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.”
- Treaty and Statehood is published by Federation Press, RRP $60. It is available from http://www.federationpress.com.au/bookstore/book.asp?isbn=9781760020835.