By Cliff Reece

1 August 2023

THE TRUTH (as published in Spectator Australia 5 August 2023)

There’s a wonderful scene in the movie ‘A Few Good Men’ when Jack Nicholson loses his cool and claims: “You can’t handle the truth!”. Everyone who has seen this film remembers that dramatic courtroom segment when a young and relatively inexperienced lawyer played by Tom Cruise verbally challenges a high-ranking US Army veteran played by Jack Nicholson. Great acting!

I wonder whether the ‘First Nations’ activists who claim to represent all 300+ indigenous groups in Australia will be able to handle the truth if we eventually meet their demand to implement the Makarrata Commission (as cited in the Uluru Statement) which is planning to undertake the supposed ‘truth-telling’ of Australian history?

Presumably, their aim is to establish a similar body to the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission that followed the democratic election of President Nelson Mandela in 1994. This body was created to investigate gross human rights violations perpetrated during the period of the Apartheid regime in South Africa – and it did a great job of exposing the evil of apartheid.

The stated objective of the Australian version will be “……. to bring to light colonial conflict and dispossession, and also to acknowledge the strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultures.”

In other words, how they suffered – nothing about how the settlers who arrived from 1788 also suffered at the hands of aggressive and often warlike indigenous people.

Firstly, I hope no-one seriously believes that the indigenous people in Australia suffered to anywhere near the same extent experienced by South African blacks during the apartheid years because that would be a gross distortion of the truth. I’ve experienced apartheid first hand and fought against it, so I know what its perpetrators did to so many innocent people.

Given that, I really hope that the Makarrata Commission will include in its ‘truth-telling’ the following undeniable FACTS, so that a balanced and genuinely truthful outcome will be achieved:

1. According to one survey, 48% of Australians believe that James Cook arrived in Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet and was therefore, in their view, a member of the white colonial force that supposedly ‘invaded’ this continent. As a result, Cook’s statues have been attacked and his memory defiled by these people. Moreover, the landing of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788 has been named ‘Invasion Day’ by these same people.

The truth is James Cook arrived in Botany Bay on 29th April 1770 and was not involved in any activity that could be even remotely called an ‘invasion’. For a start, only he and approximately 40 members of his crew stepped ashore – hardly an invasion force. He was also under strict instructions from the British Government to: “…..endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a friendship with them.…shewing (sic) them every Civility and Regard.”                                   

Unfortunately, the aboriginal people who met them on that day were aggressive and threw stones and spears at Cook and his crew. They in turn fired muskets to scare them away. The shot used was a light, non-lethal load and meant only to ‘sting’ and scare. No-one on either side was seriously injured. Even when Cook offered small gifts there was no positive response unlike that provided by other local people in several of the Pacific islands that Cook visited.

In summary, James Cook was not only a great mariner and cartographer, but also a good, humane and prudent man. He deserves to be remembered as such.

2. When the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson nearly two decades later on 26th January 1788 much the same applied in terms of the British Government’s instructions to Governor Arthur Phillip. He was ordered “…….. to endeavour, by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of our subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary interruptions in the exercise of their several occupations, it is our will and pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the offence.”

These are hardly the words that could be attributed to an “invasion”. Moreover, if the British government was really intent on invading this newly discovered continent there would likely be very few indigenous people alive today. And that would certainly have applied if other European nations such as Spain, Portugal, Germany, or Belgium had colonized this continent instead of the British – just look at their track record as colonisers!

3. The First Fleet comprised many nationalities and at least 12 were black people from Africa, West Indies and America. In total, there were approximately 1,400 people who arrived with the purpose of establishing the British colony that is now called Australia.

At that time there were approximately 750,000 indigenous people distributed over some 500+ different groups comprising many clans. There was no overarching aboriginal ‘nation’ as such. There was clearly enough room for a much larger population and if the existing people had been prepared to share and learn from the new arrivals like they did in other places around the globe there would have been no need for conflict.

Having said that, it should be acknowledged that the settlers could also have learned a great deal from the indigenous people but largely failed to do so. Many of the bushfires we’ve experienced could have been avoided or reduced in intensity if we had – and that’s only one example.

