According to former prime minister Paul Keating, Indigenous Australians have consistently been advocating for the wrong cause by pushing for a voice in parliament. The unsuccessful referendum has now hindered the possibility of a treaty, which could have properly recognized the Indigenous community’s historical ownership and displacement.
During an interview with Guardian Australia, Keating accused John Howard and Tony Abbott, former prime ministers of the Liberal party, as well as historian Geoffrey Blainey, of intentionally misinterpreting the results of the referendum and pushing for a return to the “great assimilation project”.
According to him, the recognition of Indigenous Australians was never necessary.
As I mentioned to them, your country is facing a significant and long-standing issue. It was invaded, and you were forced out of it, with many of you losing your lives in the process. A political resolution is necessary, rather than a legal one; simply including a few vague legal terms in the constitution will not solve the problem. It is crucial to address the historical context and current factors at play.
“I have long held the belief that this is their nation, and they are justified in asserting their rightful occupation of it. I saw their desire to be included in the colonial constitution of their oppressors as a surrender on this matter.”
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“They were engaged in the wrong battle, instead of standing up for their pride as the original inhabitants of the country. They should have been fighting for the preservation of the treaty, the true matter at hand, rather than focusing on the legal procedures through which they could offer guidance.”
“According to him, politics is not simply managing small details, but rather making broad and impactful decisions. He recognized that the issue at hand is large and complex, and cannot be solved through a narrow legalistic approach. He also stated that his perspective aligns with the concept of advocating for black sovereignty.”
The Uluru statement of 2017, resulting from thorough discussions within Indigenous communities, set the foundation for the upcoming referendum. It was always intended that a treaty and truth-telling process would follow the establishment of a parliamentary voice. This would be coordinated and promoted by the advisory body.
Keating has denounced recent statements from John Howard and Geoffrey Blainey praising the positive effects of colonisation and Tony Abbott’s suggestion that the vote should lead to a reduction in acknowledgments of country and flying the Indigenous flag, calling them “unacceptable interpretations” of the no vote.
“The rejection of the proposal does not address or mention these concerns. It is simply a deliberate misinterpretation by conservative individuals of a thoughtful decision made by the general public,” he stated. “This is essentially a revival of the assimilation agenda, without any attempt to conceal it.”
Blainey is transitioning from his biased interpretation of history to a more one-sided perspective. He believes that Aboriginals have made progress since the invasion and that it was a mistake to grant them ownership of half the continent through native title. However, he fails to acknowledge the fact that the title rightfully belonged to them and was recognized by the highest court in the country. This does not seem to matter to him.
Blainey and others who prioritize law and order seem to disregard the laws that protect Aboriginal land and ownership. Despite the high court’s ruling that British sovereignty did not eliminate native title, Blainey is now opposed to a law that was declared valid by the highest court in the country. This is in reference to the Mabo high court decision in 1992, which ultimately led to the implementation of the Native Title Act in 1993 during his time as a government official.
According to Keating, the negative vote has greatly damaged the treaty and potentially the republic.
However, he found value in a proposal mentioned in the latest public statement to the government by Indigenous leaders, who endorsed the idea of a voice to parliament being constitutionally protected. They have expressed their desire to explore the possibility of creating a voice that can advocate for justice on behalf of our community, separate from the constitution or laws.
The suggestion to create a voice in the constitution received support from both supporters and opponents. This would allow individuals to express their views to the government on any relevant topics. The only necessary step from the government would be to provide some funding through the commonwealth electoral commission to establish this voice.
Before the referendum, Keating informed The Australian newspaper that he would be casting a yes vote and that he firmly believes that a voice has the potential to greatly enhance results. This is a belief he still holds.
He stated that he had previously informed Indigenous leaders that he did not think constitutional reform was the most effective approach to recognition. This is evident in a letter he wrote to professors Marcia Langton and Megan Davis, which was first unveiled in Troy Bramston’s biography, Paul Keating: The Big Picture Leader. In the letter, he expressed that “the path to recognition should be direct and include acknowledgement and reparation for displacement through a document recognizing prior occupation. A treaty is the most suitable method for achieving this, even though it is long overdue by two hundred years.”