Macklin / Time the whitefellas started talking

“Massive global disruption is now inevitable. Australia can say goodbye to the Great Barrier Reef and prepare for many more massive cyclones, fatal bushfires and terrible heatwaves,” writes columnist ROBERT MACKLIN

I DON’T wish to be alarmist, but unless we sign a treaty with our Aboriginal compatriots soon our continued occupation of the Australian continent will be in jeopardy.

Robert Macklin

Robert Macklin.

The treaty negotiations have yet to begin. Our Aboriginal leaders are trying to develop some kind of poetic preamble to the Constitution with their own people. It will then go to the government where the conservatives will water it down so much that it won’t really matter if it’s passed by referendum or not. Only then will they turn their attention to a treaty that finally formalises our legal right to the occupation of the continent. But unfortunately time is running out… fast.

On March 29, that vandal in the White House signed an order reversing his predecessor’s measures to tackle climate change at home; and his henchmen reaffirmed America’s decision to renege on the Paris agreement, which Trump says is “a Chinese hoax”.

This means that massive global disruption is now inevitable. Australia can say goodbye to the Great Barrier Reef and prepare for many more massive cyclones, fatal bushfires and terrible heatwaves that take our most vulnerable folk – young and old – before their time.

But our country is so big that large parts of it will get lots more rain and this will actually increase our agricultural output. Whacko, you might say; we’re still the Lucky Country.

However, that’s just the climate change preamble. As the seas rise and the deserts expand exponentially in other continents, literally millions of refugees will be on the march. And the very idea of national boundaries will be called into question. Even then, you might say, we’ll still be okay because we don’t share a land border with anyone.

True. But we’re surrounded by water and the most vulnerable country to sea rise is Bangladesh where no fewer than 30 million souls are in the ocean’s rising highwater line. Their Indian neighbour has built a huge fence around three sides to prevent their escaping into Indian territory. The other side is the sea and the Bangladeshis have many thousands of boats that could well provide their only possible escape route.

The Indians won’t let them land there; nor will the neighbouring Burmese. The Indonesians have problems of their own, as do the other countries en route to that great big continent with only 24 million folk living the life of Riley. And it won’t be just Bangladeshis on the move but people from all those affected by sea rise and desertification, not least India itself.

So here’s the rub: the whitefellas that own and run Australia occupied it by dispossessing the original inhabitants without even a “by your leave”. In international legal terms they retain it by force majeure. This means that in the great global conferences that will inevitably follow – and in the international court of public opinion – we would not have a leg to stand on unless we can demonstrate our right, by treaty, to the Great South Land.

Of course, we could ask our navy and air force to blow the refugees out of the water. But even if our servicemen and women agreed, what kind of country would we have become? The consequences don’t bear thinking about.

It is entirely possible that in the decades ahead we will have to come to some kind of accommodation with the displaced people of the climate-change catastrophe. But we can do so either from a position of strength or weakness. The choice is ours.

robert@robertmacklin.com

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