Rejecting Colonialism

Lidia Thorpe breaks the damn of supine acceptance by Australian senators

Indigenous senator Lidia Thorpe is something of a rebel, she detests the British colonial. In Australia she is not without supporters. And naturally, she is not without her colonial-minded critics. She was told to repeat the oath of allegiance for Australian parliamentarians on Monday after she initially described the Queen as a coloniser.

This is what we would have liked to see from our elected national representatives. Instead, we had one SNP MP reassure Westminster’s MPs that Scotland’s national party, elected to regain self-governance, was not there to disrupt the Mother of all Parliaments. As many have said before me, we sent our representatives to London to settle up, not to settle down. (Lately, two ALBA party MPs had enough and left the chamber. Previously Ian Blackford had led SNP MPs out but brought them back after a good lunch.)

Here in Scotland, our MSPs in Holyrood are generally accepted by non-partisan people who want full freedoms and party members who want independence restored, as MSPs so far down the road of accommodating our oppressor’s agenda and strictures we might as well have elected the unionist Labour party to govern Scotland again. Even the much venerated investigative writer George Orwell, an Etonian with no great love of Scots, wrote back in the Thirties that Scotland was a nation ‘plundered’ by his own country.

In Australia, a long festering sore survives. It is based on unwanted British rule all the way back to its earliest white history, from using Australia to empty England’s overflowing prisons and beat the French into sticking their flag on the new-found continent, through genocide and theft of land belonging to ethnic Aboriginal people, to removing Australia’s elected premier Gough Whitlam – organised direct from the Queen’s office – he daring to suggest an end to waving the Union Jack and introducing a degree of socialism into the Australian economy.

While down the years Australian writers and journalists have drawn attention to an out-dated association with Great Britain, Lidia Thorpe’s anger is worth studying because it represents an awakening recently seen in Commonwealth countries. In Scotland, we hand our future to the oppressor to decide. We respect and trust them that much.

Thorpe, a Greens senator for Victoria, was chided by her parliamentary colleagues, one of whom yelled, “You’re not a senator if you don’t do it properly.”

Thorpe was absent from parliament last week when other senators were officially sworn in, so took her oath on Monday morning. Walking to the Senate floor with her right fist raised in the air, Thorpe was asked to recite the words written on a card.

“I sovereign, Lidia Thorpe, do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will be faithful and I bear true allegiance to the colonising her majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” she said. The word “colonising” is not in the formal oath. The Labor Senate president, Sue Lines, interjected, as other senators voiced criticism and began calling to Thorpe.

“You are required to recite the oath as printed on the card,” Lines told the Greens senator. “Please recite the oath.”

Thorpe turned to speak to a Labor senator behind her who appeared to voice further criticism, before repeating the oath as printed. Another senator was heard to say “none of us like it”. Thorpe later tweeted “sovereignty never ceded” as she shared a photo of her swearing-in.

Section 42 of the Australian constitution states that “every senator and every member of the House of Representatives shall before taking his seat make and subscribe” the oath.

But Professor Anne Twomey, a constitutional expert at the University of Sydney, said it was up to the parliament to decide whether failing or declining to make the oath would block someone from taking their place as a senator.

“As this is an internal proceeding in the Parliament, I doubt whether it would be ‘justiciable’ – ie., I don’t think it is something that could be enforced before a court.”

“It is a matter for the presiding officers of the Houses to enforce section 42.”

Twomey said Thorpe could have decided not to take up her seat, if she was not prepared to swear allegiance to the Queen. “Failure to do so would mean that she could not sit or vote. She would be entitled to other rights and privileges … However, if she failed to attend for two consecutive months without the permission of the Senate, her place would become vacant under section 19 of the constitution.”

The assistant minister for the republic, Matt Thistlethwaite, last week told Nine newspapers that swearing allegiance to the Queen was “archaic and ridiculous”. “It does not represent the Australia we live in and it’s further evidence of why we need to begin discussing becoming a republic with our own head of state,” he said. “We are no longer British.”

However, under the Australian constitution all senators and MPs must swear an allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors before sitting in parliament. The provision cannot be changed without a referendum, which Thistlethwaite said would only be done as part of a broader move towards a republic in a future term of government.

Thorpe last month described Australia as a “colonial project” and said the national flag did not represent her. “It represents the colonisation of these lands, and it has no permission to be here, there’s been no consent, there’s been no treaty, so that flag does not represent me,” she told Channel 10’s The Project.

Thorpe said she stood for parliament “to question the illegitimate occupation of the colonial system in this country. “I am here for my people, and I will sacrifice swearing allegiance to the coloniser to get into the media like I am right now, to get into the parliament like I am every day,” she said.

NOTE: Lidia Alma Thorpe is an Australian politician. As of August 2022 she is a senator in federal parliament for the state of Victoria, representing the Australian Greens. She is the first Aboriginal senator from Victoria. Thorpe has also previously been a member of the Victorian Parliament. (The bulk of this article comes with thanks to Josh Butler and the Aussie Guardian newspaper.)

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4 Responses to Rejecting Colonialism

  1. tawley says:

    It’s time to move on! It is an archaic institution! Their families just had better and more fighters to win their wars! Especially as the way Scotland has been treated. Our so called democracies are a joke! The time is now because the people who produce the wealth have had enough!

  2. alfbaird says:

    Excellent analysis Gareth. If only the SNP were led by someone of the calibre of Lidia Thorpe we would have long since been independent by now. “We are no longer British.” Sounds good.

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    I added some backgroud on Lidia Thorpe, Alfred, in case any reader should think there is irony in her rebellion. She is Aboriginal.

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