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Racism, the ‘No’ campaign and the Americanisation of Australian politics

There may be some Coalition politicians and Murdoch employees who are motivated by genuine racism to oppose the Voice to Parliament. Some might believe First Nations Australians are unworthy. Some probably believe in “reverse racism.” That, of course, is the belief that there is a correct direction for racism to travel.

Some undoubtedly believe in a myopic fashion that there is no inherent disadvantage to being indigenous in settler-colonial nations. There is endless research to establish how historical decisions and policy entrench disadvantage and foster social ills; it is not, as some Coalition politicians might argue, the result of a “bad” nature.

For many more Coalition politicians, however, one presumes the decision to oppose the Voice is strategic. They don’t care who is hurt in the process, just as they didn’t care about the escalated persecution that accompanied the plebiscite on marriage equality.

The Coalition and media friends are using the Voice (just as they used refugees) as an implicitly racist tool to galvanise their own vote, but more importantly to divide the electorate. It is part of our conscious echoing of the CRT argument that is burning through America, fighting acknowledgement of systemic disadvantage in that country.

CRT is “critical race theory.” This is a university law school discipline that examines the elements of the racist past that continue in current institutional structures. A Right-wing agitator, Christopher Rufo, stole this term for school studies to allow “conservative” parents to fight any attempt to teach a less bowdlerised view of history and society.

As is standard practice, Sky Australia, The Spectator and other radicalising organs borrowed the American CRT gambit for use in Australia. It can be deeply uncomfortable for Australians brought up on comforting patriotic myths to have their offspring bring home age-appropriate stories of the Killing Times and Blackbirding (sugar slavery). It is shocking to read the ghastly story of cold-blooded massacres of our First Nations people: it is estimated that we killed in various ways around 90% of the Aboriginal people here when colonisation began. It is chilling to envision Australians dropping kidnapped and enslaved Pacific Islanders in the ocean rather than bothering to return them home. Their unmarked graves are strewn across our sugar plantations, with 30% killed by the brutal conditions.

Forgetting can be even more crucial than remembering in the forging of a patriotic narrative.

Deploying race divisions has been crucial to American politics. White southerners were reconciled to the appalling conditions they were granted by the plantation-owning class by the certainty that the worst of them was better than the best Black man. The workers have been divided and disempowered by the resentment fostered between White and “Coloured” workers.

Such was the disgust for Black people that when legal changes forced the desegregation of public swimming pools built during the public works era of the New Deal, communities shut them down for years. They denied themselves the use of these communal facilities rather than share them with Black townsfolk. This dynamic continues in Republican state logic. Most Republican states refused federal money to grant the poorest Whites medical cover because it would aid Black people too.

America’s winner-takes-all capitalism fosters a “myth of scarcity.” This in turn promotes a resentful, zero-sum psychology where another group’s progress is “our loss.”

Australia’s economic model was not one driven by this model of capitalism. Our labour shortages made for a strong class of worker who achieved notable rights. We were considered a labour model in the early decades of the 20th century to the distress of capitalists who planned fascist revolutions. Our neoliberalism saw a less toxic negotiation between capital, state and worker.

In 1975, however, Milton Friedman brought his American winner-takes-all neoliberalism to Australia. His acolytes, like Peter Costello, founded “think tanks” including the HR Nicholls Society to destroy the strength of the Australian worker. The IPA followed them, turning from promoting Australian neoliberalism – Economic Rationalism – to the ultra-free market neoliberalism that so excited America’s richest.

Our society now displays the damage caused by decades of cynical “trickle down” economics and the crippling of worker strength. Just as in America, our chasm between rich and poor is at historic levels. Wealth is now generational, with the American model and our copycat version having almost destroyed aspirational dreams.

While the Labor Party continues to govern more for the nation, it has still embraced the truisms of this debunked economic model. The Coalition, by contrast, governs for the richest. This is the reason that it also copies the Republicans’ culture war battles, aiming to win a majority and government with grievance rather than sound policy.

Dahlia Lithwick described America’s Republican voters thus recently: the “majority of White Americans continue to vote against interest for parties and ideologies that directly contribute to their economic decline.” This is the position for most Coalition voters in Australia. As in America, the strategists are activating racism to promote this grievance.

The Voice to Parliament is not, as they lie, a “third chamber” of parliament or any other such threat to equality. It is literally nothing more than an advisory body to try to ensure that the best policy is deployed to reverse the deep disadvantage faced by First Nations people. It is placed in the constitution to ensure that cynical governments in the future cannot abandon it. The design of the body itself will be built by parliamentary consultation with First Nation representatives.

Some who reject the Voice do so because they believe it to be a sop. The depiction of it as a threat to land ownership is a pathetic and dangerous slander: it is, however, a handy distraction from the prospect of a wealth tax that could raise $29 billion a year.

