Shareholders are being taken for a ride, as are donors, trade unionists, sports fans and taxpayers. The relatively few high-profile CEOs, charity leaders, trade union leaders, sports administrators and politicians foolish enough to forsake their duty and send other people’s money to the referendum Yes case are doing harm. Many of their supporters and funders, and possibly a majority, are against the proposition. They are not as foolish as their leaders.

Leaders who think that a solution to Aboriginal despair lies in permanent government intervention in the lives of those few Aborigines who are failing in this modern society should think again. It is not all about government. Changing the Constitution does not change behaviour. Changing the Constitution will not get children to attend school. Changing the Constitution will not stop the grog, or the abuse, or the awful habits that cause early death.

This week, Aboriginal children will walk into the store at Warburton in Western Australia and purchase the typical fare of an Aboriginal diet. On the same latitude as the border of Northern Territory and South Australia, Warburton is as remote as it gets. But cake, Coca-Cola, and energy bars are all available, and expensive. For adults, throw in smokes. These are typical purchases. Week in and week out. Eating and drinking junk foods, not working, and having no purpose in life other than consumption, is a death sentence. No amount of government intervention can save this. No Voice, no committee, no treaty, no ‘truth-telling’, no Makarrata can save these people.

Warburton Art Gallery

Aboriginal people are a modern people. In Warburton, mobile phones are commonplace. Electricity keeps the food and drink cool. Without the paraphernalia of the modern world there would be no Warburton, it would have closed decades ago. Aboriginal people rely on modern means to survive. Most have no idea how it is made. This is cruel. 

The task of leaders is to have every child understand how it is that the mobile phone and electricity that makes their food and shelter available comes in to being. Government may be the provider, but it is not the maker.

Government makes nothing, it merely covers the indignity of woeful ignorance.

Why do governments refuse to teach their citizens how their lives have been degraded to the point of begging? This is no gracious gift; it is stealing the future of these people. It is an abandonment of leadership. Recognition is not the same as reconciliation.

Kids enjoying the Warburton Swimming Pool. Picture: Steve Girschik

Aboriginal parents face an awful choice. To keep children ‘safe’ on country, away from the worst of modern life, grog and drugs, or in doing so, condemn their children to live restricted lives, with poor education, few prospects and a poor diet. The great lie of this referendum is that choices can be avoided. Somehow, 24 select delegates in Canberra will solve the parents’ dilemma. They will not; they will continue to mask the choice and, in default, make the choice for them. A slow death on country, rather than to break free, with the help of their families and guidance from outsiders on how to handle the wider world.

There is no love for Aborigines in this referendum proposal, just ego.

The Aboriginal people at Warburton are radically disabled. They are self-determining alright, sitting on country, speaking language, and dying early. And CEOs and the Prime Minister think that this is a good idea.

They must, because their solution is to change nothing. Not to learn how to create value, not to adapt, but to wait. Government monies as a permanent way of life are poison.

Gary Johns is President of Recognise a Better Way

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Dr Gary Johns served as former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, Special Minister of State & Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Keating Labor Government. A philosophical rethink saw him accept a series of appointments in the service of economic rationalism, including Senior Fellow at the IPA and Assoc. Commissioner at the Productivity Commission. He recently served as Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission.


  1. “Eating and drinking junk foods, not working, and having no purpose in life other than consumption, is a death sentence. No amount of government intervention can save this. No Voice, no committee, no treaty, no ‘truth-telling’, no Makarrata can save these people.”


  2. Treat everyone exactly the same regardless of their race or gender. That is what should replace Section 51, Sub-section xxvi. That present sub-section is a blot on Australian society and its reputation. Having a government that can make laws on the basis of a citizen’s race is an obscenity.

    The following proposition should also be included in the forthcoming Referendum:
    “An amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia to amend Section 51 (xxvi), which presently gives the Commonwealth the right to make special laws on the basis of a citizen’s race, by replacing that wording with the following:

    ‘No Government, nor any Government agency, at Federal, State, Territory or Local level within the Commonwealth of Australia may make laws or construct regulations that discriminate on the basis of a citizen’s race or gender. To this end, all citizens, regardless of race or gender, shall be treated exactly the same under the law and shall be entitled to whatever benefits their circumstances might entitle under those laws and regulations.'”

    If you agree then please write to your local Federal Representative.

    This amendment also explicitly binds State Governments and Government funded agencies to this prohibition. That is very important for in the past State Governments have provided a means by which Federal politicians have been able to skate around the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. It also prevents the establishment of Non-Government Organisations for this purpose. This has particularly been the case with health and with compensation for the deprivation or degradation of personal property by the Government.

  3. The only thing indigenous Australians need from Canberra is for them to start listening. The national anthem says “we are ONE and free” why did they change it if they are going to divide everyone again???


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