Good intentions vs original sin

Kevin Donnelly (The Chronicle, 24 Jan) seems to argue that ‘good intentions’ merit absolution for grievous harm. If only that were so, many people would sleep more easily.

It is true that the First Fleet arrived with instructions to respect and negotiate with local inhabitants. Occasionally that may have happened but there is ample evidence that more often it did not. Indeed there are copious records of massacres, poisonings, and deliberate infections with disease.

Donnelly concedes that First Australians were dislocated and suffered disease and violence but does not accept that forcible expulsion from country amounted to invasion. Apparently unique among former British colonies, Australia has no treaty with its original inhabitants. Some might argue that without it we remain in a state of war.

To claim, as Donnelly does, that “since January 26, 1788, Aborigines have benefited from European settlement, proven by the right to vote, to be treated equally before the law and decisions like Mabo guaranteeing land rights” is to deny reality. Until it was changed by referendum in 1967, Section 127 of our Constitution provided that ‘in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted’. That’s hardly equality before the law or access to rights.

The truth is that modern Australia is blighted by its denial of the reality of its history. Until we accept the offer of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and implement Voice, Treaty, and Truth-telling we are condemned to live under the cloud of historic injustice.

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