Everywhere I go in Australia today, discourse on matters of national interest lends itself to a racially intense focus. The debate surrounding the Indigenous voice to parliament cannot exist without such discourse, whether Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan likes it or not.
This week, Tan appealed to political leaders and the media to steer clear of making race the focus of the voice to parliament debate, warning it would embolden racists and expose Indigenous Australians to abuse and vilification.
But asking Australians to avoid highlighting race in the voice debate is like asking someone to avoid getting wet walking through monsoonal rains. This is not the fault of everyday Australians but of the unyielding activist class that for the past decade has doused petrol on the flames of identity politics.
As an Australian with Warlpiri heritage, I would love to experience a day where my racial identity wasn’t brought into focus. I would love not to be forced to feel singled out through superficial acknowledgments or alleged respect for nothing more than my racial heritage. This is tokenism writ large and paternalism of the highest order.
Those who are pushing this actually ingrain the racial stereotype that Australians of Aboriginal heritage think the same. Through what has now become the formula of public discourse towards Indigenous Australians, we are effectively robbed of individuality. We are not afforded individual freedom or respect based on our unique human capabilities.
Nothing exemplifies this notion more than the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The dialogues that culminated in the statement were strategically held with invited-only, unelected individuals of Aboriginal heritage as well as a selection of non-Indigenous Australians.
The outcome seemed to be predetermined by Megan Davis and Noel Pearson, both individuals who have no cultural connection to Uluru itself. The use of Uluru as the backdrop has been the perfect campaign PR tool, as has the physical statement itself, adorned by desert art and the signatures of 250 unelected and hand-picked individuals.
Reliant on the goodwill of everyday Australians, proponents of the voice sell the Uluru statement to the Australian people with the racial – and incorrect – stereotype of uniform Indigenous groupthink. The 250 signatures representing individuals who make up 0.03 per cent of a population demographic are not a sound representation of that demographic. Caught up in cultural romanticism and a yearning to better the lives of our most marginalised, non-Indigenous Australians buy into the Uluru Statement from the Heart as gospel.
Imposed on us is the victim narrative that sustains a multibillion-dollar industry that works in two ways: to justify its existence, and to discourage and disparage anyone who seeks to call it into question. The referendum asks Australians to enshrine this industry and narrative into our Constitution.
We teach our children that emotional blackmail and name calling is unhealthy, and as adults in personal relationships these behaviours are characterised as coercive control. The voice to parliament debate has been captured by these tactics, which have been weaponised by proponents of the voice throughout debate.
One has to question why Tan has only now offered his opinion as the Race Discrimination Commissioner on the flavour of debate regarding the voice, given there have already been a number of racially pugnacious comments made by proponents of the voice.
In November last year, following our National Party announcement to officially oppose the voice, Pearson made racially vilifying and unchallenged comments directed at me on ABC Radio National that he then repeated in The Australian last month.
In December last year, Marcia Langton made references to “nasty, eugenicist, 19th-century style of debate about the superior race versus the inferior race”.
Again in April this year, Pearson deliberately took aim at my predecessor as opposition spokesman for Indigenous Australians, and a Liberal colleague of Jewish heritage, Julian Leeser, in his comments: “I’m wondering whether Julian expects us to wear a tattoo identifying ourselves as Indigenous. Or that our clothes should be adorned with some kind of badge identifying us as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.”
Why has Tan not publicly condemned these racially charged and vilifying comments? And why is it only when Peter Dutton points out the racially divisive nature of this referendum – and the fact it seeks to enshrine racial division in our nation – does our Race Discrimination Commissioner suddenly show concern?
Whether we like it or not, racial discrimination (negative or positive) is still discrimination and enshrining it into our Constitution is enshrining discrimination. Truth telling means providing detail, yet no such detail has been provided. Telling the truth is uncomfortable but weaponising the accusation of racism to stifle debate while ignoring real racism is undemocratic.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is a CLP senator for the Northern Territory.
This article first appeared in The Weekend Australian, June 3, 2023.
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