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Business as usual: the opposers keep opposing

By Paul Smith

“Whitefellas know best” has failed as the way to “look after” Blackfellas. The Voice is the way Blackfellas propose to look after themselves. Most Whitefellas agree that that’s the way to go, but some won’t have a bar of it. They claim that the opposition of some Blackfellas to The Voice justifies preserving the status quo. At stake is ability of supporters of The Voice to achieve a morally sustainable Australian nationhood; and, for its opponents, the preservation of the colonial project – dare I say it … white privilege.

Let’s look at the arguments:


It won’t close the gap

The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament as a means of improving policy development and service delivery to overcome historic disadvantage – in other words, to close the gap.

The Nationals oppose The Voice because “it won’t close the gap”.

This is business as usual – the latest instance of Whitefellas asserting that they know what’s best for Blackfellas.

But what about Jacinta Yangapi Nampijinpa Price (JYNP) who opposes The Voice because “it won’t close the gap”? Shouldn’t she and those she speaks for be heard? Isn’t that what The Nationals are doing?

Non-indigenous Australians have to choose between contrary views within Indigenous Australia on The Voice.

So, yes, what about JYNP? Is she “a majority of one” or “the exception that proves the rule”?


Unduly influential, more right than her peers

Two phrases may be useful in considering the role of Jacinta Yangapi Nampijinpa Price in the debate on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament: “the exception that proves the rule” and “a majority of one”.

When a person is drastically out of step with everyone else yet insists that theirs is the correct position or point of view, they can be regarded as the exception that proves the rule. It’s sarcasm which uses illogical construction to mirror the perceived quality of the dissenter’s reasoning. Such a person may be regarded as ludicrous but harmless.

The phrase a majority of one has a similar but more sinister meaning, i.e. someone feeling entitled to assert, and, if possible, impose himself in ways that, though welcomed at first, become intrusive, and irritating to others until rejected as illegitimate. Such a person comes to be regarded not just as presumptuous but as unduly influential; requiring courage and endurance on the part of others to put one man of abundant gall in his place. Yet this phrase once had, and can still have, the exact opposite meaning.

Andrew Jackson is alleged to have said, “One man with courage makes a majority of one.” David Thoreau coined the phrase when he said, “Any man more right than his neighbours constitute a majority of one.”

So, there are two ways of being a majority of one: the way of egotism and the way of integrity.

The question is, how can we know what we are seeing when someone defies what we think we know to be true?


Courage? Or the desire to be noticed?

Those who might, without giving it a second thought, prefer the Nationals’ position on The Voice are likely to regard Price as “a majority of one” in the sense in which Jackson and Thoreau used the term.

Likewise, those who might, with unquestioned certainty, support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, are likely to agree with Noel Pearson who, though he didn’t use the phrase, “the exception that proves the rule,” explained Price’s opposition to The Voice as the result of being caught in a “tragic redneck celebrity vortex”.

Is Price fearless and courageous, more right than her peers; or is she indulging the desire to be noticed and punching down on other blacks to get her fix?


The stakes

Framing these starkly contrasting versions of Price together sharpens awareness of what’s at stake.

Price ceases to be just anyone with a dissenting voice and becomes a crusader at the head of an insurgency bent on “taking the country back” … from … what? Woke culture, of course; and supporters of The Voice, sensing the prospect of decades of progress, towards an agreement on whose country it is, voided by a failed referendum, feel the imperative of righteous cause burning not in their heads but in their guts.

So, what is at stake?

What’s at stake for The Nationals, and anyone they speak for, is the perpetuation of the Colonial Project; and for supporters of The Voice, a consolidation of the project of a morally sustainable Australian nationhood.

Both in their own way about “taking the country back”.


The Colonial Project and morally sustainable Australian nationhood

Historically, the Colonial Project was the dispossession of Indigenous people from their land; the murder of an estimated 50% of their number; confining the survivors in ghettos; erasing their languages and cultures; denying them agency in every aspect of their lives; stealing their wages; fomenting and maintaining an attitude of contempt towards them as people, and much, much more.

