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Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Imagining the good Indigenous citizen

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Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. "Imagining the good Indigenous citizen: race war and the pathology of patriarchal white sovereignty" in Cultural Studies Review Vol. 15 No. 2, Sept 2009, pp. 61-79.
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imagining the
good indigenous citizen
Race War and the Pathology of
Patriarchal White Sovereignty AILEEN MORETON-ROBINSON
In June 2007, the Australian federal government sent military and police into Indigenous
communities of the Northern Territory on the premise that the sexual abuse of children was
rampant and a national crisis. This `crisis' was constructed as something extraordinary and
aberrant requiring new governmental measures. Agemben argues that this `state of excep-
tion' is now the normal form of governance within democracies that `establishes a hidden
but fundamental relationship between law and the absence of law. It is a void, a blank and
this empty space is constitutive of the legal system'.1 Guantanamo Bay has become the public
face of the deployment of this state of exception where law and lawlessness exist in dealing
with detainees as a response to the events of 9/11 but it is not exceptional. Other detainees
are held in various locations such as Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper and in
these camps the USA has determined its own rules which are outside the law. In this sense
exceptionalism is dispersed and not unified, but rather is a discursive formation that can
only be partially known.2
While the state-of-exception thesis provides a way of explaining how sovereign states
responded to terrorism through security measures, which requires disciplining detainees
and citizens, the historical conditions of its possibility can be linked to colonisation. Australia,
New Zealand, Canada and the USA have a long history of detaining Indigenous people, deny-
ing their rights and controlling behaviour through and beyond the law. From the late nine-
teenth century reserves, privately owned pastoral stations and missions were the places where
the majority of Indigenous people in Australia lived under the control of white managers
and missionaries appointed by government. Indigenous people, while living in poverty, were
A I L E E N M O R E T O N - R O B I N S O N --THE GOOD INDIGENOUS CITIZEN
61

treated differently to white Australian citizens and were subject to `special' laws, regulations
and policies that were racist. Knowledge of the impoverished conditions under which Indi-
genous people lived was shared by those who controlled their lives. They acted disingenuously
and their silence about Indigenous poverty operated repressively as `an injunction to silence,
an affirmation of nonexistence, and, by implication, an admission that there was nothing to
say about such things, nothing to see, and nothing to know'.3 During the campaign for citizen-
ship rights in the 1960s, Indigenous poverty was first brought into the public consciousness
of white Australia through the advocacy of Indigenous people and their white supporters.
This occurred during the time that the White Australia policy was incrementally being phased
out. The impoverished conditions under which Indigenous people lived were televised and
beamed into the living rooms of white middle-class Australia and represented within the
print media. White Australians voted in overwhelming numbers to endorse the 1967 referen-
dum believing they were casting a vote for Indigenous people to be granted full citizenship
rights and thus be included within the nation. Within the white imaginary, citizenship
represented equality and it was assumed that this status would enable Indigenous people to
overcome their poverty and become the same as other Australians.
The 1967 referendum did not confer on Indigenous people citizenship rights. Instead,
the Australian Constitution was changed to give the federal government the power to
make laws on behalf of any race and so Indigenous people could be counted in the census.4
The federal government of the day was well aware that these were the changes being made.
The rhetoric of citizenship became a strategy by which Indigenous people could now
come under federal government control instead of being primarily the responsibility of state
governments. These changes to the constitution did not emerge publicly until the 1990s
after academics revealed that Indigenous people were accorded civil, industrial, social and
political rights incrementally from the 1960s through the removal of explicitly racially dis-
criminatory legislation and policies.5 Irrespective of this research the idea that Aborigines
were granted citizenship rights in 1967 continues to circulate discursively. As a consequence
the lack of citizenship rights is no longer linked causally to Indigenous poverty within the
white Australian imaginary; instead, social rights in the form of welfare payments are seen
as having contributed to this outcome.
Since 1967, Indigenous people have continued to live in poverty irrespective of the
level of economic prosperity of the nation or whether there are Labor or Liberal federal
and state governments in power implementing their `different' Indigenous affairs policies.
There are still large gaps in outcomes between Indigenous people and other Australian citizens
on all social indicators. Our life expectancy rates are seventeen years less than the rest of the
population, our health is the worst in the country, we live in overcrowded houses, we have
the highest unemployment rates, are over represented in the criminal justice system and our
62
VOLUME15 NUMBER2 SEP2009

