An Australian right-wing former prime minister, Tony Abbott, called on Friday for the country to scale back flying the Aboriginal flag after a referendum roundly rejected Indigenous recognition and enhanced rights.
Abbott praised Australians for resisting “virtue signalling” when they voted on October 14 by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent against amending the 1901 constitution to recognise Indigenous peoples.
In doing so, Australians also voted against creating a new Indigenous consultative body — a “Voice” to parliament — that could give advice on issues related to First Nations communities.
“If the people’s vote is to be respected, it should mean abandoning, or at least scaling back, recent concessions to separatism,” Abbott wrote in The Australian, alluding to symbols of Indigenous ancestry on the continent stretching back 60,000 years.
In particular, he targeted “flying the Aboriginal flag co-equally with the national one (as if Australia is a country of two nations)”.
The flag — a rectangle with a black top half, a red bottom half and a yellow circle in the centre — represents Aboriginal Australians and has been an official flag of Australia since 1995.
Abbott, who was a Liberal Party prime minister from 2013-2015, also criticised ceremonies that recognise Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land millennia before British penal ships first anchored off Sydney in 1788, ushering in white colonisation.
– ‘Pained surprise’ –
Abbott singled out for praise the conservative opposition’s Indigenous affairs spokesperson, senator Jacinta Price, who fought for a “no” vote in the referendum despite polls indicating majority support for it among First Nations peoples.
He described as a “watershed moment” Price’s insistence that colonisation had been good for Aboriginal people because it brought advances such as running water, opportunities and “readily available food”.
The former prime minister also dismissed the international reaction of “pained surprise” that Australians had rejected enhanced rights for Aboriginal people, calling it evidence of “the global pervasiveness of identity thinking”.
Supporters had seen the referendum as a way to unite the country while addressing the historical injustices inflicted upon First Nations peoples, who are still far more likely to die young, live in poverty and wind up in prison.
In the aftermath of the referendum, Indigenous leaders called for a “week of silence” to mourn the outcome, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urged the nation to heal “in the spirit of unity”.
But the rejection of the “Voice” appears to have set back some efforts at reconciliation.
Queensland’s conservative opposition Liberal National Party this week withdrew support for a truth-telling process leading to a possible treaty with Indigenous peoples in the eastern state, putting the entire reform in doubt.