- Academic invited by UN to provide expert insights into indigenous rights in Pacific nations
- The distinctive place that indigenous peoples should occupy in the modern state are important questions for Pacific nations
- Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa are at very different points in their colonial histories
A Charles Sturt University political science academic has delivered a presentation to the United Nations (UN) Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs at its invitation.
Associate Professor in Political Science Dominic O’Sullivan (pictured inset) in the Charles Sturt School of Humanities and Social Sciences delivered his address remotely at 9am on Thursday 22 October.
Professor O’Sullivan said the distinctive place that indigenous peoples should occupy in the modern state are important questions in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere in the Pacific.
“Australia, New Zealand and Fiji are at very different points in their colonial histories, while Samoa’s postcolonial present is distinguished by weakened traditional decision-making processes and an only partially successful attempt to supplement these with Westminster parliamentary democracy,” he said.
“Both Australia and New Zealand opposed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when it was adopted in 2007, but have since accepted it as an aspirational document.
“There are important and unresolved questions, in each jurisdiction, on how just relationships may be forged between indigenous peoples and the state on the one hand, and on how indigenous people should participate in the politics of the state on the other.”
Professor O’Sullivan said when the High Court of Australia overturned the presumption of ‘terra nullius’ (the Mabo Case) in 1992, the finding gave moral and political impetus to reconciliation as a process to acknowledge and correct injustices of the past, and forge a fair and inclusive national politics.
“While the Mabo decision affirmed the legitimacy of the colonial society, which was now more than 200 years old, it and other contemporary political developments fostered the idea (which has gained political momentum) that the Australian Constitution ought to be amended to recognise indigenous peoples.”
Professor O’Sullivan noted the distinction of New Zealand which has guaranteed Maori representation in parliament since 1867.
“Presently Maori are guaranteed seven seats in a unicameral legislature of 120 members, but in practice, the country’s proportional representation electoral system sees many more Maori elected,” he said.
“In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by 500 Maori chiefs and the British Crown, remains influential.
“The Treaty promised Maori the ‘rights and privileges of British subjects’, which has developed into a more substantive and still evolving political right of citizenship.
“In disputes over the scope that Maori should enjoy as citizens, and the degree that they influence the workings of government, the Treaty is a mediating influence.”
Professor O’Sullivan drew further distinctions between other Pacific nations.
“Although Fiji has been independent from Britain for 50 years, this was not, from an indigenous Fijian perspective, an act of decolonisation,” he said.
“Colonial legacy helps to explain contemporary political instability.
“Samoa is different again. It is an ethnically homogenous state which regained its independence in 1962.
“Its government combines Westminster democracy with traditional authority, leading to stable although increasingly contested government.”