The Colonial Project is also all the material prosperity achieved at the expense of the people whose land was taken away (stolen) from them. All non-indigenous Australians participate in and benefit from the persisting Colonial Project.

The Constitution is the formal framework by which the Colonial Project operates as a Nation State.

The Constitution continued explicitly to exclude Indigenous Australians.

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is not about privileging them with something that no one else has access to.

It rectifies the exclusion of Indigenous Australians from the project of Australian nationhood.

The ongoing Colonial Project manifests as policy making at all levels of government and non-government enterprise that maintains and perpetuates the material conditions that originated in dispossession. Even when policy has purported to remedy those conditions it has always been on the basis of a non-Indigenous understanding of those conditions.

Effective policy cannot emerge from colonial assumptions about the situation. Redressing the effects of the Colonial Project in Australia requires a response from the lived experience of colonised Indigenous Australians. There is no other transit from the Colonial Project to a morally sustainable Australian nationhood.


Decolonisation!? Who … us!?

(1) Perpetuating established relationships, and (2) responding critically to a changing world, are the diverging priorities shaping our post-Second World-War political trajectory. The triggers for critiquing and reforming pre-war norms were twofold: our knowledge of and response to the Holocaust; and Decolonisation.

A quest for respectful and inclusive relationships emerged as a response to the Holocaust. Ideas and actions denigrated as Politically Correct or Woke are some of the fruits of post-Holocaust recalibration of the moral compass.

Decolonisation – self-determination – enabled the overwhelming majority of people in the world to seize back their own voice, and that in turn became the opportunity for us in the West to redefine who we are: no longer masters but partners.

But not in Australia.

All former colonies achieved independence after the Second World War, either by returning fire against the violence of colonial powers attempting to reinstate the status quo ante, or by the power of moral persuasion and diplomacy.

Self-determination became the self-evident moral right of people living in their own land.

In countries where the colonisers became, and will, therefore, always remain, the majority population, treaties were made between colonisers and indigenous people; and though repeatedly broken, treaties legally recognised the prior occupation of the land by, and ongoing presence of, Indigenous people.

Only in Australia is there still no treaty or other form of recognition.


Demanding and delivering recognition

Indigenous Australians have been asserting their right to recognition since 1934. In 1972 the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was hoisted as an umbrella and later erected as a tent in front of Parliament House, to demand land rights and to assert Sovereignty and the right to Self Determination… and remains the oldest continuing protest occupation site in the world.

The right to Constitutional Recognition was acknowledged by John Howard in 2007.

A decade of negotiation and consultation with Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, culminated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its call for Voice, Treaty and Truth. A further two years of co-design involving senior Indigenous leaders and representatives of the Australian Government, and ever ongoing public consultation, produced a comprehensive plan for the implementation of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

In 2022 Anthony Albanese committed to holding a referendum to enshrine The Voice in the Constitution.

The Referendum is this generation’s opportunity to end the colonial relationship between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians; and to begin decolonising all of our minds as we undertake a shared journey towards a morally sustainable Australian nationhood.


Ignominious excuses

235 years after the British penal colony was dumped at Warrane, later known as Sydney Cove, Australians are on the cusp of moving on from the Colonial Project but there is some resistance, ostensibly to the means of doing so, but in fact to doing so at all.

There can be no valid reason to maintain the Colonial Project.

The shameful hope of doing so is, therefore, disguised as red herrings and lies about the means:

there is no detail;

it would represent the interests of Redfern and not the diversity of Indigenous Australians;

it would be a third chamber;

it won’t close the gap.

There are 272 pages of detail in the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Final Report which was twice presented to the Federal Cabinet. “There is no detail” is a barefaced lie.

To withhold support for The Voice because “there is no detail” when there is a fully articulated design and rationale is disingenuous.

To oppose the Voice despite the “fact” that there is “no detail”, is absurdly inept at best or blatantly obstructive and even intentionally adversarial.

The report provides for thirty-five Local and Regional Voices to inform the National Voice. The imputed dominance of urban interests is a malicious wedge.

The function of The Voice is “… to make representations to the Parliament”. The wording makes it clear that it is not conceived as part of the Parliament.