education outcomes are well below the Australian average.6 These differential outcomes and
their history raise a question: do citizenship rights enable or constrain Indigenous people
within society? In this article I will address this question by focusing on the Northern Territory
intervention. I argue that patriarchal white sovereignty as a regime of power deploys a dis-
course of pathology as a means to subjugate and discipline Indigenous people to be extra
good citizens and that the tactics and strategies deployed within this race war reveal its own
pathology.7
-- Social contract and rights theory
Social contract theorists, such as Locke and Rousseau, argued that the formation of the state
was enabled by a contract between men to decide to live together, govern and make laws for
such living. It is a contract that secures the right of the sovereign in the form of the state to
govern and the right of citizens to partake in that governance and to live in society through
the rights and responsibilities conferred on them. The problem with most social contract
theories is that the moral egalitarianism that underpins them is predicated on the theory that
the transition from a state of nature to civil society `founds government on the popular con-
sent of individuals taken as equals'.8 The white patriarchs who theorised about the social
contract were primarily concerned with it being a means of agreement between white men
to live together, make laws and govern, incorporating white women into the polity as their
subordinates through the marriage contract.9
In contrast to social contract theorists Michel Foucault offers a genealogy of rights from
the seventeenth century to the present, arguing that war has been central to the develop-
ment of the judicial edifice of right in democratic as well as socialist countries.10 He explains
how in France the history of the divine right of kings that worked in the interests of sovereign
absolutism was challenged through the work of Boulainvilliers, who produced a counter
history to that of the king, effectively introducing the new subject of rights into history.
Refuting the myth of the inherited right to rule, Boulainvilliers' history of the nobility advanced
the idea that because of their investments in participating in war they too had rights. Having
become legitimate and normalised, Foucault argues, the nobility's assertion of rights was
utilised by the commoners as an impetus to the French revolution; in this way a `partisan
and strategic' truth became a weapon of war.11 The commoners' assertion of rights as sub-
jects of the crown became the rationale for war against the monarch. It is only by repressing
the founding violence of sovereignty's emergence through war that equality can circulate
as a truth constitutive of citizenship and its relationship to state sovereignty. While it is a
truth that is challenged by theorists of citizenship within modernity, the right of state
sovereignty functions discursively as not being born of conflict and war but rather of agree-
ment between citizens.12
A I L E E N M O R E T O N - R O B I N S O N --THE GOOD INDIGENOUS CITIZEN
63

