We’re in the midst of one of the most divisive point in our history back in the US, and because of how much Americentrism exists in the everyday media I’m exposed to at home, I haven’t been as aware of the political situations abroad as I’d like to be. I feel like I’ve arrived in Australia during a particularly politically-charged era, and since coming here I’ve learned about multiple different issues where opinions vary greatly among Australian people, from coal-mining to immigration. One ongoing controversy taking place in Australia currently that has stuck out to me is the ongoing mistreatment of the country’s indigenous people by the government. It bewilders me that there are so many parallels that exist between how the native people are treated here and back in the US.
Right now this country’s aboriginal people are still fighting for a basic level of recognition from their government. The movement towards constitutional recognition is essentially focused on recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian constitution, as it was drafted during a time where these people were considered a dying race not worthy of citizenship or humanity. This situation is eerily similar to our own constitution, which at the time was written to protect the rights of a particular race and class, rather than all of our country’s inhabitants. In May 2017 a constitutional convention bringing together over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders allowed these groups to draft the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The majority resolved, in the statement, to call for the establishment of a ‘First Nations Voice’ in the Australian Constitution with representative body to provide advice on legal and policy matters affecting Aboriginal people. They also suggested a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to supervise a process of ‘agreement-making’ and ‘truth-telling’ between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
You would think that a united and organized set of requests given to the government on behalf of a population that’s been violated and exploited for so long would prompt immediate negotiations from the government, but that’s not been the case. The Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has shut down the idea of an Indigenous advisory body in the constitution, claiming it would fail to win support across the country, and despite polls that reveal 61% of Australians would be in favor of the Uluru statements proposed policies, Turnbull does not want to take the decision to a referendum because he does not believe it would find success that way. He also claims the representation of the First Nations people in government would create a third chamber of Parliament. From my perspective it seems pretty clear that the only people hindering the movement towards constitutional recognition are politicians like Turnbull and not the overall public.
It’s the blatant lack of acknowledgement given toward the native people of Australia that has made this issue so fascinating to me. So often throughout American history we’ve seen multiple groups of people treated like second-class citizens, and its disappointing to see more of the same here in Australia. What has given me hope is the large amounts of unified action I see being taken among Indigenous leaders. Despite the fact that aboriginal groups come from very different cultures, actions like their constitutional convention exemplify a level of togetherness necessary to see change begin to take place.