Rayna Fahey: Stolen or Sharing Wealth?
Stolen or Sharing Wealth?
By Rayna Fahey
The 2006 Commonwealth Games is an opportunity for Australia to showcase its success and wealth to the rest of the former British Empire. Such spectacles can only be held in economically secure locations and are only successful when a vibrant local culture is able to hold the festival up and make it shine. The financial benefits for cities that host these extravaganza are huge. As Commonwealth Games Minister Justin Madden said "It's the best thing we've ever done. We'll be displaying to the world what we're best at, in sport, in festivities, in celebration and unity".
Unfortunately for Minister Madden, the last point is under major debate.
For the Indigenous people of Australia, the Games is a symbol of an undeclared war on their land and against their people. The Aboriginal people - being the oldest known human culture on this planet - have been persecuted by the policies of the Government and ultimately, the British Monarch for over two centuries. For a 40,000 plus year-old culture, it can hardly be surprising that lots of people would be more interested in having words with the Queen while she's here, than getting excited about a bunch of sweaty, lycra-clad athletes. The Games are a symbolic demonstration of everything the Commonwealth and former Empire stand for; physical conquest over others for glory and power. The only difference is, with the Games there are strict-yet fair rules which are firmly enforced.
When Captain Cook left England to conquer new land in the name of the King, he did so with explicit instruction to negotiate with people found in distant lands for the acquisition of land. Captain Cook directly disobeyed this order in Australia, defying the highest human authority of his people, and to this day has not been brought to account. Cook completely disregarded the spiritual laws that had been governing this continent for millennia and set about beginning one of the worst free-for-all land grabs in the history of colonisation.
Unlike most Commonwealth countries, there was no legal Treaty signed with any Aboriginal Nation. Ironically, the only known Treaty to be drafted and signed in Australia happened in Melbourne, on initiative of one John Batman. However Batman had no sovereign authority and the Crown quickly nullified that document. No attempt to make Treaty has been made since.
Which brings the issue back to the current Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. Under international law, treaties for land must be signed between sovereign nations and until Australia becomes a republic, that sovereignty remains with the Queen. No surprises then that the Victorian Traditional Land Owners gave unanimous support to a Sacred Fire Treaty Circle to be established in Melbourne during her visit. And no surprises that people from all over Australia representing the Aboriginal Nations are travelling to Melbourne to see her.
Queen Elizabeth knows there are serious issues to address here. In correspondence since her last visit she confirmed she was aware of the issues and was keeping an eye on the situation here, but at that stage wasn't prepared to intervene. Since that time, the legal situation in Australia has dramatically changed, most significantly with the adoption of anti-genocide legislation.
The legal definition of genocide includes mass murder, the denial of basic-needs services and intentional attempts to assimilate members of one group into another. Many people would like to deny the existence of criminal genocide in Australia, often using the justification that while it may have happened in history, the past is the past and we've moved on. However late last year the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that if the Aboriginal people wanted to get anywhere in this world, they had no choice but to assimilate. This statement was an act of criminal genocide under definition of Australian law and no-one blinked an eyelid.
This upcoming visit from the Queen is her first opportunity to step on Australian soil since these laws came into effect, and it is time she intervened. She must give clear direction to John Howard to make serious steps towards reconciliation. An apology is needed now, and negotiations towards Treaty must begin between sovereign nations, before Australia can begin to move on, as most other Commonwealth Nations have.
The Crown and the Government of Australia have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they do understand the basic legal issues surrounding the unfinished business in this country. At the moment there isn't even a brief flicker of recognition of these concepts in their eyes. The Commonwealth Games will be as much a competition between the various Nation States that exist on this land for historymaking as it will be for the athletes. The question of whether this issue is of enough importance to the various visiting dignitaries will decide whether this is indeed a celebration of unity for Australia.
Let's hope it is.