“It would be a third chamber” is a deliberately shameless misrepresentation of the words and their intent.

The failure of “Whitefellas know best” is the whole point of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. The assertion that “it won’t close the gap” is a breathtaking assertion that “Whitefellas still know best”; and a blatant disregard for the principle that policy should reflect the interests and awareness of those about whom it is made.


Ideological intransigence or realistic relationship

Some high-profile Indigenous Australians oppose The Voice, the most prominent being CLP Senator Jacinta Yangapi Nampijinpa Price, former Liberal candidate Nyunggai Warren Mundine and Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe.

Such exercise of free choice is expected of non-indigenous Australians, but considered problematic if replicated by Indigenous Australians. For example, non-indigenous Australians who don’t support The Voice cite its lack of unanimous support among Indigenous Australians as a reason to continue with business as usual and oppose it.

Yet when the Federal National Party announced its opposition to The Voice, it exposed the lack of unanimity within its own ranks. It unveiled a fault line between ideological intransigence and recognition of the need for a realistic relationship with Indigenous Australians.

The push back from within its own party room and State Divisions of the party affirms Noel Pearson’s account of gaining the widespread support of National Party members for The Voice throughout Australia.

What, then, accounts for the federal party’s surprising move?

To return to my question about Price on the first page of this series of posts: Is she “a majority of one” or “the exception that proves the rule”?


How can we know?

I earlier said: There are two ways of being a majority of one: the way of integrity and the way of egotism.

The way of integrity as coined by David Thoreau:

“… any man more right than his neighbours constitutes a majority of one”;

and for Andrew Jackson: “One man with courage makes a majority of one.”

The way of egotism manifests in someone feeling entitled to assert, and, if possible, impose himself in ways that, though welcomed at first, become intrusive, irritating to others and illegitimate. Such a person comes to be regarded not just as presumptuous but as unduly influential; requiring courage and endurance on the part of others to put one man of abundant gall in his place.

Or woman.

As I asked earlier: How can we know what we are seeing when someone defies what we think we know to be true?

Is Price more right than the likes of Marcia Langton, Tom Calma, Megan Davis, Noel Pearson, Pat Anderson, Mick Gooda, Jackie Huggins, Lowitja O’Donoghue, June Oscar, Marion Scrymgour and Pat Turner, to name those who spring immediately to mind?

Is Price being courageous by channelling the Colonial Project in opposition to the orthodoxy of Indigenous Self Determination?

Or is she the cherry picked black with views that ‘legitimise’ the ideologues’ preferred position on matters Indigenous, who has outmanoeuvred any expectation on their part of being able to control her?

This article was originally published on Tuckerucci Fairytales.


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  1. pierre wilkinson

    Price voted for and admired the policy of Intervention and now wants us all to ignore the call for a Voice by the very people whom she claims to represent…. just another political attention seeker trying their best to be relevant and keep her people subjugated by insisting that the Voice doesn’t do enough, that there should be immediate recognition and a Treaty, knowing that the Voice can achieve these things as a first step but wanting to control the agenda for a while longer to curry favour for her true masters…
    she seemingly decries the paternalistic approach to Indigenous communities whilst wishing to institute draconian restrictions on those same communities

  2. wam

    The CLP, with a ‘white’ history has only one certain seat and they gave it to Jacinta Price.
    A black out whiting the whites. Is that not impressive?
    She is more right than those you list. Therefore right to 31% of the NT voters. Labor is left and was right to 32% of voters.

  3. Keitha Granville

    The referendum will tell the country whether Ms Price is right or not. I hope for the sake of all who don’t think she is that it ends in YES. Otherwise we as a country are TELLING Indigenous Australians that, once again, we know better.

    For that alone, please vote YES.

  4. Alan

    The stance represented by Jacinta Price has merit.
    What are the choices for Indigenous people in regard to greater representation and self-determination?
    1. add the ‘Voice’ to the parliament tent and move onto a Treaty within the confines of the Constitution, or,
    2. go straight to Treaty and then work out the rest later?
    Treaty first sounds more logical as it allows them to argue from a position of power.
    More than a few First Nation people have a deep mistrust in the politicians and for good reasons.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Having worked in ATSIC or Aboriginal affairs under both LNP and Labor, I can attest to one standout thing:

    The LNP have never given a shit about First Nations people. Never. I don’t believe they’re going to start now.