4. The arrival of settlers certainly brought death to thousands of indigenous people primarily as a result of diseases such as smallpox – there’s no denying that. But does anyone seriously believe that this vast continent would have remained isolated for 200+ years? Of course not, it was only a question of time before one nation or another discovered this amazing place and chose to have its people settle here. Whilst death from disease and conflict came with that settlement it certainly wasn’t all bad. In fact, it has been claimed that the indigenous people are hugely better off now than they would have been if the British settlers hadn’t arrived. 

Improved health leading to longer life-spans, education, rule of law, and all the facilities of modern life have all been positive outcomes of British colonisation – but none of this is ever acknowledged by left-wing activists, it’s all doom and gloom as far as they’re concerned and they love to portray themselves as victims, even those who have become successful!

And many indigenous people have been highly successful including the current 11 elected federal MPs and numerous others from all sectors of the community such as government, business, art and sport. The opportunities are there for all indigenous people, not just a few. It’s hardly anyone else’s fault if they choose not to take full advantage of those opportunities and the vast sums of money that are invested every year by taxpayers aimed at improving indigenous people’s lives. In excess of $30 billion is being spent annually and many people are asking where exactly does that money get spent? It’s pretty clear that those out in the bush certainly don’t see much of it. There are a large number of indigenous bodies already established to help their people at the grass roots level – perhaps they should be asked that question and also required to account for it?

5. Much has also been said of the ‘stolen generation’. The truth of the matter is that many of the so-called stolen children were actually taken into care by well-meaning and caring settlers who were horrified by the living conditions experienced by the children. As is the case to some extent even now, there was a high level of domestic violence perpetrated largely by family members as well as frequent conflict between the various clans. 

Having said that, there is no doubt that government policies were poorly implemented and monitored and much unnecessary suffering eventuated as a result. It was devastating to many indigenous families. And the same is happening today.

It is hoped that a balanced outcome will be achieved as a result of any truth-telling process that takes place and that settlers won’t be seen to be entirely to blame because that would simply be untrue.  

The Voice Referendum

Finally, in relation to the Voice, truth-telling by the Federal Government would be well-received by those amongst us who value truthfulness. The Albanese Labor government and ‘Yes’ supporters have stated that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people asked for the Voice in the Uluru Statement. What they did not point out is that the Uluru Statement was adopted at a convention that was attended by only 250 delegates, hand-picked from about a dozen community Dialogues. Moreover, a number of convention delegates rejected it and walked out! The two leading indigenous “No” campaigners Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO and Senator Nampijinpa Jacinta Price both criticised the process and the outcome. Many indigenous people agree with them.

It should also be noted that there are currently 300-plus so-called ‘First Nations’ traditional owners groups in Australia. Surely this means 300-plus ‘voices’ need to be heard by the government; one national Indigenous Voice comprising selected (i.e. unelected) representatives should clearly not be allowed to speak for all of them just because left-wing activists and the Australian Labor government wants it to.

Lies and deception by our federal government and its supporters provide an entirely false picture to those of us who will be voting in the referendum. Hopefully enough voters will recognize this and vote ‘No’.

The facts are very clear: the proposed Voice is racially divisive. It will lead to decades of litigation through High Court activism. It has the power to challenge every government decision because all government matters affect indigenous people – not just those few deceptively named by the Government. It violates the sacred democratic principle of one person, one vote. And it will lead to the allocation of critical social and economic resources being based on race, rather than need, as has happened in New Zealand. 

Professor Ramesh Thakur from ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy and former UN Assistant Secretary-General stated recently that: “Permanently codifying racial grievance into the Constitution will guarantee it is weaponized and monetized by activists ………it will be the beginning of fresh claims for co-sovereignty, treaty and reparations, using the Constitution’s authority as the enabling mechanism.” 

Prime Minister Albanese would be wise to reflect on all the above as well as consider the words of his acknowledged hero, former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who stated that in this country there must be “no hierarchy of descent” and “no privilege of origin.“

This article was first published in Spectator Australia