto freehold, independently denying any native title right. Since many of the leases are reportedly already being used for a wide range of purposes, the question is how a pastoral lease, which is surely for pasturage of cattle, allowed full scale farming (as distinct from farming for sustenance). More intriguing was the claim that certain governments had ignored the law in granting mining leases.

The federal government then contributed to the panic that followed. What about our backyards, swimming pools, and tennis courts; can they take them too? This was asked by the newest demagogue then. The threat of Aboriginal intervention under native title will reduce the transfer value of the leases — this was yet another whinge. Apparently this has not happened yet. The federal government did little to allay these fears. Indeed, many of us realised that the government was actually fuelling irrational fears.

A white female pastoralist was reported in the late 1990s to have been fearful when her property was the subject of a native title claim by an Aboriginal community. She thought that, if successful, the Aborigines would simply take possession of her property. After she had met the claimants, she knew otherwise. Why had not the government or the media made this clear? Were they in cahoots with the powerful pastoralist lobby groups? It seems so.

She learnt that the Aborigines’ aim was co-existence.  They only wanted access to significant sites to conduct cultural activities for young people. She was quoted in the press as saying: “When sheep and cattle were moved in, the land the indigenous people lived off was badly affected. They had to find other ways to survive, and the problems were compounded by the aggressive acts of the pastoralists and the local white authorities. During the 1920s and 1930s indigenes were herded together in designated Aboriginal reserves, with little shelter and no water. The communities were split up, their culture fragmented. They gravitated towards the edges of towns … ended up outcasts, on the fringes of white society”.

Where politicians had promised ‘certainty’ to the pastoralists, she reportedly felt that she had been kept in the dark, misled, and betrayed. She was further quoted as follows: “… people like me were being used as tools, in what was obviously a political agenda being used to continue the hurt and dispossession of people who have been hurt their whole lives”; and “… there are people fanning the flames and spreading misinformation”.  She also quoted the Prime Minister of the day as claiming publicly that it would be possible for 78% of Australia to be under ‘veto’ (for development) by Aborigines. Has the government resiled from this ridiculous claim?

Her comment to that was: “I’ve no doubt that most Australians would have believed him. If I hadn’t informed myself, I’d have believed him as well”. Her final comments are noteworthy. “I did not hunt the (Aborigines) off their land: but what I have today I have partly because others did. If I inherited the fruits of the pioneers’ achievements, I also inherited a debt to those they dispossessed”.

That says it all. And what a wonderful human being — a beacon of light. This enlightened white lady has reached out to the Aboriginal people. She is also educating people in her situation about the need to work with Aboriginal people.

As asked by a respected academic in another, but comparable, context: “If lying comes to seem an acceptable political means to a worthwhile end, what will prevent democracy degenerating into a struggle between elites whose relationship to the electorate goes no deeper than the conduct of an auction …?” In any such auctions, the Aborigines will not be viable bidders.

(The above extracts are from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Since the book was published only in 2005, I do not believe that the Australian Constitution will be mended any time soon to recognise the Australian indigenes as the First Nation Peoples of Australia.)