Monday, July 7, 2014

Time to settle on justice for indigenous people

Editorial The Age July 7, 2014
Words are powerful. They can drive reform that improves many lives. And they can derail positive change.
So this newspaper is, well, unsettled that Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday evening said Australia was ‘unsettled’ before the British arrived. We hasten to add that Mr Abbott, who was responding at an event in Melbourne to a question about foreign investment, immediately adjusted his comment and said the nation had been ‘scarcely settled’.
There might be many who feel our Prime Minister was stooping to the sort of dog-whistle politics he has used to demonise asylum seekers, some of the most desperate, vulnerable and marginalised people on the planet. We would be loath to think any portion of the community might seize on Mr Abbott's comment to undermine efforts to increase fairness in our society for indigenous Australians, for his words hark unfortunately to terra nullius. This legal notion that no one owned the land before the British claimed it was rejected and discredited by the High Court in 1992 when it ruled, in the Mabo case, that native title exists……….
We believe the Prime Minister deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one, as we have no doubt about his personal commitment to improving the lives of indigenous Australians………
We believe the Prime Minister's comment is an opportunity to underline the importance of adjusting the constitution to properly acknowledge the first Australians and to remove from our founding document elements that discriminate against indigenous people…………
We believe fairness and decency compel a change in the constitution……….
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