For Foucault, antagonisms, struggles and conflict are processes of war that should be
analysed according to a grid of strategies and tactics because war continues within modern
mechanisms of power such as government. The ensuing conflicts from the late eighteenth
century between rulers and ruled increasingly involve a relation between a superior race and
an inferior race. As Foucault argues `the State is no longer an instrument that one race uses
against another: the State is, and must be, the protector of the integrity, the superiority,
and the purity of the race ... racism is born at the point when the theme of racial purity
replaces that of race struggle, and when counterhistory begins to be converted into biologi-
cal racism'.13 `Race' is defined by Foucault as a linguistic and religious marker that precedes
the modern nation state. Race surfaces as a biological construct in the late eighteenth cen-
tury because disciplinary knowledges came into being and regulatory mechanisms were
developed to control the population. He describes this form of power as biopower, argu-
ing that race became a means of regulating and defending society from itself. That is, race
war continues in modernity in different forms, while sovereignty shifts from a concern with
society defending itself from external attacks to focus on its internal enemies, though sovereign
right continues to protect its boundaries from external attacks. Politics becomes war by other
means. Race becomes the means through which the state's exercise of power is extended from
one of `to let live or die', to one of `to let live and to make live'. What is important about
Foucault's work is how race and war are tied to sovereign right. It offers us a different under-
standing of how colonisation operates through sovereign right as a race war whose power
effect on the Indigenous population was one of to let live or die and after occupation becomes
one of to let live and to make live. The origins of sovereignty in Australia are predicated on
a myth of Terra Nullius (the imagination of an un-possessed continent), which functioned as
a truth within a race war of coercion, murder and appropriation carried out by white men
in the service of the British Crown. The military secured sovereignty on Australian soil in
the name of the white king of England; in this way sovereignty was both gendered and
racialised upon its assumption. Patriarchal white sovereignty is a regime of power that enabled
the `seizing, delimiting, and asserting control over a physical geographic area--of writing
on the ground a new set of social and spatial relations' underpinned by the rule of death.14
As I have argued elsewhere patriarchal white sovereignty in the Australian context derives
from the illegal act of possession and is most acutely manifest in the state and its regu-
latory mechanisms such as the law.15 Therefore possession is tied to right and power in ways
that are already racialised. Foucault argues that `right' is both an instrument of, and vehicle
for, the exercising of the multiplicity of dominations in society and the relations that enable
their implementation. He argues that the system of right and the judicial field are enduring
channels for relations of domination and the many forms of techniques of subjugation.
For this reason `right' should not be understood as the establishment of legitimacy but rather
64
VOLUME15 NUMBER2 SEP2009

the methods by which subjugation is carried out.16 In this sense citizenship rights are a means
by which subjugation operates as a weapon of race war that can be used strategically to
circumscribe and enable the biopower of patriarchal white sovereignty. Thus rights can be
enabling and constraining.
-- Rights and race war
Disciplinary knowledges that developed and deployed `race' as a biological concept in the
eighteenth century in Australia did so through a prevailing racist discourse. Indigenous
people were considered a primitive people, nomadic, sexually promiscuous, illogical, super-
stitious, irrational, emotive, deceitful, simple minded, violent and uncivilised. We were per-
ceived as living in a state of nature that was in opposition to the discourse of white civility.
This racist discourse enabled patriarchal white sovereignty to deny Indigenous people their
sovereign rights while regulating and disciplining their behaviour through legislative and
political mechanisms and physical and social measures. After the 1967 referendum, which
gave the federal government the power to make laws on behalf of any race, it became increas-
ingly difficult to continue to deny citizenship rights to Indigenous people. `Race' had become
the means to let live and to make live. After the Second World War the allies agreed to a new
international regulatory mechanism being established to preserve human rights and justice
while upholding state sovereignty in their respective countries.
The United Nations was established in 1942 and member countries agreed to be bound to
the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Two important covenants were also ratified in 1966
by the United Nations which gave all people the right to self determination and by virtue of
that right they were free to pursue their political, cultural, social and economic rights with-
in society. They were the Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the Covenant on Econ-
omic, Social and Cultural Rights. These covenants supplied moral and political strategies for
the emergence of decolonisation and civil rights movements which soon spread globally. The
eruption of the rights discourse in the 1960s was due to influences that were both global
and national in character and influenced by events that challenged established norms, values
and social conventions. In Foucaultian terms this represents a phase of war whereby the
antagonisms, confrontations and struggles of the 1960s became represented strategically and
tactically through a discourse of Indigenous rights in the 1970s. In Australia the effects were
the advocacy of civil, women's, gay and Indigenous rights claims of subjects within its borders.
Discriminatory legislation specifically aimed at Indigenous people were revoked and the
Racial and Sexual Discrimination Acts 1975 were enacted to protect against racial and gender
discrimination. An Indigenous land rights discourse encompassing Indigenous sovereignty
claims was placed on the public agenda which saw the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern
Territory) Act 1976 established for the application and granting of land claims in the Northern
A I L E E N M O R E T O N - R O B I N S O N --THE GOOD INDIGENOUS CITIZEN
65

