By ERWIN CHLANDA
On the day the Prime Minister has announced the date of the referendum, in Alice Springs it’s fitting to consider the thoughts of Professor Marcia Langton who honed her incisive activism in part when she lived in this town during the late seventies.
Her inaugural NAIDOC Week keynote lecture at the University of Queensland on July 7 is a snapshot of her views as a leading Yes campaigner and a shaper of the Uluru Statement.
Prof Langton (pictured), associate provost, University of Melbourne, was preaching to the converted. They required little encouragement from MC Lisa Jackson Pulver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, to embrace Prof Langton like a cult figure.
UQ Vice Chancellor Mark Scott provided balance by encouraging the audience, in his thank-you speech, to “welcome the debate, welcome the divergent voices, seek out the truth through all the rhetoric and all the noise and come to a place where we make an informed gracious response to the gracious overtures that’s been made to us”.
Prof Langton focussed on the injustices and brutalities Aboriginal people suffered at the hands of the invaders, suggesting they are continuing to the present day, perpetuating an “existential risk”.
We need to “end colonial exclusion of Indigenous people from the fabric of the nation”.
She said the Constitution formulated by whites can “cause us detriment” and relegates Indigenous people to being “ghostly figures”.
She mentions three Sections, urging people to read them.
• Section 51 (xxvi) was amended by the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967, and previously referred to making special laws for “people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.
Post the 1967 referendum it now reads “the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.
• Section 25: “If by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.”
This is considered to no longer have any significant legal effect, as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) would prevent the States from discriminating against people on grounds of race. Nevertheless, section 25 ‘recognises that people might constitutionally be denied the franchise on the ground of race’.
• Section 127: “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.” This was removed in 1967.
Prof Langton in her speech provides no analysis of the massive financial effort in the recent past to assist Indigenous people, the benefits of native title and land rights, especially in the Northern Territory, half of whose landmass is now Aboriginal freehold owned.
Prof Langton does not, in this speech, look at commercial opportunities – except in an oblique way.
She quotes US President Lyndon Johnson’s concept of “racism of low expectations”.
Yet she offers no answer to the “loss of languages, ceremonies, rules of approaching places, closing the gap reports,” including the one commissioned by former PM Julia Gillard.
Prof Langton calls for “enterprises in communities”.
She gives “health, housing, education and lowering the incarceration rates” the standard mention, but without exploring self-help opportunities.