After Queen’s Passing, Australia Debates How to Move on From Colonial Wrongs – The Diplomat

Following the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, the uncomfortable conversation about Australia’s colonization and the role the monarch has played in exacerbating those problems has once again come into the spotlight.

Britain’s longest-serving monarch oversaw the 1967 referendum that saw Indigenous Australians officially recognized in the constitution for the first time. However, she continued to rule a Commonwealth suffering from terrible inequality between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, due in no small part to the actions of British colonizers.

It has not gone unnoticed that Queen Elizabeth II never apologized for the genocide inflicted on Aboriginal people under British rule; only the Australian government itself has done so. Nor has the British monarchy apologized to the victims of colonization in the many nations it has invaded by force, whose indigenous people still suffer from inequality and oppression.

On Tuesday, a quirk in its constitution required all Victorian MPs to re-swear their allegiance to King Charles III in a special session of Parliament unique to the state. Green Party leader Samantha Ratnam, along with her Green Party colleagues, wore a shirt that read ‘Always was, always will be’, a reference to the Aboriginal land rights movement in New South Wales in the 1980s.

The Greens leader said before Parliament that the swearing-in ceremony was “absurd”.

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“In 2022, many Victorians are rightly wondering why we are being asked to recognize the sovereignty of a British monarch thousands of miles away when we have not recognized the sovereignty of Indigenous people here,” Ratnam added.

The speech follows powerful statements from several Green Party MPs at the federal level, including party leader Adam Bandt, who said the Queen’s death should reignite the debate on Australia’s transformation into a republic. “Now Australia has to move forward. We need a treaty with the indigenous people and we need to become a republic,” he said tweeted.

Vice-Chair Mehreen Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan, which has itself had to deal with the remnants of British colonialism, went a step further and said she cannot “mourn the leader of a racist empire”.

The republican movement has weakened in recent years, with Queen Elizabeth II’s popularity being cited as a partial reason. A failed referendum in 1999 has often been cited as a harbinger rather than a definitive rejection of republicanism.

For many, efforts to right historical wrongs are currently focused on giving Parliament an indigenous voice, rather than ending the nominal rule of the British monarch.

When Anthony Albanese was elected prime minister in May, his victory speech included a commitment to “wholeheartedly and fully implement the Uluru Declaration.” The major reform, to be presented to the public in a referendum, would give Indigenous people a constitutionally recognized voice in Parliament. The Uluru Declaration was proposed and published by many prominent indigenous leaders in 2017.

As I wrote in March, these leaders have previously declared that “we seek constitutional reforms to strengthen our people and take a rightful place in our own country.”

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In the same article, I noted that the parliamentary vote for Indigenous Australians was consistently opposed by the Liberal government of the time. However, it is members of the Greens and some prominent First Nations who have been the voice’s loudest critics in recent months.

Djab Wurrung, a woman from Gunnai Gunditjmara, and Federal Green Party Senator Lidia Thorpe have opposed the vote referendum, calling it a “complete waste of time” and noting that resources are better spent on progress towards a treaty should.

“We don’t need a referendum to have a treaty in this country and the treaty is what our people have been fighting for for decades,” she told the Guardian.

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On the other side of politics, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Senator for the Conservative Coalition for the Northern Territory, argued that she could not support Labour’s “vague proposal”.

“I can’t support any other federally funded bureaucracy that stops producing results…we’ve seen so many models like this rise and fall,” said Price, who has Warlpiri-Celtic heritage.

The complications of passing a referendum in Australia, as well as reminders of the hateful “no” campaign surrounding the 2017 same-sex marriage referendum, were also cited as reasons to avoid attempts to anchor the vote.

But Marcus Stewart, co-chair of the Victorian First Peoples Assembly, said the voice of Aborigines in Parliament is “above politics”.

“We now have the opportunity to experience this moment in history. To see a successful yes vote, not to drag it down with division.”

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Whatever decision the Labor Party government takes, it is clear that the government believes reconciliation by an indigenous vote in Parliament is more urgent than any calls for the abandonment of the British monarchy. This week, Albanese said it was not “appropriate” to talk about constitutional changes when people were mourning the Queen.

Thorpe echoed the language used by Albanians, saying that the indigenous people “have been demanding the day of mourning for over 80 years”.

As Thorpe tweeted: “The process of electing our own head of state would bring us all together – it would compel us to tell the truth about our history and move us to real action to right the wrongs started with colonization.”

Regardless of Australia’s future as a member of the Commonwealth, the monarch’s legacy remains a deep taint for many in the country, a fact that is unlikely to be remedied by the simple accession of King Charles III to the throne.

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