The idea that society is a zero-sum enterprise where anything gained by anyone else is stolen from you is a distortion of fact and a miserable basis for community. We must not let a wealthy, self-interested elite divide us with racist lies to ensure their own continued grasp on our common wealth.

This essay was first published in Pearls and Irritations.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    There is no first class democracy anywhere, for parliamentary systems are complex, controlled, distorted, set up. The setting up is so often a degree of neoliberal, consumer focussed, submissive and passive consenting idiocy, with tones of racism sexism, ethnocentrism, even xenophobia, and a dead brained dogpaddle daily for many. Controllers, owners, enforcers, initiators, managers, executives run things and easily recruit ambitious careerist professionals in law, accounting, finance and media to support a me me me position of greedy stability. Politicians, governments, laws, can be bought, rented, shaped, enforced or denied to suit. Old W Gladstone (a “father” of modern proper liberalism) hated the upper ten thousand, as a group of selfcentred, greedy and ambitious types who would maggot society and cripple progress when needs were to be addressed. The Friedman/Volcker/Reagan times set up much of the apparatus of this, and most folk have gone backwards all the while yelling at someone else, blaming, shouting, hating and…losing. Wage earners, tradesfolk, small business owners, small scale farmers, etc. do not own media corporations, go into space, possess huge yachts and private jets and racehorses and football teams…some however do become homeless, sick, mad, exploited, recruited, abused or killed…meanwhile deforestation, erosion, degradation goes on. Population swells. Climate threatens. We scribble and are nowhere. Big media lies on, carrying advertising sweet lies, with allied support from advertisers. We mine on, drive on, holiday on, consume on, and mutter “dear me, what can we do?”

  2. New Bruce

    A ‘Threat to Equality” is the power company in the Latrobe Valley digging up brown coal and putting it staight onto a conver which leads straight into the furnace, and then blames the increase in electricity cost to ME on the war in Ukraine for raising the cost of black thermal coal. Yeah….. kiss my arse.
    Having an Indigenous committee that is representational to Parliament set up in the Constitution is no threat. Not to me,not to you. Not to anyone. Especially when said body has no real authority, and can ONLY advise.
    Please, Australia. Show some vision. And hope.
    Vote YES.

  3. Steve Davis

    Lucy, a great article, and thanks for the links to more info. I’ve got days of reading ahead of me.

    I was particularly interested in the link to the myth of scarcity — very informative.

    Unfortunately the managerial class overcame the myth aspect by making economics the study of scarcity. Which means that economics students now study a myth.

    Is it any wonder the world economy is in a mess?

    A realistic and productive view of economics would be, that it is the study of the maximisation of the benefits of cooperative behaviour and of the structures that facilitate such behaviour.

  4. terence mills

    The extent to which the Aboriginal community are listening to so called Aboriginal leaders will inevitably determine which way this thing goes – is that stating the bleeeding obvious ?

    If you accept that Warren Mundine, senator Lidia Thorpe and senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, are leaders in the Aboriginal community and that for various reasons they are stridently opposing the Voice and that the media are hanging on their every word then I suppose you have to accept that the Voice referendum will go down.
    My perception is that the broader community (call them the settler community if we must) are in favour of a ‘fair go’ and would either be ambivalent or would probably vote yes because that is the right thing to do. The problem seems to be that there are no strong Aboriginal voices standing up in favour of the Voice to the extent that the No campaign have mustered their opposition : although I notice that Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Jonathon Thurston have given it the nod but they don’t seen to want to get into the political banter which is understandable.

    It would be an enormous shame if this thing failed and would paint a perception of us internationally as a racist country – which we are not in my view. But the irony is that any failure to pass the referendum would be due largely to people who claim to speak for the Aboriginal community but who perhaps don’t.

  5. Lucy Hamilton

    Terence, this from CJMurrumbeena on Twitter:

    Remember when radical queers said the proposed marriage equality wasn’t enough?

    How is the argument “Voice isn’t enough” any different?

    Who said marriage equality was the limit of change?
    Who says the Voice is the limit of change?

  6. Terence Mills

    Thanks Lucy

    The Voice is just the necessary conduit for other issues first nations people may wish to advise the government about, including treaty.

    The marriage equality plebiscite was a tortuous process to remedy the homophobia introduced into the federal Marriage Act by the Howard government in 2004 – which sadly, Labor supported – which could have been easily legislated.

  7. Andrew Smith

    Good one, I guess that the IPA became more radical with imported US ‘neoliberalism’ also involved the now global Koch ‘Atlas Network’ and the media/PR techniques used by the GOP which includes and requires constant media based PR stunts e.g. how they deal with ‘The Voice’.

    In the US, academia have now joined independent media in analysis of these dynamics by fossil fueled radical right ‘libertarian’ socio-economic ideology, with dollops of dour &/or evangelical Christianity (Calvin?), but also complemented by nativism of dog whistling race, identity, LGBT, ‘woke’, CRT etc. to keep ageing &/or reactionary white voters awake.

