Australia after Queen’s death: why indigenous rights take precedence over vote for king

Brisbane, Australia

Within 24 hours of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the first cracks were appearing in a carefully choreographed response to the death of Australia’s head of state.

During a televised Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) match in Melbourne on Friday, the players stood to attention to hear the Pledge of Allegiance and immediately held a minute’s silence for the Queen.

However, he pointed out that the players were standing on “unceded” indigenous land and then paid tribute to the country’s former monarch, who he said was uncomfortable for some.

All remaining minutes of AFLW games were canceled on Saturday, with the manager of one of the clubs, the Western Bulldogs, releasing a statement saying the tribute “brings to the fore our deep wounds”.

The incident shows the enduring pain experienced by Australia’s First Nations since the occupation of their country by British settlers in 1788. In other Commonwealth nations, the Queen’s death has sparked an uproar – some louder than others – about moves to abandon the British monarchy. the republic But in Australia, despite Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s pro-republican views, there is no unified push in that direction.

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

But for Albanese, the reluctance to push for a republic right now is not just about respect for the late monarch. The Labor leader made a pre-election promise to hold a referendum on recognizing Australia’s First Nations people in the constitution during his first three years in office if he won office.

When asked about it on Monday, Albanese said: “I said at the time that I couldn’t foresee a situation where we changed our Head of State to the Head of State of Australia, but we still didn’t recognize First Nations people in our Constitution and the people of the Earth. that we live with the oldest continuous culture. So that is our priorities in this mandate.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attends the proclamation of King Charles III at 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 difficult task. Since the 1901 Federation, only eight of the 44 proposals for constitutional change have been accepted.

The last rejection came in 1999, when the country’s citizens were asked if they wanted to replace the queen and governor-general with a president.

The campaign then focused on cutting ties with an archaic monarchy and emerging as a brave new multicultural nation intent on forging its own path. Indigenous issues were not on the agenda, although Australians were asked a second question to approve a new preamble to the constitution honoring First Nations people for their “kinship with their land”. This also failed, with Aboriginal elders of the time complaining that they had not been consulted about the text.

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

It wasn’t a surprise. Indigenous people have long complained that their voices have not been heard by successive governments, so much so that in 1999, Peter Yu Yawuru man, now Vice-President of First Nations at the Australian National University (ANU), took the advice of a local elder. carry their message to the Queen.

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

They did so.

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

Today, Yu says Australian indigenous communities have mixed views on the queen, as do most communities.

“There are strong emotions,” he said. “And we continue to suffer the full force of the consequences of colonization. But do we take personal responsibility for it? I don’t,” he said. “What I hold responsible for this is the Australian government … governments who deliberately neglected their duty of care. I am angry about that.”

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

At the end of his first term, Albanese has promised Parliament a referendum on Voice – the constitutional body that will give indigenous peoples a say in laws that affect them for the first time.

John Warhurst, ANU professor emeritus of political science and former president of the Australian Republican Movement, says a referendum on Voice for Parliament is “definitely the number one priority” for a republic.

“You’re not going to get a debate about that among Republicans,” he added.

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

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

However, not all indigenous people accept the concept.

Telona Pitt, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ngarluma, Kariyarra and Meriam woman, is the administrator of the 11,000-member “Vote No Constitutional Change” Facebook group.

According to him, not enough indigenous people gave their word to write the document that brought the plans of the Voice to the Legislature. And he says that the government is already aware of the indigenous people’s problems, but has not done enough to solve them, and that will not change with the Parliament’s Voice referendum.

“What it will do is disempower Aboriginal people and empower Parliament against us,” he said.

Demonstrators participate

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

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

He said after the passage of the Vote for Parliament, Australia may be ready to consider life after the monarchy.

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

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

“Queen Elizabeth’s presence was influential for some in maintaining the status quo,” Warhurst said. “So I think now that we’ve gone to a new king, some of the reluctance of the Australian community has gone away.”

However, ANU’s Yu said the issue of Indigenous Australians needed to be addressed before there was talk of a republic.

“How can you have a republic without resolving the issue with the First Nations?” he asked. “For me, it’s nonsense. It has no integrity. It has no sense of morality or soul.’