Territory. The White Australia policy was formally abolished in 1972 and multiculturalism
was promoted as Australia's new national policy.17 Just as human rights were becoming an
effective political weapon Australia strengthened its internal sovereignty by formally separat-
ing from British judicial review, which meant that the High Court of Australia was the final
court of appeal. The impact of this separation is that the nation-state's management of the
rights claims of its citizens is no longer subject to an external sovereign's scrutiny.
-- Race war and the discourse of Indigenous pathology
A new mechanism of government regulation of Indigenous people began through the bureau-
cratic infrastructure of the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Since the 1970s, govern-
ment policy has oscillated between self management and self determination. The former was
concerned with administration and management of communities and organisations, while
the latter implied control over policy and decision making, `especially the determination
of structures, processes and priorities'.18 While it is often argued that self determination has
been the dominant policy framework since the early 1970s, a closer analysis of government
processes and practices would reveal that self management has occupied centre stage, despite
the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC ) in 1989.
ATSIC was represented to the world as the epitome of Indigenous self determination by
the Keating-led Labor government. However, regional councils did not have autonomous
control over expenditure in their regions and ATSIC's budget was controlled and monitored
in the same way as other government departments. The federal government determined what
policy areas it would allow ATSIC to administer. ATSIC commissioners were `developing'
policy prepared by bureaucrats who worked within the confines of the government's over-
all policy on Indigenous affairs.
When the ATSIC commissioners did change the policy agenda, under the stewardship of
Geoff Clarke, from one of self determination involving decision making to a self determination
model that advocated Indigenous rights, the newly elected Howard coalition government,
in concert with the media, represented the commission as being mismanaged, misguided
and corrupt. Howard deployed a discourse of pathology strategically to win electoral support
aided by the mainstream media. Chairperson Geoff Clarke and deputy chair `Sugar' Ray
Robinson were represented as being criminal and violent, and ATSIC was blamed for the
underperformance in Indigenous health and education; both policy and program areas were
administered by mainstream departments. Howard had made an electoral promise that
he would cut funding to Indigenous affairs, review ATSIC and ensure that Indigenous rights
claims would be controlled because the pendulum had swung too far in the direction of
Indigenous people's rights. He amended the Native Title Act 1993, reducing even further than
66
VOLUME15 NUMBER2 SEP2009

the Keating government the property rights Indigenous people had won in the High Court's
Mabo decision. Through the use of the law, the Howard government reconfigured Indigenous
affairs containing, reducing and controlling the rights claims of Indigenous people by
positioning us as having received more than our entitlements as citizens and as not taking
responsibility for our `dysfunctional' behaviour. Rights of citizenship were deployed as
weapons within the race war serviced by a discourse of Indigenous pathology. Within this
discourse social problems are considered to be any forms of behaviour that violate the norms
of white civility.
From the year 2000, Howard's Indigenous affairs policy agenda was concerned with `prac-
tical reconciliation' involving mutual obligation contracts with Indigenous communities.
The government's closure of ATSIC and amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 signalled
the end of an Indigenous-rights-based policy consistent with international human rights
covenants, and the beginning of a focus on `practical measures' to alleviate Indigenous dis-
advantage. Significantly, the Howard government rejected the Aboriginal Reconciliation
Council's `Declaration Towards Reconciliation' and `Roadmap for Reconciliation' at Corroboree
2000, which recommended a treaty. Mick Dodson, the former Indigenous Social Justice
Commissioner, states that:
Howard responded with his own version of the Declaration. While there is considerable
similarity between the two documents, there are more subtle differences in wording. The
Howard government said that it is unable to endorse the approach to customary law in
the Council's Declaration, believing that all Australians are equally subject to a common set
of laws. It refused to endorse the term `self-determination', claiming that it implies the possi-
bility of a separate Indigenous state or states. More significantly, the Howard government
refused to support a formal apology to Indigenous people for past injustices, claiming that
such an apology could imply that present generations are in some way responsible and
accountable for the actions of earlier generations.19
Howard's tactics in the race war were to contain Indigenous rights and protect the state against
compensation claims by only recognising those rights that were available to other citizens.
One of the social rights of citizenship (the right to welfare support), became the means of
disciplining Indigenous subjects containing their human right to be self determining, using
the regulatory mechanism of the governments bureaucratic infrastructure. This regulation
was rationalised within a neoliberal discourse which privileged individualised rights and the
democratic process while advocating that the market should manage and direct the fate of
all human beings as free agents. Neoliberal discourse promotes formal equality of individuals
through citizenship, allowing government to implement economic and social policies that
reinforce structural inequalities between Indigenous people and the rest of Australian society.
A I L E E N M O R E T O N - R O B I N S O N --THE GOOD INDIGENOUS CITIZEN
67

