A story on the front page of The Australian last Friday suggests the Howard Government is planning to use the current debate on violence in indigenous communities to not only further extinguish aboriginal culture, but try to go even further and push for full-blown monoculturalism – reportedly even if it is racially discriminatory.
The story was accompanied by a statement of (presumably) unintended irony by the Attorney-General (and former Indigenous Affairs Minister) Philip Ruddock:
“There should be one law for all Australians. Our expectation is that when people come and settle in Australia they are under an obligation to accept the law and the principles that go with it.”
A nice concept and one that on the face of it all people would agree with. So why do the one group of people that were here all along have to have their laws and principles extinguished in favour of those of people who have only recently settled here?
Even more dubiously, the Howard Government has reportedly “widened its plan to remove legal recognition of Aboriginal customary law in criminal sentencing to include the cultural beliefs of all ethnic minorities.”
“The extension of the plan beyond Aboriginal tribal law is understood to have been triggered by concerns that a law directed only at indigenous offenders could be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.”
Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock last night said no one convicted of a crime in Australia should be able to plead their cultural practices and beliefs as mitigating factors in their sentencing.
All of this sounds lovely until one gives even half a second’s thought about what it would have to mean in practice if you tried to codify it in law. It either assumes the ‘law’ reflects no culture or belief system at all, or that there is some universally agreed set of pre-existing principles that get priority over everybody else’s.
Dog whistling at its most skilful – it will be interesting to see if they push on with this or just let the dogs yap on for a while.