Brevity is the soul of wit, and that was the guiding principle of the very best column on Australia’s marriage equality survey.
Headlined “Why I’m voting yes”, NT News columnist Jill Poulsen listed all her reasons. It simply read: “1. I’m not an arsehole.”
The same characteristic candidness could be applied to Australia’s national referendum to formally recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution, which we’ll have within three years.
While this one is a referendum, not a toothless and unnecessary survey, there are striking resemblances.
If indigenous Australians feel anything like I did (as a gay person) during that postal survey, it’ll feel like the country has been invited to vote on their human dignity. A ballot on their validity as citizens. On whether we should even bother listening to them when everyday decisions are made affecting their lives.
It’ll be extremely personal. Anyone even considering opposing needs to step out of their comfy privilege pumps and into the shoes of someone else for one minute. How would you feel if the country was voting about you in this way?
Those bemoaning political correctness often claim you can’t say anything these days, but when the bluntness they so desperately desire is turned back on them, they abhor it.
Still, the case must be made as to why it’d be unethical to vote no.
I recently interviewed actor Uncle Jack Charles. He was just four months old when he was forcibly removed from his mother as part of Australian government policy to “assimilate” Aboriginal kids into white families.
Chucked into a boy’s home for most of his teenage years, he was sexually abused by the man who was supposed to be caring for him.
His first arrest, when he was 17, was for leaving his foster home without permission. He was just trying to find his biological mum.
A life of prison and heroin addiction followed, yet also one of artistic brilliance — he recently won the Red Ochre lifetime achievement award.
You cannot tell me that decisions made about this man’s life should be treated the same way as decisions made about mine. His first ever criminal conviction is a direct result of the state’s appalling treatment of him.
Trying to find your mum today is not a crime, yet Uncle Jack was branded for life. A decision on, for example, whether to expunge his prohibitive criminal record, should be treated completely differently from if I had one for burglary.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 12.5 times more likely to be in prison than non-indigenous people, according to a 2016 report from the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Their land was stolen from them. Their children were stolen from them. Their dignity was stolen from them. Their life chances continue to be stolen from them, due to intergenerational trauma caused directly by the Australian Government. It’s time to redress the balance, restore their dignity and hear their voices at a meaningful level.
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Australia remains the only Commonwealth nation not to have signed a treaty with its indigenous peoples. The sky hasn’t fallen in for the countries that have.
It’s an opportunity for the nation to complete what it started by voting yes to marriage equality: a chance to finally grow up.
This is why representation in politics — whether of indigenous people or of women — is so powerful.
It’s no coincidence that Ken Wyatt’s historical appointment as the first indigenous minister for indigenous affairs (and Linda Burney in the shadow portfolio) has pushed this issue firmly onto the Government’s agenda, with a set timeline.
Perhaps if we actually had an Aboriginal minister for aboriginal affairs in NSW (unlike Don Harwin or his predecessor, Sarah Mitchell), someone would finally listen to indigenous woman Cheree Toka’s campaign to fly the Aboriginal flag atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 365 days, rather than an insulting 15.
That alone tells you a lot about how valued our First Nations people are encouraged to feel about their own country.
The referendum’s wording is yet to be decided, but constitutional recognition is a separate issue from the indigenous advisory board suggested as part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The voice to parliament is just one recommendation; constitutional recognition is the umbrella goal here.
Yet some are still even arguing with that.
Morgan Begg from the Institute for Public Affairs wrote: “Both parties are asking Australians to put race back into the Constitution … this is not progress in indigenous affairs, it is a significant backwards step.”
This rare bipartisanship is aimed at creating unity, not division, by recognising the context Begg is overlooking, because it doesn’t suit his dog-eat-dog agenda.
This is about the difference between equality and equity.
You don’t treat everyone the same to achieve equality. You give everyone what they need to be successful. And what indigenous people are telling us, from their hearts, that they need is truth, reconciliation, constitutional recognition and a voice.
Frankly, it’s pretty difficult to view anyone disputing this as anything other than an unempathetic arsehole.