Mansell draws new boundaries for Aboriginal state

Veteran activist Michael Mansell in his office.

Central Australia could become a seventh, Aboriginal State taking in land from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland under a plan put forward by Tasmanian lawyer and veteran activist Michael Mansell.

In a new book, Treaty and Statehood, Mr Mansell proposes that the new State would take up two thirds of the Australian continent.

It would include land over which Aboriginal people currently have a legal interest from land rights ownership through to non-exclusive native title rights.

“You could almost put a circle around the middle part of Australia,” he told the National Indigenous Times this week.

“This is not what it would look like, it’s what it could look like because Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and Queensland doesn’t have much land included in it, and I’m sure Aboriginal people there would say if we’re going to have an Aboriginal State we want our land to be included in it.”

Mr Mansell said to form the new territory, the State Parliaments of each of the affected States would need to formally surrender the land.

He said the new State would have its own government with powers over its own House of Assembly and the elections, a legal system including customary law, health, education, housing, roadworks, railways, electricity generation, policing, land use and planning.

To sit within the current Australian system, it would also have to have some key systems in place, he said.

“There are some core ingredients an Aboriginal State must have,” he said. “It must have territory, it must have superior courts and by implication inferior courts as well, it doesn’t have to mirror the white legal system but it’s clear from the Constitution that an Aboriginal State would have to have a legal appeals mechanism.

“It would also have to have, strangely, a prison, because each State must have a prison to hold people convicted of federal offences.

“It’s those sorts of core ingredients from a legal point of view you’ve got to have, but other than that it would be left entirely up to Aboriginal people as to the shape of the State.

“The advantage of this model is you don’t need a Constitutional referendum because the power is already vested in the Federal Government to establish an Aboriginal State.”

Mr Mansell said the new State would not be a private, Aboriginal State and non-Indigenous people would be free to enter and live there.

But because of its location, he believed Aboriginal people would form most its population.

Mr Mansell spent three years researching and writing his book, which also covers how a treaty could work in Australia.

He said in many parts of the world talk of a treaty was normal, rather than viewed as radical.

“For example, New Zealand, the US and Canada think treaty is just a normal part of everyday dealings with Indigenous peoples,” he said.

“Australia, because it’s never accepted that Aboriginal people have got inherent rights, and our rights are only those that the Parliaments give us, therefore there was such an uproar by the mining companies and John Howard when Native Title was declared to be inherently available for Aboriginal people, because it was such a shock to the historical approach that Aboriginals only get rights that the Parliaments gift to them.

“Where you talk about a treaty or a seventh state in Australia, it seems much more radical than it would elsewhere.

“In the book I take the views of Neville Bonner, Pat Dodson and Noel Pearson and even though I would go further than they do, I’ve accepted their bottom line as rationale for the models I’ve put up, and their view is that we can be a united people while acknowledging our differences.”

Wendy Caccetta

2 Comments on Mansell draws new boundaries for Aboriginal state

  1. Back in the early seventies, my dear late wife and I believed in this sort of thing, a separate State. We were factory workers, and after work, and putting the kids to bed, we made Aboriginal Flags, maybe a hundred or more, and sent them all over Australia. If the first Flag you saw had a wonky gold disc, it was one of ours. Maria worked close to the motel circuit, and in her lunch-hour, used to go down and present Flags to visiting artists, like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Roberta Flack, Nine Simone and many others. B. B. King too. Buffy invited a group of us up to her room and some fool asked her, with bated breath, what she thought of the idea of a separate State. She looked at him sympathetically and asked, “And who would leave their own country to go there ? And whose country would you be on ?” That sort of put an end to that.

    Maybe a lot has happened since late 1972. But it has hardly worked in the ‘right’ direction: more than 80 % of Indigenous people now live in cities. Forty thousand have graduated from universities, two-thirds women – that’s one in every five women, one in every ten men. Are they expected to pack up and migrate out to the sticks ? Most have inter-married: will their partners be left behind ? And their kids ?

    Let’s move on from five-second thought-bubbles 🙂

  2. I like your down to earth comments Joe, but at Chapter 9 of the book I make this comment about the idea of a 7th State –
    ” An Aboriginal State does not mean Aboriginals have to move to central Australia to enjoy its fruits. Nor does it mean any whites living inside the proposed territory of a new State have to move out. Times have changed, and now it is no longer possible, even desirable, to treat people negatively on the grounds of race. There is nothing wrong with positive political change providing for a distinct people to reach their full potential and maintain their unique identity while maintaining benefits for the majority. Federation requires free movement of people in and out of States anyway. Providing for a predominately Aboriginal inhabited or dominated State would not alter the rules. It is applying the rules.
    In summary, the territory could be two-thirds of Australia’s land mass, mostly made up of lands located in the inner areas of the continent – the wastelands. It would not be purely an Aboriginal State: whoever resides within the territory of the new State could participate in its political system (voting, standing for election) and its economic and social life. A special measure of the new State Constitution could provide that all Aboriginal people, regardless of where they resided, could be a candidate or vote in elections for the new State Assembly.”
    So I think this answers your question because nobody has to move anywhere to enjoy political participation in an Aboriginal 7th State of Australia. Aboriginals resident in the city can remain there but participate.

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