Restoration of effective indigenous Australian sovereignty

"Australia", as its European occupiers refer to it, has been inhabited for tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of years by an indigenous population. That indigenous population is said to possess the oldest continuous culture currently in existence. Australia's occupation starting in 1788 by English forces, later expanding through generous immigration to a host of other ethnicities and nationalities, is and always has been illegitimate. The indigenous population did not invite us foreign occupiers onto their land, never ceded their sovereignty of their land, and actively resisted its invasion and occupation - a resistance which has been brutally suppressed. They have not even been extended the courtesy of an offer of a treaty, let alone signed such a treaty.

Moreover, the indigenous occupants of this land have been consistently degraded, exploited and otherwise mistreated and sidelined by its occupiers in numerous ways, including in earlier years slaughter, having their children removed from them - a practice that continues in a more subtle form to this day - being removed from their traditional lands and raised on missions - a practice whose effects continue to this day - being deprived of access to their language, culture and religion, being classified as "fauna" in the occupiers' Constitution and denied the right to vote, and having their already low wages quarantined from them and never made available.

It is not, though, my intention to explore here the many ways in which indigenous Australians have been, and those in which they continue to be, mistreated and maligned; I want simply to advocate for setting things right. This is no simple task, because the wrongs to right are monumental, ongoing, and have much momentum, including ideological, behind them. Nevertheless, it is important to speak up for what is right regardless of how difficult it is to achieve justice. Ultimate justice for indigenous Australians is to have their sovereignty recognised, and for control of this land to be returned to them in every sense in which they want it. And I really mean every sense.

The most important phrase in the last paragraph is "in which they want it". It is obvious that Australia has changed dramatically since European colonisation, and it is important that indigenous people are given the opportunity to choose how they would like to deal with this as sovereignty is returned to them. There are many questions that need to be considered. Are indigenous Australians happy to retain federal and state parliaments in the European style, and are they happy to include non-indigenous people in those parliaments? Or do they prefer to revert to the tribal system of decisions by Elders? Are they happy to retain a European-style legal system, or do they wish to revert to the indigenous Laws? Are they even happy for non-indigenous people to remain on their land? If so, are they happy for non-indigenous people to practice non-indigenous culture, and speak non-indigenous languages, or do they require that anybody remaining on this land learn and practice indigenous culture and speak indigenous languages? If not, how do they want to eliminate the current non-indigenous population: through emigration, through restriction of the right to procreate, through some combination of the two, or through some other means? What level of technology do they wish to retain on their land, from communication and transportation technologies, to agricultural and architectural technologies? Which, if any, built structures, including roads, do they wish to retain? Do they wish to retain European education systems, or to revert to traditional indigenous education, or to blend the two? Etc.

Even asking these questions would be a welcome change: in the history of occupation, indigenous people have never been truly consulted as to what they want, it has always been imposed upon them, often from a distance.

What I am advocating then on this page is twofold: firstly, that the current powers-that-be of this land recognise their illegitimacy, and commit to return sovereignty over Australia to its traditional and legitimate indigenous inhabitants, and secondly, that the indigenous population be respectfully and comprehensively consulted as to how they would like the process of restoration to proceed, and what they would like it to result in.

Note that in terms of the grounding principles on which this site's vision is founded, this approach towards indigenous sovereignty is founded on the principle of fairness of ownership.

Objections and responses

The "do not dwell in the past" objection

The objection: Dispossession occurred in the past, but we should not dwell in the past; the indigenous people of Australia simply need to get on with life and focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

Response: This is a self-serving objection: injustices should always be corrected where they can be, and the only (illegitimate) reason not to correct this injustice is that we benefit from it. To seek for the correction of injustice is not to "dwell in the past", it is the fundamental right of any person or group, as our legal system well recognises.

Telling somebody not to dwell in the past is appropriate when there is nothing that can be done about the past, and when dwelling on it is only causing pain. This is not the situation with the occupation of indigenous Australian land: it is still possible to correct this injustice, and the only way to do so is to make sure that it is not forgotten but is only ever-more emphasised in the public discourse.

This can be compared to telling somebody whose house has been stolen from them to just forget about it and not dwell in the past. Why should they forget about it? It's their house and the just course of action is to return it to them.

The "we are all Australians now" objection

The objection: This objection is framed in different ways, but it boils down to: "Our forefathers might have come here illegitimately, but we are all Australians now - you can't expect people to feel illegitimate who have been born here or who otherwise call this country home because they legally immigrated here. They have every bit of a right to Australia as do its original inhabitants".

Response: I get that this objection is based in some sense of "fairness" - fairness in that "having been born here or otherwise arrived here legally, one ought to feel welcome and 'home'" - but what are the First Nations people supposed to say to that? "Come one, come all, uninvited, and take over our land. Once you are born to someone who is here, or invited 'legally' by an 'authority' who is here, you are legitimate owners"?

Or does natural justice apply? Does not natural justice imply that if one was invited by, or born to, a thief, one has no more right to the stolen property than does the thief? Is there not a principle even in our Western law that the recipient of stolen goods is no more entitled to those goods than the thief? Ought not that principle to apply to the theft of the land from the First Nations of "Australia"?

Note that I am not trying to be unsympathetic towards the non-indigenous inhabitants of this land - and, indeed, as a non-indigenous inhabitant I would find it hard myself if I were not welcome here - but that I do not believe that justice is served by sympathy for those who have taken advantage of, either consciously or by birth or unconscious immigration, injustice; it is served only by sympathy for those who are the victims of that injustice.

The "won by war" argument

The argument: Australia was won from its indigenous inhabitants in a war. Thus, its indigenous inhabitants have forfeited their right to it.

Response: Let's get something straight: the war was one of aggression. It's not like indigenous Australians sailed over to Britain and said, "Righto, chaps, it's a fight for land. Whoever wins grabs what they can". No. The Brits aggressed upon indigenous land without provocation. If you can honestly say that any land grabbed in a war of aggression is legitimate then imagine how you would feel if a "war" was waged upon your private home - if an "army" comprised of a couple of tanks and several soldiers with M16s randomly, and with no warning, attacked your home, forced you into the basement, and then declared that they had "won" it through war. Would your home be a fair trophy of war?

Or would that be a travesty of justice?

The "it's too late" aka the "it's not practical" argument

The argument: Yes, "Australia" was founded on injustice, but things have gone too far by now. It's too late and too impractical to turn back the clock. We have to accept European settlement and norms.

Response: No, tens if not hundreds of thousands of years of indigenous sovereignty do not need to give way to a couple of centuries of dispossession. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I have faith in "Australian" people to recognise what is right, and to offer to make amends, wholly and fully. Granted, there will be those who will not be willing, but there are far more of us who (will) recognise justice. Yes, much "development" has occurred on the "Australian" continent, but it need not be permanent. We pride ourselves on our techical prowess - let us then engineer and devise a way to return this land to its true owners. That would be a meaningful use of our supposed ingenuity.

(If you have other objections that you think I have not adequately covered, then please let me know).


Next: The harm avoidance principle

The next page, The harm avoidance principle, switches topics (currently, and, unfortunately, rather abruptly) from indigenous sovereignty to the rights of non-human life. It offers a moral basis for respecting other life, both human and non-human.