This article examines Alfred Deakin’s attitudes towards, and impacts upon, Aboriginal people during the period 1880-1910, drawing on newspaper articles and parliamentary debates as principal source materials. The discussion begins by charting the long, influential and often positive relationships Deakin had with several Aboriginal communities during a period as a Victorian MLA between 1881 and 1884. It then proceeds to document Deakin’s extraordinary descent into paternalism and racially-based fatalism which pervaded his later association with Aboriginal affairs whilst Victoria’s Chief Secretary (1886–1890), Victorian MLA for Essendon and delegate to Federal conventions (1890-1900), as the Federation debates took shape. And finally, the article outlines the attitudes Deakin expressed towards Aboriginal people in his various post-Federation political roles, including Attorney-General, Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs. In doing so, the discussion draws out the connections between Deakin’s advocacy of a white Australia and his attitudes towards Aboriginal Australia, and demonstrates the extent to which the creation of a new nation both informed and responded to socio-racial ideologies that mandated the exclusion of non-white identities from the nation-to-come
The “electoral mandate” serves a useful function as a political weapon in competitive party democracies, notwithstanding the ambiguities, multi-layered complexities and uncertainty of many of the issues which the concept involves. The diverse uses of “mandate” indicate competing ideas in Australian politics about the responsibilities of parties to pursue commitments made during campaigns and the extent of rights to govern. This article portrays mandate not as a “theory” or “doctrine”, but as a rhetorical device that needs to be examined in the context of “contested word use” in political speech. The renewed interest in the study of rhetoric reflects the usefulness of examining multiple and layered meanings that exist under what ostensibly may appear as “empty rhetoric”, and to understand how rhetoric is used to persuade an audience of the validity of a particular action or viewpoint. While mandate often comes under attack as “meaningless”, it is a useful persuasive tool employed by politicians to consolidate their legitimacy and justify their rights to implement a political agenda and, as such, it contributes to public discourses relating to the nature of political representation.