Pivot Point

2022 marked a significant, personal pivot point: I have now lived more than half my life outside my country of birth.

When I was young, I did not imagine my life panning out this way. Although I spent part of my childhood living in Australia, after my family moved back to the UK, I thought that was probably it – no more big overseas adventures.

At one point, I had a fanciful notion that perhaps I might live and work for a while in somewhere like Paris or New York. But after university, I settled in London, and didn’t see myself moving anywhere else. After ten years working there, I bought my first apartment, and with the associated financial commitments, the prospect of relocating seemed even more remote.

Then, out of the blue, I was given the opportunity to move to Hong Kong. The idea was I would spend 1-2 years setting up a business there, after which my employer would move me back to London.

However, after six years in Hong Kong, and having met my partner, it seemed less and less likely that I would return to the UK – she planned to move back to Australia, and having had that earlier childhood experience, it seemed a natural and logical choice for me to follow her to Melbourne.

And more than 20  years later, here we are still.

I think passing this half-way point became more significant thanks to the past few years of limited overseas travel – my trip to the UK last November was the first time I had visited in four years, the longest period I had been away from my “home” country.

I’m not saying I won’t move or live anywhere else (never say never…), but the likelihood does seem to diminish with each year, and I just find it harder to imagine.

Next week: It’s Only A Game…




Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that last week’s post was the first I had written in quite a few months.

Towards the end of last year, a combination of overseas travel, writers’ block and total lethargy led me to abandon this blog for an extended break. I was not even sure if I would continue in 2023.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, I received an intriguing e-mail from an author, who wished to clarify something I had written in a previous blog.

According to this author, his publisher had queried the use of a specific phrase by one of the novel’s characters. More particularly, would the character have used this phrase at the time the novel is set?

In response, the author did a search on this phrase, and the #1 result on Google is a link to this blog, and a post I wrote in 2013. (Other search engines are available – and give the same result.)

Talk about evergreen content…

On further examination, it appears I may have been the first to coin this phrase, certainly in the context I was using it, so the author was checking the provenance to satisfy his editor’s curiosity.

Anyway, it was this interaction that re-awakened my inner blogger, and helped to kick-start my interest in maintaining this project, which is now more than 10 years old.

Welcome back, and thanks for continuing to read.

Next week: Pivot Point



My last blog was about the Voice so as the debate on the proposed referendum gains momentum, and while both sides begin to frame their campaigns, it felt like a good time to revisit some earlier posts on this topic.

First, the thorny issue of Australia Day continues to cause discomfort, for the Indigenous population, professional cricketers and politicians alike. But as evidenced during last week’s Invasion Day gatherings, the Voice has even managed to cause division within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, some of whom have indicated their intention either to boycott the referendum process or to vote “no”. The “no” campaign itself will likely be split between those holding more radical views, and those representing more conservative values.

Second, a large component of the Indigenous community calling for a “no” vote is predicated on the question of Sovereignty and the need for Treaty and/or Republic before anything else. The apparent discord again reveals some weaknesses in the structure of Australia’s Constitutional Monarchy, and even the model of Federation itself. The disconnect between the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the marking of Australia Day suggest that there are perhaps bigger constitutional matters that need to be resolved first.

Third, the Voice is again forcing Australia as a country to reflect on its own identity, to reassess its place in the world, to re-connect with its core values, and even to find its purpose. It’s a topic, like Treaty and Republic, that continues to challenge our politicians and thought leaders. Can Australia continue its claim to be a democratic, socially progressive, pluralistic, secular and technology advanced country if the Head of State continues to be the British Monarch (who also happens to be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England), if we still practice all sorts of segregation and discrimination in the name of faith-based institutions, if we are unable/unwilling to address the issue of Sovereignty, and if our economic success is still over-dependent upon outdated industries and business practices? The Voice referendum may not be designed to address these specific questions, but the result will have tremendous consequences on the future of our political, social and economic institutions.

Finally, my own current thinking is generally in support of the referendum for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. However, I would like to see more certainty about how the Voice will work in practical terms, if not more detail on the Parliamentary processes themselves. I also think there should be more clarity on where the Voice sits on the path towards a Treaty, and the formation of a Republic, and what comes next, since these issues are all inextricably linked. But if it transpires that a large component of the Indigenous community is against the referendum, it will probably cause me to rethink my own position.

Next week: Kick-start




Finding a Voice

Australia’s Prime Minister recently announced his Government’s plans to hold a national referendum on the “Indigenous Voice to Parliament“. The Voice is a key outcome from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the path towards Treaty and Truth. It will require amendments to the Australian Constitution. The inevitable debate about the detail, purpose and scope to be enshrined in the Voice has now been heightened by the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and related issues of Australia’s pre- and post-colonial history, the experience of Federation and the fate of the Republican movement.

NAIDOC guide to Indigenous place names in Australia (image sourced from SBS)

One of the first comments in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement came from the Green Party, who indicated that their support for the Voice would be conditional on there being a Treaty first. Indeed, Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe called the proposed referendum “a waste of money”, indicating that she wanted to see a Treaty with Indigenous Australians before any talk of a Republic. Since the Queen’s death, it seems the Senator has changed her mind, and is now calling for both a Treaty and a Republic. But the Prime Minister has determined that the first order of business for his Government is the Voice, and that the Republican debate is not for his first term in office.

