Sunday, June 25, 2023

That Hawke quote

As the public consideration of how to vote in the forthcoming referendum on the Voice, the No campaign has latched onto a quote from Bob Hawke that reads:

We are, and essentially we remain, a nation of immigrants a nation drawn from 130 nationalities in Australia there is no hierarchy of descent: there must be no privilege of origin. The commitment is all. The commitment to Australia is the only thing needful to be a true Australian.

This quote is drawn from Hawke's speech to the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils in November 1988. Hawke refers to it as a quote from his launch of Australia Day celebrations that year, however, I have not been able to find that speech.

The reason Hawke referred to the quote in the latter speech wasn't just that he was addressing the Ethnic Communities Council, but, as he says, because of the development of the "One Australia" policy by John Howard. Hawke introduces his reference to that policy by saying that his one regret from the Bicentenniel year had been "the collapse of bipartisan support for the principles of multiculturalism and of a truly non-discriminatory immigration policy." 

He made the context of his remarks clear by referring to a resolution proposed by Hawke and  the House of Representatives gave "its unambiguous and unqualified commitment to the principle that, whatever criteria are applied by Australian Governments in exercising their sovereign right to determine the composition of the immigration intake, race or ethnic origin shall never, explicitly or implicitly, be among them."

The policy Howard espoused had been kicked off in August of that year in a radio interview which Hawke reports as:

Back in August, he was explicit. Asked about the rate of Asian immigration, he said: "I wouldn't like to see it greater... I do believe that in the eyes of some in the community, it's too great, it would be in our immediate term interest and supportive of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so that the capacity of the community to absorb was greater."

So there is no doubt at all that the context of Hawke's remarks was about the equality of all the migrants to the country, starting with those who arrived on the First Fleet. It was not a reference to the descendents of the original inhabitants.

Hawke's distinction with respect to Aboriginal Affairs was made clear in an earlier speech to the "Terra Australis to Australia" conference in August of that year. Early in his remarks Hawke noted:

As a nation we have come to accept that all Australians whether Aboriginal Australians, descendants of the First Fleeters, or new arrivals have a right, within the law, to develop their cultures and to contribute them to the wider Australian society. 

It is regrettable, but broadly true, that each group of new arrivals in Australia has been greeted by predictions that they will never be successfully integrated into the Australian community. 

But the reality of the Australian experience is that each group of new arrivals has successfully defied those predictions. 

Their success is an essentially Australian one.

Of course, Hawke overlooked the fact that uniquely one group of arrivals was never expected to assimilate, that being the British colonisers and the convists they forced here. 

Later in his speech he turned his attention to the then very recent fracturing of bipartisanship on immigration. He noted:

The Opposition leader has explicitly called for a slow down in the rate of Asian immigration. He refused to associate himself with the Bicentennial Multicultural Foundation because of the word "multicultural". 

He patronised ethnic communities and effectively encouraged the creation of ethnic enclaves by allowing as he put it "the right of people of say, Greek descent to preserve Greek customs and Greek language within their own family." I emphasise "within their own family" as though to speak a language other than English on the streets, to dance something more exotic than the quick step, was unacceptable. 

The National Party leader has said explicitly: "Asian immigration has to be slowed," because there are "too many Asians coming into Australia." 

The Nationals' Senate leader has called euphemistically for bringing the immigration stream "back into better balance" which means reducing the "excessively high proportion of immigrants from Asia".

In describing Howard's "One Australia" policy Hawke further noted:

It is based upon the belief that all Australians have to conform to one set of unchanging attitudes; it doubts the commitment of immigrants to this country; and it implies that certain Australians, by reason of race or ethnic origin, are less able to integrate into Australian society. In a recent speech, Mr Howard extended his "one Australia" slogan to cover other issues issues of industrial relations, equality of opportunity and Aboriginal Affairs.

Unfortunately I don't know what speech Hawke is referring to. However, it is very clear from the context that Hawke was explicitrly rejecting the Howard notion that Australia needed to be inherently mono-cultural and that this included aboriginal Australians.

In contrast to the misinterpretation of Hawke's comments about immigration, we should examine in more detail his policies in Aboriginal Affairs. First and foremost was his expressed intention to enter into a treaty by the end of 1990. This intention was built on the back of the Barunga Statement. One of the requests (demands) of the statement was for "A national elected Aboriginal and Islander organisation to oversee Aboriginal and Islander affairs." Hawke gave effect to his commitment to this part of the statement by passing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 (the ATSIC Act), which was the basis for ATSIC formed in 1990.

Hawke's commitment to treaty floundered on entrenched opposition from the LNP and for some in his own party. 

ATSIC was abolished in 2005 by John Howard. This followed controversy around the particular person chairing ATSIC, though a formal review of ATSIC recommended reforms not abolition. The path to abolition was opened when Mark Latham became leader of the ALP. As we have subsequently discovered, Latham was a throwback to the racist ALP at the start of the twentieth century.

Had Bob Hawke had the foresight to realise that subsequent LNP governments would dismantle ATSIC, or had he been requested to establish a First Nations Voice in the Constitution, what does his conduct suggest he would do?

Very simple - Bob Hawke would have backed constitutional change. 

Vote YES

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