by Celeste Liddle
If there was one thing we needed more of in the discussion on Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous people, it was the centring of the voices of wealthy, conservative white men. The entire discussion on CR has been missing the voices of conservative white men and what they think on a topic which is going to have very little impact on their lives. And no conservative white male voice has been sidelined more on this topic than that of Andrew Bolt. What with his regular News Limited column, his blog, his TV show and his radio appearances, poor Andrew has been struggling for space to elucidate why he thinks Indigenous recognition would be racist. Therefore, I think it’s wonderful that the ABC have sought to rectify this travesty, and have engaged Bolt on their documentary series I Can Change Your Mind About Recognition and give him the platform he’s truly been lacking.
Sarcasm is pretty much the only way I can react to this news.
When I say I think it’s “wonderful” that the ABC have engaged Bolt, I of course mean that it’s despicable, ignorant and actually quite offensive. It is clear through their choice of Bolt that not only are the ABC not even remotely interested in educating the public on the diversity of Indigenous opinion on Constitutional Recognition, but they have sought to boost their ratings by drawing on the controversy Bolt’s appointment creates.
Andrew Bolt, of course, brings with him the distinction of having been found to have contravened the Racial Discrimination Act through columns he wrote on a number of prominent Aboriginal people. His columns not only accused these people of claiming what he deemed to be a small part of their ethnicity in order to financially profit, but they also contained fabrication and misinformation. Not only were these articles found to contravene 18c, they were found not allowable under section 18D, therefore it could not be argued that this information (or misinformation) was in the public’s interest. Since then, Bolt has continually claimed victimhood and has made a habit of writing on his blog that he cannot write on certain matters around Indigenous affairs due to the censorship of the RDA. That he has been denied his free speech is apparently more important than his vilification of Aboriginal people.
On Constitutional Recognition, he has written plenty. His major arguments opposing specific recognition of Indigenous peoples are that he believes singling out a particular racial group in the Constitution would divide rather than unite us as a country of “all Australians”. Never mind that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people predate the concept of “Australia” by several millennia. Never mind that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take the phrase “we’re all Australian” to mean that we must tacitly accept the terms of this country as determined by the coloniser population and assimilate quietly and gladly. To say I’m not particularly interested in his version of Australia and what he thinks about Constitutional Recognition would be an understatement.
I’m also not particularly interested in the views of Cory Bernardi, Gary Johns, David Leyonhjelm, or the many other privileged white men whose views opposing Constitutional Recognition have continually been sold as THE opposing views. These are the very people who a referendum on CR is going to affect the least and therefore they are undeserving of further platforming while there is an unacknowledged wealth of critique and argument from the Indigenous community on this topic. The ABC, through casting Bolt as the opposing voice and NSW politician and Wiradjuri woman Linda Burnley as the supporting voice, has again played into the trope that Constitutional Recognition is a black versus white issue, with black people completely supporting it and white people being the ones who need convincing. I personally have, like many other Aboriginal writers, expressed several times that this understanding is far from being the truth of the matter. We have entire sections of our community opposed; from the Aboriginal nationalist movements, to the pro-treaty activists and finally to Aboriginal conservatives who believe it is unnecessary.
Additionally, it seemed for a little while that these opposing community views had finally gained a small amount of traction in the mainstream following the release of the IndigenousX survey results. We started to see more coverage of prominent Indigenous voices questioning whether Constitutional Recognition was the right way forward. So why then didn’t the ABC engage prominent Aboriginal educator Chris Sarra who stated only a couple of weeks ago that Constitutional Recognition will not deliver the substance of a treaty? Why didn’t the ABC heed the calls of Law professor Megan Davis that there was still “ambivalence towards the idea in the Aboriginal community” and explore this further in a documentary? Why didn’t the ABC consider getting a sovereignty activist such as Jenny Munro on the show, who was a key figure in the Redfern Tent Embassy struggle? Was it simply “too hard” for the ABC to explore a topic centred on the recognition of Indigenous people from Indigenous perspectives across the political spectrum? Is this why they’ve taken the easy “black versus white” way out?
Finally, it has to be asked why the ABC feels it needs to convince people of the merits of Recognition via a documentary in the first place. What exactly, considering the referendum questions are yet to be decided, are they going to be convincing Bolt and those who agree with him of? Will they merely be convincing people of the undetermined concept of Constitutional Recognition? Are the details of this recognition so unimportant to the broader Australian electorate that an entire show can be created about a non-existent question? I can therefore only conclude that rather than seeking to educate anyone on this topic at all, the ABC is merely making this show to promote the existing policy platforms of their funding source – the Australian Government. With the government-funded Recognise campaign and now the government-funded documentary series, what chance do Indigenous people with opposing views actually have to be heard?
This show is insulting, not just to Indigenous people and the wealth of intellect and opinion we have across the country on our own matters, but to the Australian electorate whom the ABC clearly feels are unable to be challenged by hearing diverse Indigenous voices on Indigenous-centred topics. The inclusion of a controversial voice such as Bolt’s makes it only too clear that what they are hoping to achieve is a ratings’ success rather than an educative experience for the audience. My only hope is that through viewing it, the average Australian realises how futile it is to listen continually to the views of those whose lives will be barely affected; positively or negatively; by Constitutional reform and instead choose to seek out diverse Indigenous opinion as an antidote. It’s a nice thought, but I don’t hold much hope.