    To them, First Nations people are nothing more than a political football.

  6. Clakka

    Understanding the background of generational paternalistic dogma, revisionism and opportunism in the Price family may go a long way to providing answers to JYNP’s demeanour and public performance (or depending upon perspective, non-performance). For me, it need not have its roots in either integrity or egotism, just maintaining the familial tradition of dogged opportunism.

  7. wam

    Agree, Michael,
    I started with ‘bush’ Kormilda kids when they got to grade 9(1969) and all, but one, a Groote Eylandt woman, are long dead. I stayed with Kormilda till the 80s when they gave it to the churches who introduced non-Aborigines grade 8 to 12.
    They, despite $millions from the NT Government, buggered it and Haileybury Rendell picked up, two dorms, kitchens, clothing storage and repair unit, a clinic, ovals, pool a library and a school with the proverbial few shiny beads.
    Throughout those years I was involved at the golf club a clp stronghold. Largely due to the retired coppers this century but 50 years ago public servants, workers and were savage against Aboriginals and the clp were unchallenged till Clare Martin defeated a shocker of a clp team.

  8. Michael Taylor

    wam, it’s a small world.

    I worked with a bloke (an Aboriginal) in ATSI – and later in another department after Howard closed us down – who I got on famously with and we’d spend hours talking about how we could make life better for ATSI people.

    His name was Adam Giles.

    Yep, the same Adam Giles who later went on to be the NT Chief Minister for the CLP … who treated Aborigines like 5th rate citizens.

  9. Paul Smith

    PW: … insisting that the Voice doesn’t do enough …
    PS: Making the perfect the enemy of the good. Y’d hafta be green wooden’ya!?

    wam: She is more right than those you list.
    PS: Are the different meanings of the word “right” in play here?

    KG: The referendum will tell the country whether Ms Price is right or not.
    PS: I am very confident about the outcome… y’no… the arc of history…

    Alan: Treaty first sounds more logical as it allows them to argue from a position of power.
    PS: I have it on good authority that that option was considered.

    MT: The LNP have never given a shit about First Nations people.
    PS: They would like to be “smoothing the pillow”, but. Eh?

    Clakka: … it need not have its roots in either integrity or egotism, just maintaining the familial tradition of dogged opportunism.
    PS: Thank you for that interesting insight. You’ve given me something to think about.

    wam: Throughout those years I was involved at the golf club a clp stronghold.
    PS: You want to try being in an Ex Service organisation. Though to be fair, it is possible to get some former military people talking about the difference between how ATSI people are treated in and out of the military.

    MT: … we’d spend hours talking about how we could make life better for ATSI people.
    PS: Would I be right in thinking that nowadays the conversation has morphed into how to be better Whitefellas?

  10. Michael Taylor

    All we could do was smooth the dying pillow while they await their eventual demise.

    The colonists got that one wrong: whilst they had decided the extinction of the Aborigines was inevitable, nature had other plans.

  11. Marc Barham

    Hey Paul
    Great piece.
    I have just had a crash course in the Voice. Had no idea there was such an event taking place in another of the Empire’s colonial ex-open-air prisons.
    Just one question needs to be asked of the Voice.
    Question: Does it increase or decrease democratic representation in Australia?
    Answer: Yes it increases it.

    As for Jacinda Price. Trump would love her. She’s an interesting ‘Walpiri-Celtic’ woman who wants to ‘Make Australia Great Again’ by denying indigenous people a say (a Voice) in the running of their country.
    Malcolm X had a term for those indigenous people inside the Master’s house talking like the Master to those in the fields toiling and dying.
    And he was so right.

  12. Paul Smith

    Thanks for your kind words, Marc. Voldemort (Dutton) has given Price the front bench role of Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, which is a bit like Trump making Scott Pruitt the protector of the environment, or, in your country, Liz Truss putting Kwasi Kwarteng in charge of the Counting House. Price will probably ban shredded cheese to make Australia grate again.

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