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A treaty with Australia's Aboriginal people

Should there be a treaty with aboriginal people written into Australia's Constitution? At first glance it seems very reasonable, certainly Aborigines were disenfranchised when Caucasians settled Australia, but looking into it a bit further I believe it would be very difficult to make a treaty fair, there are some strange implications and I'm not at all convinced it would be ethically justified.

I'm not at all concerned if my thoughts below are not consistent and don't all lead in the same direction; it is a complex issue, there are a number of ways of looking at it.

This page written 2016/06/23, modified 2020/02/27 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
 
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  1. It is very difficult to imagine exactly what would be in the treaty for it to bring justice to Aborigines and the Australian people in general. Aboriginal land rights were enacted decades ago.

     
    The Breakaways, Coober Pedy, South Australia
    Breakaways
    After taking this drone photo I was told that flying drones in conservation parks was illegal; the justification given was that drones would be able to photograph areas that were sacred to the Aborigines and that were not so easily seen by people on foot. Surely constraining the rights of everyone because of the superstitions of a few is questionable ethically?
  2. In an ideal society everyone would be treated equally, regardless of race or who one's ancesters were; a treaty would give preferential treatment to people of one race over people of other races.

  3. It seems to me that, rather than bringing greater unity between Aborigines and others, a treaty would tend to entrench the divide between the two groups.

  4. I am at least third generation Australian born (my grand-parents were all born in Australia); before that my ancestors were in Europe for thousands of years. Should that give me special rights in Europe? Before going to Europe my earlier ancestors were in Africa for millions of years; should that give me special rights in Africa? If you answered no to these questions, then how can special rights to Aborigines be justified in Australia?

  5. A person's rights, social status (and wealth too) should not depend on who their ancestors were or where they lived. That is the old British class system or the Indian cast system.

  6. Australia's Aborigines generally are disadvantaged compared to most non-Aborigines; but they are not the only people in Australia who are disadvantaged. Surely ethics dictates that people should be given assistance based on the level of their disadvantage, not based on their racial affiliation.

  7. Pauline Hanson's expression of fear at Australia becoming 'overrun with Asians' have been roundly condemned, and I believe rightly so. Why do Caucasians have a greater right to Australia than do Asians? Just because we were here first? Does that really justify us keeping others out? But then, if 'being here first' brings with it no rights, where do Aborigines stand? (Then there are the implications for refugees who would like to come to Australia.)

  8. If there was a treaty, who will be the beneficiaries? Those who are genetically 100% aboriginal? Those who are 50% or more? Those who are 25% or more? Those who simply consider themselves to be aboriginal?

  9. There were undoubted injustices to Aborigines in the past. Does giving benefits to the descendants of these people in any way right that wrong? This seems to me to be something like the inverse of punishing the sons for the sins of the fathers. Can an advantage given to one person in any way make up for a crime perpetrated against another person? On the other hand there are some cases when a person might have to make reparation for harm done by a predecessor; for example if a person inherited a fortune and it was later found that that fortune had been wrongly taken from a third party, surely it should be returned. Should it be returned to the heir of the wronged person if that person had died? How far back into the past should this sort of reparation go?

  10. If we agree that the descendants of those aborigines who were wronged should somehow be compensated for those wrongs, how far should we continue with this principle? Should the descendants of those convicts who were sent to Australia for what would now be considered trivial crimes be compensated? Should the descendants of the English Saxons who were disenfranchised by the invading Normans be compensated?
It seems to me on balance that a treaty written 228 or more years after the beginning of settlement of Australia by Europeans (or call it 'Invasion Day' if you like) will not provide justice, it will instead simply complicate matters and possibly entrench the divide between Aborigines and others.





General comment

It is not fair to burden innocent people, either through taxes or reduced services, because their ancestors may or may not have been guilty of crimes against another racial group. Also, indiscriminately giving preference to people who claim membership of a particular racial group when the individuals involved may not have suffered injustice cannot ethically be justified.

In the case of Australian Aborigines (or Aboriginal people or First Nations people if you prefer the fashionable phrases) how could you possibly decide who was, and who was not, justified in claiming membership of the group?

The only fair way of treating the people of Australia (or any other nation) is to give all equal rights irrespective of their race, creed or political leaning.

Individuals who have been treated unjustly deserve justice whatever their race, creed or political leaning. Individuals who are in particular need should all be looked after humanely whatever their race, creed or political leaning.

On another, but related subject...

We are all First Nations people. For example, it would be amazing if I did not have some ancestors who were among the first people in Britain. It would be totally beyond belief that I had no ancestors who were the first people in Africa; we all have ancestors who were the first people in Africa.





Related pages

On this site...

Australian Aborigines and justice, some thoughts

Compassion

Contribution; what do various people contribute to society?

Ethics

Mateship; virtue or vice

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