Leading article Australia

Two worlds colliding

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

The imagery was faintly disturbing. A powerful whitefella sits in the middle of a group of Aboriginal elders, themselves surrounded by an intrigued tribe of locals, many with painted faces, attempting to discuss a variety of complex and alien issues, not always in the same tongue. The lone white man at the centre of the ceremony could be a strict colonial governor in the midst of a throng of natives in a 19th century oil painting.

Such was the first impression of Tony Jones and his Q&A show at the recent Garma Festival in Arnhem Land. Smoke billowed behind a set built ‘under the stars’, whilst a quartet played didgeridoos. Mr. Jones began with a brief ‘welcome to country’.  It all looked faintly patronizing and self-indulgent.

Yet it was anything but. Indeed, the show surely stands as one of the finest pieces of television produced by our frequently-maligned national broadcaster in recent years. The visual and musical effects book-ending what was at times impassioned and revealing debate were as apt a metaphor as any for the twin pillars critical to all Aboriginal/mainstream engagement: symbolism and substance.

On the one hand, the symbolism of land rights, Mabo, ‘sorry’, recognition etc can only have true rmeaning if the economic prosperity of individual Aborigines occurs. On the other, indigenous Australians will only ever willingly embrace European-style economic opportunities and responsibilities if their own cultures don’t feel threatened by seismic, yet essential, progress.

The sticking points are clear. On rights: communal land needs to make way for individual property ownership in order to encourage the investment that leaders such as Noel Pearson and Djawa Yunupingu recognize is crucial. Inevitably, this will lead to the destruction of some traditional lands as they are consumed by mining or other development opportunities. From whence will grow proper schools, decent homes, aspirational jobs. Getting the balance right is something all communities, from the ancient hills of modern day Europe to the jungles of South America, are forced to contend with. It will be no different for those of Arnhem Land or Cape York.

On responsibilities: paternalistic welfare programs and interventionist policies (such as Andrew Forrest’s healthy welfare card) whilst self-evidently beneficial, need to be accompanied by some symbolic acts of recognition. Indeed, it is as much the negative symbolism of such welfarism (Nova Peris complained bitterly of “two queues”) as the reality that causes grief and distrust.

Ultimately, it is visionary indigenous leadership – capable of arguing, and reaching compromise – that will generate long-awaited progress. Senator Nova Peris, sadly, seemed to be singing straight from the whining Gillard/Wong/Plibersek songbook that has done so little for our national wellbeing. Pearson, Yunupingu, Ken Whyatt, Joe Morrison and Dhänggal Gurruwiwi on the other hand, proved that real leaders are capable of inspiring us all. In both worlds.


Voltaire’s vision

There is no doubt Mike Carlton’s infamous column and Glen le Lievre’s accompanying cartoon were grossly offensive, even anti-semitic. They portrayed Jews per se as happily engaging in the slaughter of Palestinians for entertainment, claimed the aim of Israeli policy was to kill Arabs, made light of the Holocaust and evoked a caricature from Nazi propaganda.

And yet… arguably, they did more good than harm. By so blatantly exposing such sick and deluded thinking, the controversy shocked many right-thinking people out of the complacency of believing there is nothing harmful in the ‘soft’ anti-semitism of the ‘progressive’ left, where Jew-hating is disguised as anti-Zionism.

This was, in fact, the theoretical point behind the need to reform 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Even though many of us were appalled by Carlton’s vile and offensive words and had serious doubts about le Lievre’s cartoon, we supported their right to be published. In expressing such views, the full nastiness and horror of these ideas can be seen for what they really are, and thereby rebutted accordingly in the public arena. The public’s opprobrium, which has seen Carlton lose his job, is punishment enough. A free, democratic society requires such ventilation and debate, not the censorship of the courts.

The decision by Tony Abbott to break his word on repealing 18C is a great disappointment to all those inspired by Voltaire’s vision. Yet the writing was on the wall from the moment Attorney-General George Brandis inadvertently or otherwise uttered his foolish ‘bigot’s have rights too’ comment.

Free speech has been put on hold.

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Show comments
  • Cardinal fang

    Oh please, Voltaire’s vision? Oh please. Look Andrew told lies. Do you understand that? Your lot keep banging on about poor Andrew . Andrew told lies. The judge sai that. If what he was saying true he would have beat the wrap. Read the judgement . You can read, can’t you? It has nothing to do with free speech, it’s called the truth. Do you have a problem with that? You lot really are sad. You write crap , you get caught out and scream, change the rules”
    The whole sorry saga failed because of the real team Australia. The people who said it is wrong to insult, ridicule, vilify people because of their heritage. This has nothing to do with free speech. Are your lot of the belief that to be insulting to people is some sort of inherent right? It seems that this is the concern of fat white males.
    Except of course for tim Wilson. Move over tim I want together my snout into the trough.
    Not only fat white men, but sad fat white men.

    • Sam Chafe

      disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to
      say it. Who wants to be called a fat, white male, even though it may be true?
      Who wants to be called a professional aborigine with scant aboriginal blood even
      though it may be true? Who wants to be called a Paddy, even though it may be
      true? Who wants any slur of any sort to be directed at them even though it may
      be true? That is the nature of our free society and free speech, that a man may
      engage in all sorts of insults without recourse to the courts by the offended.
      It is only in this area of racism that any discriminatory comment can bring down
      the full force of the law on the offender. Far better, as the editorial
      suggests, to allow the mores of society to be the judge on such minor matters,
      for ridicule to operate to bring the offender into line, to ostracise if
      necessary, and to reject assertion with counter argument in open