The individualism of neoliberalism informs the discourse of pathology within the race
war, enabling the impoverished conditions under which Indigenous people live to be rational-
ised as a product of dysfunctional cultural traditions and individual bad behaviour. In this
context Indigenous pathology, not the strategies and tactics of patriarchal white sovereignty,
is presented as inhibiting the realisation of the state's earlier policy of self-determination.
Citizenship becomes a weapon of race war deployed to advance the idea that because citizens
have `rights' the king no longer rules, despite his `crown' remaining intact as the holder of
radical title to all land. As the holder of the radical title of all land, patriarchal white sovereignty
can invade land occupied or owned by citizens when it wishes to do so. This was clear when
the federal government sent the army and police into seventy-three Indigenous communities
in the Northern Territory in response to the Little Children are Sacred report, which identified
that sexual abuse and neglect of children was an issue of urgent national significance.20 The
use of the term `emergency response' by government signified that it was life or death situ-
ation requiring a response out of necessity; it was a state of exception. In effect, patriarchal
white sovereign right was exercised utilising the report as evidence to further regulate and
manage the subjugation of Indigenous communities. The discourse of Indigenous pathol-
ogy provided the rationale for the containment of people within specific regulated areas and
the Northern Territory became the new laboratory for an experiment in Indigenous civility.
The federal government passed five bills enabling the `emergency response' and suspended
the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to protect the state from litigation on the basis that the
intervention was racist. The suspension of law was used as a weapon of race war to enable
and regulate the intervention. The media had prepared the white Australian imaginary by
utilising a discourse of pathology that entailed constantly reporting negative stories of Indi-
genous dysfunction, corruption, neglect and sexual abuse to elicit white virtue and posses-
sive investments in citizenship. This discourse was deployed by Noel Pearson, an Aborigine
from Cape York who was later appointed as Howard's advisor on welfare reform. Pearson's
collusion with the media resulted in him being the first `Aboriginal leader' to have a regu-
lar column in the Australian newspaper. In August 2000 in his Ben Chifley memorial lecture
`The Light on the Hill', Pearson stated:
In my consideration of the breakdown of values and relationships in our society--I have
come to the view that there has been a significant change in the scale and nature of our prob-
lems over the past thirty years. Our social life has declined even as our material circum-
stances have improved greatly since we gained citizenship. I have also come to the view that
we suffered a particular social deterioration once we became dependent on passive welfare.
So my thinking has led me to the view that our descent into passive welfare dependency has
taken a decisive toll on our people, and the social problems which it has precipitated in our
68
VOLUME15 NUMBER2 SEP2009

