Thursday, 2 June 2022

Statement from the heart?

The new government in Downunder is attempting to make rapid progress on many issues. It is almost as if they fear they won't be able to make any of the major changes for which they claim they have a mandate. There is a sense of urgency about them and a very definite sense of "we know what is best for you and we are not going to allow any debate".

There are two issues which genuinely concern me. The first is the renewed push for a "republic" and the second is "indigenous recognition in the Constitution".

In 1995 we rejected the opportunity to "become a republic". It was the right decision. We are already a completely independent nation. Our Governor-General is our head of state. He or she is treated as such when overseas and acts as  such here.

The Queen is head of the Commonwealth and this country is part of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is still one of those useful organisations which allow diverse groups of people with diverse interests to get together. It may not have the influence it once had but it is still useful.

Unlike some small nations which have recently become republics the Queen has no power here. The Governor-General is not chosen by her. The government of the day chooses the Governor-General and, despite claims to the contrary, it does consult the Opposition who may also need to work with the Governor-General. The powers of the Governor-General are both limited and - in very rare circumstances - powerful. (If the government of the day was going to break the law and there was advice from the High Court to this effect then the government could be dismissed by the Governor-General. This is essentially what happened at the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam government.) 

Referendums are very expensive to hold. They require a majority of people in a majority of the states to agree. There have been very few successful referendums.  

"Becoming a republic" would also be a very expensive exercise. With all the other issues we should be concerned about this is not one I believe should even be on the agenda, certainly not one which is somewhere near the top of the current government's agenda. Spend money on this or on climate related issues? The latter please!

And then there is the issue of "indigenous recognition" in the Constitution and an "indigenous voice" in Federal parliament. I am well aware we  will be considered "racist" if that one does not get up. It is being pushed by a small but very powerful minority who claim that it "must" be done and that it is "the only way forward".  Whether this is so or not is something which will be difficult to debate without seeming to be racist. I am aware it is of great concern to some indigenous people. They do not want this sort of "recognition". They believe, and I think they are right, they already have the opportunity to be heard. It is possible for indigenous people to be elected. The late Senator Neville Bonner showed that many years ago. There are members in the new parliament who identify as indigenous. My indigenous friend M.... argues that a "voice" will further divide, not unite. 

The new government wants to hold a referendum on this issue too - the only way the Constitution can be changed. It is an issue which may well produce a great deal of resentment and anger if it fails but  it may not bring about any positive change. It is by no means the most important issue faced by people of indigenous heritage. Do we spend the money on that? What tangible benefit will it have apart from a "feel good" effect for a short while? Will it mean real change or will it mean something else altogether?

I am not suggesting we should not address these issues but I believe there has to be a desire for change in the community first. These things are not things a government should be trying to impose on people. 

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