The question to be presented in the Referendum will be:

“Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”

And the proposed additions to the Constitution would read something like this:

1.There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
2.The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to Parliament and the Executive Government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
3.The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

While refusing to be drawn on the precise details of the Voice, the Prime Minister has defined what it is NOT going to be: “Not a third chamber, not a rolling veto, not a blank cheque.” Meanwhile, two bodies have been appointed to prepare for the Referendum proposal and implementation: the Referendum Working Group, and the Referendum Engagement Group, whose terms of reference are not entirely clear – and Senator Thorpe complained that the appointees “did not represent First Nations voices”.

Given the history of Referendums in Australia (most notably the failure of the Republican Movement to secure a “Yes” vote in 1999), it’s understandable that people are either wary about the form of the question and/or the Constitutional amendments, or are concerned about the apparent lack of detail that the Government has so far provided on the remit of the Voice. There is a possibility that the electorate votes “Yes” in the Referendum, but that agreement cannot be reached on the changes to the Constitution, or the structure of the Voice. So it’s understandable that some people are seeking more detail, or at least more clarity.

Whatever the sequence of events (Voice, Treaty, Republic?), it’s going to be a complicated process. For example, putting the Republic before the Voice may mean that the latter becomes redundant, assuming the Republican Constitution embeds principles such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And Treaty before Republic would mean that the agreement(s) would be between the First Nations people and the Australian Constitutional Monarchy, whose Head of State is now King Charles III.

Perhaps that is the point – the formal process of healing, reconciliation and reparation cannot be meaningfully done without some involvement by the British Crown, in whose name Indigenous lands were appropriated in 1788. But does that potentially “absolve” Australia’s post-Federation Governments and Administrations from any responsibility for the act of British colonisation? Since Federation in 1901, Australia has had ample opportunity to make amends. It is no longer possible to suggest that any change to the Australian Constitution would require Royal Assent by the King or Queen in person – the purely ceremonial role of the British Monarchy in respect to Australia’s domestic affairs has always been predicated on the advice from both the Governor General (who serves as the Monarch’s local representative, and who gives Royal Assent to Australian Acts of Parliament), and Australia’s own government ministers and civil servants. In any event, it’s long been understood that the Crown would not prevent Australia becoming a Republic; in effect, the Crown could not intervene in any Constitutional amendment. Such a change is entirely a matter for the Australian Parliament.

The Westminster Act of 1931 confirmed that Australia is an independent state able to form its own foreign policy and defence free from British control; and the Australia Act 1986 formally severed all remaining legal ties between Australia and the United Kingdom except for the Monarchy. So a Treaty with Indigenous peoples could have been possible since 1901 when the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act came into force, heralding Federation. (Interestingly, King Charles III has had to be proclaimed by the Federal Government, and by each State – which might suggest the need for multiple Treaties?)

Another argument against embodying the Voice within the framework of the current Australian Constitutional Monarchy is because it would appear to “ratify” colonisation, and thereby imply Sovereignty had been granted (retrospectively?) to the Crown, which would therefore negate the need for Treaty. Indeed, the whole point of Treaty is to re-assert that Indigenous Sovereignty was never ceded, and that unlike other British colonies such as Canada and New Zealand, the British Crown has never attempted to negotiate any form of direct agreement with the Indigenous Nations of Australia.

Alternatively, Associate Professor Hannah McGlade has stated that a national Treaty needs a national body to negotiate (hence a key purpose of the Voice).  Further, she argues that Aboriginal Sovereignty relates to the “right to shape the national dialogue” on issues of primary concern to the Indigenous population. While not quite equating to full self-determination, it does provide a persuasive argument in favour of establishing the Voice to Parliament.

Finally, some other factors to consider as we move through this multi-faceted debate on Treaty, the Republic, and defining Australia’s post-colonial, post-Federation and post-Monarchy identity:

1. A Republic is no guarantee of getting Treaty right – indeed, look at the number of republics that have ridden rough-shod over their own indigenous and minority peoples – oppression and dictatorship is not the preserve of monarchs and emperors.

2. There is the question of how Crown land in Australia will be resolved, both in relation to Treaty, and the Republic. This would include the commercial arrangements for agriculture, mining and tourism, as well as land development and construction.

3. Inconsistencies in how Indigenous people are acknowledged at public events, meetings and in other similar settings. Here in Victoria, we are very used to some statement of recognition towards Indigenous nations and the traditional custodians of the land, along with their elders past, present and emerging. On my recent trip the Kimberley, I was surprised that no such formal statements were made when visiting culturally significant landmarks, usually under the direction of official tour guides, including National Parks. Not that there was an absence of awareness, knowledge or public signage, but I had expected there might have been a more vocal expression from some of our hosts.

4. Despite the need for a cohesive approach to the Voice and Treaty, it would be a mistake to view the Indigenous populations and their respective Nations as an homogenous entity. Even within Indigenous communities, as in any society, there are differences and inconsistencies. So there will be different demands placed on those charged with navigating the Voice, and negotiating Treaty. But a speedy outcome should not preclude the establishment of a solid consensus. After all, what’s 240 years compared to 50,000?

Next time: Recap…