When Race Matters Above All Else.

Written by gad123

Gabriël Moens – Quadrant Online,


Keen observers of race relations in Australia notice that governments and organisations continuously promote the allocation of special rights to indigenous Australians. This practice is wide-ranging and involves the distribution of burdens and benefits on the simple grounds of a person’s race, a characteristic over which people have no control. This distribution ranges from the establishment of race-specific awards, such as the recent decision of the Sydney Film Festival to offer a generous cash prize for indigenous filmmakers to blatant offers of cash payments – payments unavailable to other Australians. This march to separateness is a manifestation of the wokeness of our time.

Anthony Morris KC recently argued that “wokeness offers nothing more than a vacuous, intellectually dishonest, stultifying, and ultimately counterproductive constraint upon any society where it takes hold.”[1] His comment, although it refers to the manifold societal manifestations of wokeness, is especially relevant to an understanding of the contentious world of race relations in Australia.

The distribution of societal benefits on the basis of a person’s race denigrates the principle of political equality according to which benefits should be available to all people on the basis of their individual, as opposed to group, characteristics. Yet, there is a discernible tendency to favour group rights.

A good example is offered by the University of Queensland Enterprise Agreement 2021-2026.[2] Article 19.1 rehashes the traditional definition of an Indigenous person, as “any person who is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent who is recognised and accepted as such by other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples and who identifies as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.”

The Agreement unreservedly embraces the concept of reverse discrimination when it states “the University will continue to improve the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees with the aim of achieving population parity in Queensland.” Hence, the Agreement, in promoting employment of Indigenous Australians in accord with their total numerical strength in Queensland (currently 3.6 per cent), mandates the operation of a quota system – the preferment of people on the basis of their race in matters of employment. This results in the abrogation of the principle of political equality and defeats the expectation that the most meritorious or most suitably qualified person for a position be appointed. Although ‘merit’ is itself a vague concept – an empty vessel, the meaning of which has to be filled in, it can however neither accommodate nor condone appointment merely on the ground of an applicant’s race.

In recognition of the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, Article 19.2 of the Agreement states that, when “an employee is required by the University to use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language substantially in the course of their employment or is required to use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language as a significant part of their role” the University will pay an allowance of $3,500 per annum. Moreover, the Agreement provides that

Language includes the complex system of communication used in Indigenous culture in all its diversity, which includes sign language, speech taboos, Indigenous gestural systems, ceremonial language, utterances, auditory, visual and/or non-verbal communication.

The concept of ‘language’ is thus defined broadly and, presumably, may well include the ubiquitous ‘Welcome to Country’ ritual, where Indigenous leaders might utter some words in an Aboriginal language or conduct a non-verbal ceremony. As the Agreement indicates, it is not even necessary to actually be involved in verbal communication. Hence, the allowance will almost certainly always be paid to Indigenous employees, thereby offering them an inducement on the basis of race unavailable to non-Indigenous employees. By virtue of Article 44, Indigenous employees will also have access to eight days of paid cultural leave annually to enable them to fulfill their ‘unique’ cultural responsibilities.

The Agreement indicates that the University is committed to reconciliation, which is certainly a worthwhile objective. To that end, the Agreement appropriately confirms that the University is committed to maintaining a workplace environment that values the aspirations and contributions of Indigenous Australians.

However, the Indigenous-only benefits are based on the well-publicised narrative that Indigenous people are ‘victims’ of white colonisation and invasion. Reconciliation is not possible if the victimisation narrative continues to be propagated and embraced with fervour. The point is that, in making Indigenous Australians into perpetual victims of discrimination, which justifies (or even requires) unequal and preferential treatment, it will never be possible to achieve reconciliation. This is because reconciliation, to be effective, requires the implementation of the principle of political equality or equal citizenship.

Hence, the Agreement, by its very language, disembowels the concept of reconciliation. In cementing separate rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and elevating them over the rights of all other Australians, it thus achieves precisely the opposite of reconciliation. It effectively maintains a workplace environment that denigrates the contributions of non-Indigenous employees and artificially elevates the rights of Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islander people.

The outcome of maintaining a policy of separateness is that it fails to support programs that could make a beneficial impact, without resorting to the contentious language and practice of reverse discrimination. Indeed, as I stated in another paper, “a duty to take positive special measures forecloses the debate on how best to assist minorities in overcoming their disadvantages” because it commits people “to a particular ideological position, and it constitutes an interference in societies that seek solutions through other means (such as the operation of market forces).”[3]

But unfortunately, the evidence indicates that Australia is (or is becoming) a racist country, where a person’s opportunities are very much dependent on their racial characteristics. Only the adoption and implementation of the principle of political equality is capable of contributing to an environment that respects the aspirations and contributions of all Australians.

[1] Anthony Morris KC, ‘Woke is revoked’, The Spectator Australia, 7 February 2024, at https://www.spectator.com.au/2024/02/woke-is-revoked/.

[2] Available at https://staff.uq.edu.au/…/enterprise-agreement-2018….

[3] Gabriël Moens, ‘Post-Lecture Discussion’, Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 66(5), 1347-1350.

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