“Once the broad mass of Australians, new and old, learn the real story of our Aboriginal past, they will respond with that precious quality we genuinely cherish: the fair go,” write The Gadfly columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.
IT pains me to say it, but the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” is dead in the water. And it’s partly the fault of the Aboriginal men and women who spent all those months of consultation developing it.
Their ambitions are for a “Voice, a Treaty and a Truth Telling” of the injustices they have suffered from the moment of the colonial invasion. Singly and together, these quests are thoroughly justified. Indeed, they would transform, for the better, the whole concept of what it means to be an Australian.
- The “Voice” would bring an Aboriginal viewpoint to all the issues that bear upon the country itself, from the tending of the land, its foliage and its animal population, to the seas, the reefs, and the bounty of the deep. It would also give expression to Aboriginal views in the quest to bridge the gap between Aboriginal and mainstream health, education, housing, employment and mortality.
- The “Treaty” would give legal recognition to the ownership of our great southern land at a time when climate change threatens to produce millions of refugees who will test to the limits the whole notion of territorial sovereignty.
- And the “Truth Telling” would cover all aspects of the Aboriginal dispossession, from the widespread massacres and murders to the stolen generations, the hurt and despair, and the in-built racist oppression still being suffered today.
But alas, they won’t happen. And for one simple reason: the authors of the statement insist that they be pursued in exactly their order – Voice, Treaty, Truth Telling. In doing so they’ve put the cart before the horse. They are asking Canberra’s politicians to enact these fundamental changes to Australia’s perception of itself simply out of the goodness of their hearts.
That idea has never been on Canberra’s political agenda.
I know this as one who has been engaged in either the heart or the margins of Federal politics since my years on the personal staff of Deputy Prime Minister (and briefly Prime Minister) John “Black Jack” McEwen (1967-71); as the biographer of Kevin Rudd and, more recently, as a political columnist.
But as well, in the last few weeks I’ve been exposed to audiences around the country promoting my latest book, “Castaway”, which tells of the French cabin boy, Narcisse Pelletier, who was taken in by the Aboriginal people of Far North Queensland for 17 years from 1858 while at the same time that state carried out an attempted Aboriginal genocide. And what struck me most powerfully was not their profound ignorance of the colonial horrors, but their genuine hunger for the truth.
This, I’m sure, is the key. Once the broad mass of Australians, new and old, learn the real story of our Aboriginal past, they will respond with that precious quality we genuinely cherish: the fair go.
Only then will they open their minds to the good sense behind the Voice and the Treaty.
When that happens, the politicians will be confronted by a new imperative – an electorate that either wants action urgently or fellow travellers in the cause. Of course, the rock-ribbed racists will never change, but they have always been on the wrong side of history… until it’s a fait accompli and then they’ll find some way to take credit for it. That, too, is a lesson forged in the political fires of a lifetime.
So, for goodness sake, let’s get it right – Truth, Treaty, Voice!