In a recent edition of The Drum on the ABC, host Ellen Fanning addressed the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody and, to assist her in seeking out the truth, had four members of the wokerati including Dr Chelsea Watego on the panel. Chelsea describes herself as a ‘Munanjahli and South Sea Island woman’ and is an academic at the University of Queensland who doesn’t have a lot of time for mainstream media. She claims, ‘The problem for Blackfullas (sic) is that news and current affairs… is an apparatus of colonial control that makes the brutality of colonisation seem perfectly rational and acceptable.’ This is one of Chelsea’s more measured comments and so some might find it strange that she chose to appear on an apparatus of colonial control masquerading as an ABC discussion panel.
Nevertheless, it was no surprise when Ellen asked Chelsea what she thought of the recent spate of black deaths in custody that she had some very unkind things to say about the brutality of the police and prison authorities. And she was not alone. The other three panel members were all in furious agreement about the appalling treatment the first nations people received at the hands of the authorities and, for fifteen minutes, Ms Fanning and her quartet of malcontents painted a picture of the Australian justice system which made the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs seem altruistic.
The issue was probably raised because it is the thirtieth anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The following day, Anthony Dillon published an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on the very same topic. The sub-heading to Mr Dillon’s account was ‘Contrary to popular belief, an Aboriginal person in custody is less likely to die than a non-Aboriginal’. In support of this he quoted a criminologist who for three years headed criminology research group of the royal commission who said, ‘In the early days of the Royal Commission, when (we) were able to prove unequivocally that Aboriginal people were slightly less likely to die in prison or police custody than non-Aboriginal people, we were met with derision and disbelief’. In contrast to the uncontrolled rant by Ms Fanning and co., Dr Dillon’s account of the complex problems of Aboriginal incarceration and death rates was a sober analysis. Ms Fanning is a senior ABC journalist and Dr Watego associate professor in the Social Science department of Queensland’s most prestigious university. It is difficult to understand why they were content to repeatedly spout tendentious rubbish based on a false analysis of the actual situation. Either they were unaware of the true rate of indigenous deaths in custody, which is hard to believe, or they deliberately chose to ignore well-established facts.
One of the many problems with the wokerati is that they believe they are helping the people whose causes they adopt. Whether it is refugees, Muslims or Aborigines, the ABC journos, and most commetators on The Drum, are utterly out of touch with mainstream Australia. How many people outside of the ABC really believe that issues such as the over-representation of Aborigines in prison, or the fact that indigenous women are 40 times more likely to become victims of domestic violence than non-indigenous women, or that the only way to control drunkenness and fighting in remote Aboriginal communities is to ban alcohol altogether, or that the incidence of indigenous adolescent criminality, are solely due to colonial dispossession or the tendency of the police to victimise the first Australians?
In presenting such a one-sided account of what is undeniably a problem, Ms Fanning and her colleagues at your ABC are doing more harm than good. It is well known in Canberra that there are no votes in Aboriginal affairs as any substantial new initiative to help solve the many problems of indigenous communities is invariably attacked by the indigenous branch of the wokerati as either insufficient or tokenistic.
Grandiose programs such as the Uluru ‘statement from the heart’ and slogans about ‘Voice treaty truth’ won’t mean anything to the vast majority of Australians who have their own problems. The reason why no one is prepared to hold a referendum to amend the constitution to appease the indigenous lobby is because everyone knows it will be rejected by the majority of Australians.
Since the end of the White Australia policy, over three million migrants have arrived from Asia and the Middle East. Many of them had professional qualifications and experience as engineers, doctors etc. and were unable to have those qualifications or their overseas experience recognised here. Instead they took any work they could get to pay for the university education of their kids and are aware of the social welfare benefits such as free tertiary education awarded to the first Australians. Many migrants who arrived in the last half century, such as the Vietnamese, Lebanese Christians, Chinese Uyghurs or Sri Lankan Tamils, have more than a theoretical understanding of injustice and ethnic and racial prejudice. When people like Dr Watego tell those migrants what terrible hardships are faced by the first Australians, they aren’t convinced.
According to most indigenous activists and their ABC fellow-travellers, all the problems of the first nations people are due to government failures and police brutality. The consequences of the constant repetition of such facile propaganda are twofold. Firstly the majority of Australians lose any interest or sympathy for the undeniably appalling state of affairs in many first nations communities. Secondly by constantly claiming that problems are due to racism and white prejudice, the communities which need help are discouraged from looking at their own contribution to community violence, drug abuse, and other forms of criminality. If it’s always somebody else’s fault then somebody else should fix it.
Dr Dillon’s article concluded by quoting the Royal Commission report: ‘There is no other way. Only the Aboriginal people can, in the final analysis assure their own future… That does not mean that Aboriginal people must go it alone…. Let’s work together.Honest reporting on deaths in custody would be a good start’. Perhaps the ABC could ask Ms Fanning to explain why she presented such a tendentious account of the Aboriginal deaths in custody issue. Don’t hold your breath.
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