This week, Jeff Kennett, former Premier of Victoria, addressed a gathering of 100 people at Melbourne Town Hall to launch The Forgotten People, a new book about liberal and conservative approaches to recognising indigenous peoples.

ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton is one of the chapter contributors.

Mr Kennett said, “This book … is a wonderful building block because it brings together some people that you would not expect to support constitutional change, to a position where they either support or they are prepared to consider…

“It is my opinion now that the Australian community is ready for such recognition. It is ready for recognition that isn’t just symbolic. That actually puts some weight and meaning into that recognition.”

Mr Kennett reflected, “It is a pity, as we progress through life, and we realise the hourglass is running out, but you identify throughout your life so many things that need attention and there is so much work to be done and you’re not going to be able to be in a position to do it. And the biggest one of those… in real terms, is our relationship with our First Peoples. We will never be a complete society until we come to grips with that relationship.

“I’ve had what I can only describe as a walnut in my gut that says that either deliberately—but I suspect mistakenly—over the time of white settlement… our First Peoples have not been given the opportunity, nor shown the good respect, that they deserve,” Mr Kennett said.

The Forgotten People takes its inspiration from the work of Julian Leeser, who replaces Philip Ruddock as Liberal candidate for Berowra at the federal election in July.  Last year, he wrote an influential pamphlet with The Forgotten People’s co-editor, Damien Freeman, calling for an Australian Declaration of Recognition.

Since then, they have attracted the support of prominent constitutional conservatives, including former governor-general Major General Michael Jeffery, political commentator Malcolm Mackerras, ACU vice-chancellor Greg Craven, monarchist Lloyd Waddy QC, and Cardinal George Pell, all of whom have contributed chapters to The Forgotten People.

Messrs Leeser and Freeman have worked closely with Cape York Institute’s Noel Pearson and Shireen Morris to develop a proposal for constitutional recognition that addresses indigenous aspirations for practical constitutional reform, but also responds to the legitimate concerns of constitutional conservatives and classical liberals. Noel Pearson’s foreword urges a hunt for the ‘radical centre’ on indigenous constitutional recognition.

Sydney University’s Professor Anne Twomey provides a chapter explaining how the Constitution could be amended to guarantee indigenous peoples a representative voice in political decisions made about them, without undermining parliament’s power.

University of NSW’s Dr Fergal Davis argues in his chapter that such a proposal presents a genuinely conservative response to indigenous recognition. 

Liberal candidate for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, writes that an Australian Declaration of Recognition outside the Constitution could affirm the classical liberal’s aspirations for a multicultural Australia.

Andrew Robb, Special Envoy for Trade, who retires as the member for Goldstein at the forthcoming election, said, “It’s long overdue for arrivals to Australia over the last 200 years to recognise the majesty of 40-60,000 years of civilization of our indigenous people, and this book sets the pathway to achieve this objective.”

It is a pathway that has attracted supporters ranging from HSBC Australia chairman Graham Bradley, to Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton and The Australian’s Chris Kenny, all of whom have contributed chapters to the book.  Mr Kenny forcefully critiques columnist Andrew Bolt’s opposition to indigenous recognition.

Ms Morris, Mr Pearson’s advisor on recognition and a co-editor of The Forgotten People, said, “I am amazed by the passion and commitment these conservatives have shown: in an era of politics that is so often lacking in leadership, the leadership and courage demonstrated in their work is inspiring.”

Mr Shelton urged people to purchase a copy of the book.

“Indigenous recognition goes to the heart of some of the deep and unresolved wounds in our nation. I would encourage everyone to read the contributions in this book and to consider what can be a next step on the journey to reconcilation.”

In an interview with Michelle Grattan published today on The Conversation website, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott reaffirmed his support for indigensou recognition in the constitution.

Michelle Grattan: Well there are two very big debates that are coming up. One is the Indigenous referendum and the other is the same-sex marriage debate. On the Indigenous referendum issue – how do you think that’s going and would you be really active in that campaign?

Tony Abbott: I think it’s now being mulled over by people at a grassroots level. There are the community consultations that Bill Shorten and I agreed upon back in July of last year that are now going ahead. There’s an Indigenous stream, there’s a general stream. They’re taking place.

Hopefully, in the next few months, a proposal will crystallise, a proposal which can unite our country rather than divide our country, and provided it is about recognition and it’s not seeking to do a whole lot of other things that might be more properly be the preserve of the parliament, I see no reason why I won’t be there campaigning strongly for it.

MG: And you think it can be carried?

TA: If it’s about recognition and not about a whole lot of other things, yes I do.

 

For more information about The Forgotten People, go to www.mup.com.au/items/164020.

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