From republic to reconciliation

by April 6, 2011

Crown land in Tasmania

In most states the concept of land ownership is a multi-layered one. Private citizens or corporations may own a property outright, though governments may typically expropriate such property for public purposes if the owner is compensated fairly. Governments may (or may not) retain rights to resources found below even privately-owned land. And governments frequently have ownership rights over residual land not otherwise owned by private entities — known as “Federal” lands in the United States or “Crown” lands in Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia. 23% of Australia is classed as Crown land, and as such, argue James Arvanitakis and Spike Boydell in the online political magazine New Mathilda, it presents an important opportunity to return legal guardianship of public lands to Australia’s first inhabitants should the country ever vote to sever its ties with the British monarchy:

This brings us to the nexus of two fundamental challenges: the republic and reconciliation. Any discussion about an Australian republic should not be about a change of head of state or a new flag. Rather, the real debate must focus on true reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders — and on recognition of their enduring guardianship of the land.

To achieve this, we must consider how property rights might be reframed in the absence of the Crown as the holder of the superior interest over land and we must reflect on the role that the first Australians should play under such a scenario. In any move from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, the new constitution would have to be drafted to articulate the values of the nation. Our hope is that such a constitution, in stark contrast to the current one, would both fully acknowledge and reflect the authority of the first Australians.

Read the rest here.