Australia after the queen’s death: why indigenous rights take precedence over the king’s vote

Australia after the queen's death: why indigenous rights take precedence over the king's vote
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Brisbane, Australia

Within 24 hours of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the first cracks were forming in a carefully choreographed Australian response to the passing of its Head of State.

During a televised match between the Australian Football League for Women (AFLW) teams in Melbourne on Friday, the players stood to attention to hear an Award of Country followed immediately by a minute’s silence by the Queen.

However, the juxtaposition of a statement that the players were on “unceded” indigenous land followed by a tribute to the country’s former monarch that he claimed was uncomfortable for some.

By Saturday, all other minutes of silence for AFLW games had been cancelled, and the manager of one of the clubs, the Western Bulldogs, released a statement saying the tribute “discover deep wounds for us”.

Fremantle Dockers players line up before an AFLW match with the Western Bulldogs in Melbourne on September 9, 2022.

The incident demonstrates the lingering pain felt by Australia’s First Nations people since the occupation of their country by British settlers in 1788. In other Commonwealth nations, the death of the queen it has sparked rumours, some louder than others, of moves to abandon the British monarchy for a republic. But in Australia, despite Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s pro-republic views, there is no concerted push in that direction.

In interviews and press conferences since the Queen’s death, Albanese has repeatedly said that now is not the time to talk about a republic. And on Tuesday, the Australian Republican Movement appeared to agree, suspending its campaign on the issue until after the mourning period “out of respect for the Queen.”

But for Albanese, the reluctance to push for a republic at this point is not just a matter of respect for the late monarch. The Labor leader made a pre-election promise to hold a referendum to recognize Australia’s First Nations peoples in the constitution within his first three-year term, if he won office.

Asked about it on Monday, Albanese said: “I said at the time I couldn’t imagine a circumstance where we changed our Head of State to an Australian Head of State but still didn’t recognize First Nations people in our constitution and the fact that we live with the oldest continuous culture on Earth. So those are our priorities this term.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attends the Proclamation of King Charles III, in the forecourt of Parliament House on September 11, 2022 in Canberra, Australia.

Changing the constitution requires a majority of Australians across the country, as well as a majority in most states, to vote “yes” in a referendum, a notoriously difficult task. Since the Federation in 1901, only eight of 44 proposals for constitutional change have been approved.

The last rejection came in 1999, when the country’s citizens were asked if they wanted to replace the Queen and the Governor General with a President.

Back then, the campaign focused on cutting ties with an archaic monarchy and moving forward as a bold new multicultural nation trying to forge its own path. Indigenous issues were not high on the agenda, although Australians were asked a second question, to approve a new preamble to the constitution that honored First Nations peoples for their “kinship with their lands.That too failed, with Aboriginal elders of the time complaining that they had not been consulted on the wording.

An Aboriginal land rights protest on Spring Street, Melbourne, 1971.

It was not a surprise. Indigenous peoples had long complained that successive governments had not listened to their voices, so much so that in 1999 Yawuru man Peter Yu, now Vice President of First Nations at the Australian National University (ANU), followed suit. advice from a local elder to take his message to the Queen.

“A very old senior leader said, ‘You’d better go see that old lady abroad…because they call her by the wrong name here,’” Yu recalled. The old man meant that the only time Aborigines heard the Queen’s name was when they were arrested, Yu told CNN. “They felt that, given the community’s respect for the Queen, her name was being tarnished and her reputation tarnished from her, and therefore we had to go and explain the situation,” he said.

So they did.

Yu and a delegation met with Queen Elizabeth for about 30 minutes at Buckingham Palace and received a much warmer welcome from the monarch than any of the UK or Australian governments, he said.

Today, Yu says views within Australia’s indigenous community about the Queen are mixed, as they are in most communities.

“There are strong emotions,” he said. “And we continue to suffer the full force of the consequences of colonization. But do we hold her personally responsible for it? I don’t,” she said. “Who I hold responsible is the Australian government… governments that willfully neglected their duty of care. That’s why I’m angry.”

Queen Elizabeth II watches an Aboriginal cultural performance near Cairns, March 2002.

By the end of his first term, Albanese promised a referendum on the Voice of Parliament, a body enshrined in the constitution that would, for the first time, give indigenous peoples a voice in laws that affect them.

John Warhurst, emeritus professor of political science at ANU and former chairman of the Australian Republic Movement, says a referendum on the Voice of Parliament is “certainly the first priority” over a republic.

“You won’t get a discussion about that among Republicans,” he added.

An image of Queen Elizabeth II looks down from the sails of the Australian Opera House on September 9, 2022.

The Voice of Parliament is important for several reasons, Warhurst said. “It’s a line in the sand about Australia’s colonial past. It’s a line in the sand about race relations in Australia… and I think the message internationally would also be shocking if we don’t pass this referendum.”

However, not all indigenous peoples support the concept.

Telona Pitt, a Ngarluma, Kariyarra and Meriam woman of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, is the administrator of the “Vote No to Constitutional Change” Facebook group, which has 11,000 members.

She believes that not enough indigenous people were given a voice in the drafting of the document that led to the plans for a Voice to Parliament. And she says that the government is already aware of the indigenous problems, but has not done enough to solve them, and that will not change with a referendum on a Voice to Parliament.

“All it is going to do is disempower Aboriginal people and strengthen Parliament against us,” he said.

Protesters participate in a

Pitt says a referendum should be held among indigenous peoples to see who supports the change before questions are asked of the general public.

Warhurst says that passing Voice to Parliament would make it easier to pass more constitutional changes, but on the other hand, rejecting it could mean a longer road to a republic.

He said that after the Voice of Parliament is passed, Australia may be ready to consider life after the monarchy.

That may not happen for another five to 10 years, but campaigning on the issue would have to start early “from scratch” as Australia is not the same place it was in 1999, he said.

Potentially convincing Australians that it’s time for a republic may be easier by then, as the nostalgia of a lifetime under the Queen’s reign will have passed for previous generations, who grew up with much closer ties to the british monarchy.

“Queen Elizabeth’s presence influenced some to stick with the status quo,” Warhurst said. “So I think now that we’ve moved to a new King, some of the reluctance in the Australian community has gone.”

However, the ANU’s Yu said the issue of Australia’s indigenous people must be addressed before talking about a republic.

“How can you have a republic without settling the matter with the First Peoples?” she asked. “To me, it’s nonsense. It has no integrity. He has no sense of morality or soul.”

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