An indigenous activist and Australia’s newest senator has come under fire from Aboriginal leaders for her views on constitutional recognition.
Since the Australian Constitution does not mention First Nations people, many Indigenous people want to be formally recognised in the document – a concept known as constitutional recognition.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was signed by indigenous leaders in 2017, set out that constitutional recognition should be the first priority.
It dictates a treaty and a separate ‘truth telling’ commission should be set up after constitutional recognition is achieved.
But Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe says a treaty should take priority over constitutional recognition and wants her party to challenge the Uluru Statement’s order of reforms.
Indigenous leaders have slammed Ms Thorpe’s stance, saying she could ‘derail’ years of hard work towards constitutional reform.
Indigenous activist and Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe (pictured) has come under fire from Aboriginal leaders for her view on constitutional recognition. Ms Thorpe believes a treaty with indigenous people needs to take priority over constitutional recognition
Ms Thorpe previously walked out of talks for the Uluru Statement in 2017, saying ‘First Nations people reject constitutional recognition’.
While Ms Thorpe no longer ‘rejects’ constitutional recognition, she believes truth telling and a treaty should be addressed first.
‘Constitutional recognition can be negotiated as part of a treaty process. We need to talk about a treaty first because we haven’t settled the conflict that’s been happening for over 200 years,’ Ms Thorpe told The Australian.
Victorian former treaty commissioner Jill Gallagher said constitutional recognition should come first since it would protect the following treaty, ensuring it could not be erased by future governments.
‘I am outraged that in the current political climate, when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters, the Greens are supporting commentary that could derail whatever we get,’ Ms Gallagher told the publication.
Uluru working group co-chair Roy Ah-See said the Greens and Ms Thorpe were not representative of the community since 1,200 people were part of the Uluru talks.
‘We don’t want a green voice, we don’t want a red voice, we don’t want a blue voice. We want a black voice. It needs to be enshrined in the constitution,’ Mr Ah-See said.
Victorian former treaty commissioner Jill Gallagher (left) and Uluru working group co-chair Roy Ah-See (right) disagree with Ms Thorpe’s views on constitutional recognition
Earlier this week, she said she would never feel part of ‘Team Australia’ unless the government agrees to a First Nations treaty.
She was elected by the Greens to sit in former leader Richard Di Natale’s soon to be vacant seat after he announced he would step down earlier this year.
Ms Thorpe says she ‘struggles’ to say she is proudly Australian considering more than 200 years of oppression she says the Aboriginal people have experienced.
Speaking to the The Sydney Morning Herald, the Gunnai Gunditjmara woman said that she said she would oppose steps toward reconciliation without a treaty.
‘We need a treaty. Aboriginal people in this country want peace. Let’s deal with the crux of the problem that we have in this country. That is that we have never had an agreement with the First People to be here,’ Ms Thorpe said.
Indigenous activist and Australia’s newest senator Lidia Thorpe (pictured) says she will never feel part of ‘Team Australia’ unless the government agrees to a treaty with First Nations people
Ms Thorpe hails from a prominent family of activists – her grandmother Alma Thorpe was a trailblazer for indigenous social reform, founding the Aboriginal Health Service
A treaty would include recognition of First Nations sovereignty, the return of vacant crown land to traditional owners and the establishment of standalone senate seats for First Nations representatives.
Ms Thorpe, a high school dropout and grandmother, is one of the most radical figures to enter Australian parliament, holding strong views on indigenous recognition and saying she ‘doesn’t identify’ with the Australian dream.
The 46-year-old hails from a prominent family of activists – her grandmother Alma Thorpe was a trailblazer for indigenous social reform, founding the Aboriginal Health Service.
Her mother Marjorie Thorpe is also a well known advocate for First Nations people and her uncle, Robbie Thorpe, was a key figure in Melbourne’s black civil rights movement of the 1970s.
She grew up surrounded by poverty in a Collingwood housing commission flat and had political issues ingrained in her from a young age.
She says she remembers sitting on Muhammad Ali’s knee when the famous boxer and civil rights activist visited Fitzroy in 1979.
Ms Thorpe’s uncle, Robbie Thorpe, was a key figure in Melbourne’s black civil rights movement of the 1970s
And visiting Kirribilli House when her mother was a member of John Howard’s Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
Ms Thorpe, who was previously an MP for the Greens in Victoria, says the reconciliation debate for decades has revolved around issues such as an apology, constitutional recognition, and changing when Australia Day is recognised.
She claims these arguments are skirting around the central issue of a treaty between colonial settlers and First Nations people.
‘Let’s stop trying to divert to all these other things like changing the date and constitutional recognition and all these fluffy things that do nothing. Let’s deal with the hard issue.’
She says she had some deep reservations about heading to Canberra to join an institution which her family had rallied against her whole life but was encouraged by the backing of her people.
She hopes to make positive changes from within Canberra’s political landscape, saying discrimination is still prevalent in modern Australia.
Ms Thorpe hopes to make positive changes from within Canberra’s political landscape, saying discrimination is still prevalent in modern Australia
Thorpe briefly quit campaigning in May to visit her mother in Victoria’s Gippsland after learning four young Aboriginal people, including a 15-year-old boy had taken their lives.
This kind of desperation, she says, is not uncommon among indigenous youth who feel disconnected with society.
‘The opportunities just aren’t there for people. The racism is rife but not blatant. It is undercover racism, an unconscious bias that people have,’ Ms Thorpe says.
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia on Thursday Ms Thorpe said she wanted to use the oppourtunity as Greens Senator to address social inequality.
‘Everyone deserves a roof over their head. Everyone deserves a warm bed and a feed. A job. I want people to be treated with respect. We’re all different and we should celebrate our differences rather than making people feel ashamed.’
‘I want to unite this country, not divide it but it has to be fair and based on the true history of this country.’
‘I want everyone to be a part of a nation that celebrates and respects each other, but to get to that future, we need to understand what happened and still happens to Aboriginal people over the last 250 years.’
Thorpe supports the views of Aboriginal writer Michael Mansell who argues a treaty can be achieved without resorting to a referendum.
Lidia Thorpe was elected by the Greens to sit in former leader Richard Di Natale’s soon to be vacant seat after he announced he would step down earlier this year
THE TREATY WITH INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS
A treaty between Indigenous Australians and European settlers was put forward by Michael Mansell in his 2016 book ‘Treaty and Statehood: Aboriginal Self-determination’.
The Aboriginal writer says a central notion of such a treaty would be the designation of 12 seats in the Senate to Indigenous Australians.
A treaty would also return vacant Commonwealth land to traditional owners.
Mansell argues these measures would be possible under the Constitution without the need for a referendum.
He also puts forward a proposal for a seventh State, which he calls ‘The First State for the First peoples’, which would include independent political rights for Aboriginal communities.
Mansell is a Tasmanian aboriginal leader of Palawa descent from the Trawlwoolway group on his mother’s side and from the Pinterrairer group on his father’s side.