Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Trust an issue for Aboriginal Australians who seek sovereignty

Sovereign Union spokesperson; via SBS.
For many Australians the passing in Parliament of the Act of Recognition of Aboriginal people with bipartisan support was hardly a big deal. A lot of people will not even have noticed that it happened. But for Aboriginal Australians the event was noteworthy, although many will not have approved of it. Representatives of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples (NCAFP) who were present on the day voiced their approval of what had taken place but they view the event as just a step toward constitutional recognition, the only way, they believe, to achieve "substantive" rather than "symbolic" recognition of Aboriginal people. Their goal is a change that "protects rights and prohibits discrimination". But they were not alone in Canberra. Representatives of a body that is unknown to most Australians, the Sovereign Union of First Nations Peoples in Australia (SUFNPA) were also present, and they were there to "serve" the Governor-General with "papers" with an aim of securing a treaty with Buckingham Palace.

Such an action might merely be laughable in the context of the efforts of mainstream Aboriginal organisations such as the NCAFP, were it not for the passion that underlies it. While the NCAFP is content to go through a process of accommodation that includes the Australian Parliament as the representative of the will of the nation, the SUFNPA and those who support it are determined to bypass what the majority of Australians see as the legitimate legal authority of the land, the Parliament, and take their suit directly to what they see as the ultimate authority of the "colonial" government, Queen Elizabeth II.

"The ultimate goal is for us to sign a treaty, on our terms, with the colonial government, in order to form a meaningful partnership," wrote one participant in a discussion thread on Facebook that emerged shortly after the Act was passed. "It has nothing to do with needing the support of non-First Nations people. It's as simple as us asserting our rights to establish our own sovereign state (as per the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous People, to which the Australian Government is a signatory to) and going from there."

This kind of view seems to be widespread in some sectors of the Aboriginal community. Given the lack of media coverage, or else the lack of trust in the media such individuals have, we hear nothing in the mainstream about goals that so closely touch on the personal interests of all Australians. The Facebook discussion went on over several days, so I will quote some more of what transpired.

"There never was any British sovereignty over this country. The British sovereign only had jurisdiction over British subjects. You, and others on the Reconciliation bandwagon, have been specifically utilised to sell a hollow, insulting agenda. By the way, your insinuation that First Nations people need Australians to approve of our assertion of our sovereign rights, is another of your misleading, inaccurate statements."

These statements are in direct conflict with what mainstream Aboriginal bodies like the NCAFP are saying in public, so it's not clear how influential such people, or such views, are within the ongoing debate surrounding the status of Aboriginal Australians. But it's troubling that there are many people in the Aboriginal community who think it's fine to just bypass Australia's legitimate legal body and appeal to the symbolic head of state. It's frankly insulting to most Australians, who participate in the Commonwealth in good faith, and many of whom support Reconciliation and the removal of discrimination against Aborigines. Bodies like SUFNPA and individuals like those I spoke with on Facebook want to short-circuit the democratic process mainly, I feel, due to a depressing lack of trust in its operation. The counter-culture feel to their comments suggests a real fear of engaging in the mainstream via the media, and during our discussion it felt that merely to disagree was taken, in bad faith, as a sign of disrespect.

I think what needs to happen, in the short term, is for Australia's mainstream media to engage meaningfully with the SUFNPA - and therefore with those who support it - so that the issues it wishes to raise can be more broadly discussed publicly.

1 comment:

Christine Howes said...

Thanks Matthew...you're right, the last sentence nails it. If you follow the link to SUFNPA link you'll see the group is quite active in sending out media releases, most of which get picked up by Indigenous media. One of the main movers of the group - Tent Embassy founding member Michael Anderson - is a regular guest on Tiga's show (which I still hope you will listen to the rest of one day!)...and he is also a lawyer. My understanding is they've got nowhere with successive Australian Governments - who they have always approached in good faith (and Mary and Lilla talk about that) so have researched their way into... Crown law, I suppose, and that is the path they are on.