families and communities have had a cancerous effect on our relationships and values. Com-
bined with our outrageous grog addiction and the large and growing drug problem amongst
our youth, the effects of passive welfare have not yet steadied. Our social problems have
grown worse over the course of the past thirty years. The violence in our society is of phe-
nomenal proportion and of course there is inter-generational transmission of the debilitat-
ing effects of the social passivity which our passive economy has induced.21 [my emphasis]
Pearson strategically uses citizenship rights to welfare as the enabler of Indigenous `dys-
function' by arguing that these rights have given Indigenous people entitlements but no
responsibilities. Between the years 2000 and 2004 Pearson has produced twenty-five papers
elaborating his thesis on welfare reform and Indigenous pathology while also acknowledg-
ing that communities require service provision and resources to enable a change in behav-
iour.22 His argument is that citizenship rights should be tied to behavioural outcomes for
Indigenous people as a means to let live and make live. Focusing on individualist expla-
nations for Indigenous poverty, Pearson promoted welfare reform within Indigenous affairs
mimicking the United States neoliberal conservative position of the early 1990s, which
advocated that:
a) The receipt of welfare should be predicated on reciprocal responsibilities whereby society
is obliged to provide assistance to welfare applicants who, in turn, are obligated to behave
in socially approved ways; and b) able-bodied adult welfare recipients should be required
to prepare themselves for work, to search for employment and to accept jobs when they
are offered.23
Pearson's thesis that the right to welfare facilitates Indigenous addiction and dysfunction cir-
culates as a truth in the race war, while masking the strategies of patriarchal white sovereignty
to perpetuate Indigenous welfare dependency. Pearson indigenises welfare dependency
through a discourse of pathology that effectively silences talk about the behaviour of mil-
lions of non-Indigenous people who receive welfare in one form or another to enable them
to live within society. In 2007 he wrote in the Australian a response to Indigenous people
who were advocating an Indigenous rights agenda, stating:
Let me conclude by pointing out three problems with the indigenous rights agenda as it is
now presented. First, it is just not credible on too many questions. Ordinary Australians are
simply not convinced that land rights and culture alone will solve social problems. Ordinary
Australians can see through the fact social order is an urgent imperative ... Ordinary
Australians are not like old progressive converts. They can no longer be sold slogans. The
evidence of social and economic disrepair is too obvious for them to accept the old solutions.
Those seeking indigenous rights must come up with more compelling justifications for
A I L E E N M O R E T O N - R O B I N S O N --THE GOOD INDIGENOUS CITIZEN
69

the policies they propose. Second the advocacy must be more sophisticated and have
more of an impact ... Instead of retreating into righteous impotence, the rights advocates
must become a lot more competent than they have been. Third those concerned about rights
must understand that most rights--the right to better health and education and safe and
healthy children--cannot be delivered by rights alone. They require behavioural responsi-
bility on behalf of our people. And this is why the recent launch by Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma of Closing the Gap ... is only partly
convincing ... The gap will not close unless we have a plan that is as forthright about
these responsibilities as it is about rights.24
Pearson's pathologising of Indigenous people works discursively. He positions Indigenous
rights advocates as being unsophisticated, righteously impotent, incompetent and naive. He
stipulates that good citizenship requires both rights and responsibilities; this appeals to and
elicits the virtue of `ordinary Australians' who are already assumed to be `good citizens'. He
strategically uses the term `ordinary Australians', as did Howard and Hanson in their anti-
Indigenous rights politics, to seduce his white middle-class audience and affirm the charac-
teristics of white civility. Pearson's explanation for the existence of poverty and inequality is
the `problematic' characteristics of Indigenous people, not patriarchal white sovereignty's
right to disavow Indigenous sovereign resource rights. Indigenous people are perceived and
talked about as the undeserving poor who lack effort, proper money management skills,
a sense of morality, the ability to remain sober, the ability to resist drugs and a work ethic.
Pearson has staked a possessive claim to patriarchal white sovereignty in his welfare reform
agenda, which seeks to discipline and produce the good Indigenous citizen who is perceived
as having no inherent sovereign right to their resources, which were illegally appropriated
by the Crown. The media and government have conferred on Pearson a leadership role in
Indigenous welfare reform, one which services the legitimacy of patriarchal white sovereignty
through a discourse of Indigenous pathology by denying the effects of colonisation in pro-
ducing economic dependency. This serves, in turn, to make invisible the ongoing race war
against Indigenous people.
-- Race war and tactics of intervention
The print media's representation of Indigenous pathology in the race war was actively pro-
moted by the national magazine the Bulletin in the late 1880s. Cartoons of drunken and des-
titute Aborigines were a regular feature over the subsequent century in its promotion of
the White Australia policy.25 This pathologising took a different form in the negative stories
that circulated and began building in the 1970s after land rights were granted in the Northern
70
VOLUME15 NUMBER2 SEP2009

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