    By coincidence (not?) the massive (Koch’s) oligarch Donor Network has been shared with nativist Tanton Network; exemplified in noughties on carbon pricing being deflected by dog whistling inspired by the ’70s fossil fueled ZPG i.e. immigration and population growth as ‘environmental’ issue of our time, not carbon emissions?

    This sharing of common oligarch donors has been presented graphically by US KPBS journalist Brooke Binkowski (22 Aug ’22) in ‘Eugenics, Border Wars & Population Control: The Tanton Network’

    One’s descriptor for these complex dynamics and relationships is simply ‘corrupt nativist Christian authoritarianism’ for the <1%, which also seems about intimidating many voters on the right i.e. follow orders or else….incs MPs and Ministers; there will be plenty of other issues to ‘interrogate’ in future.

  8. New England Cocky

    Excellent Lucy!! Agreed PP.

  9. Lucy Hamilton

    I’ve used Andrew’s link straight into the next piece. I hope it will be up soon.
    Many thanks.

  10. Clakka

    Excellent article, thanks Lucy.

    Lazily, I’ll resort to part of my response to John Lord’s article on deistic violence.

    “……. since the advent of civilisation, the egos of many leaders became pathologised. That their pursuit of betterment for their mob turned to a paranoid obsession. Even so far as creating ‘external’ rivals, real or imagined, ‘you’re either with us or against us’, so as to reinforce their grip on power. And as an extension to that, subjugation of the mob, via reward and punishment, varying to brutality and extermination. Few, if any civilisations under such m.o. survived.

    Nevertheless, the pathology persists as an irresistible corruption of power, both sectarian and secular. Societies developed their own brand of sophistry creating the levers for those inclined to the pursuit of power, and an inculcated cause and effect belief system participated in by the greater mob. And over time, in the name of God, or not, goodies and baddies have become indistinguishable; ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ Giving rise to a prevalence of ‘absolutism’ at odds with the self-governing complexities of nature seeking an equilibrium.And so it goes on, waning and fluxing dependent upon the gains and losses of individuals, families, communities and countries, attributable not only to human and environmental capacities, but largely by the decisions of those affected by or wielding power and its pathologies. In modernity, it could be seen that First Nations folk are better attuned to human and environmental capacities, and not power. However the creep of those pathologies, embedded in folklore, stories, religion, academia and the writs and behaviour of parliaments, is pervasive and insidious.

    And in the main, in a continuum of damage, few are encouraged or taught to continually look into their heart and their own resources of peaceful, joyous interdependence, but rather to knuckle down and accept and thrive or fight within the status quo of might and power come what may. The grip of such knuckling down may be fine as good times roll, but in times of stress and desperation, rather than constructive, peaceful, joyous interdependence, the taught response is to power and its pathologies and an inevitable magnifying conflict and destruction.”

    As the knucklers continue to armour their souls and stupefy themselves, it’s well beyond time that we heeded the ethos, the spirit, the connection to country and m.o. of our First Nations folk. With their continuum of 65,000 years of successful cohabitation, we may just learn something from them that puts paid to our few thousand years of failed civilisations, greed, war and destruction via the pathologies and inculcations of obsessive power and might.

    What better way to do it than via the Voice?


  11. A Commentator

    There is a significant risk that the voice referendum will not succeed. This would be an irretrievable set back for reconciliation.
    The proposed change is responsible, decent, fair and mainstream.
    Proponents should wait until after the vote to seek retribution and insult the opponents. While it might sate anger to lash out at those that oppose, I think it is important to maintain the high ground.
    Waivers won’t be persuaded by cries of racism, they will be persuaded by calm reasonable mainstream rationality.
    The mantra must be- it is fair and responsible, there is no downside to a commitment to consultation. Indigenous people deserve this respect from us, as a bare minimum

  12. Michael Taylor

    AC, I’ve always respected your support for our First Nations people, in words and in deeds.

    You are a true warrior for the cause.

    We may need to get together and draw up plans for an Aboriginal Workers Union.

  13. Michael Taylor

    For those that don’t know, AC is very active behind the scenes in the protection of Aboriginal heritage and culture.

  14. A Commentator

    Thank you Michael. Its very kind of you to recall some of our past exchanges!
    It would be a genuine and historical tragedy if the referendum was unsuccessful.
    The proponents in campaign should follow Michelle Obama’s advice – “when they go low, we go high”

  15. Michael Taylor

    How could I forget. 😁

    Similar to Mrs Obama, was one Mark Latham (before he went rogue) during the 2004 federal election campaign. After a hard day’s campaigning, while sitting around having a few drinks with some of the Shadow Ministers on the same trail and a few AFP guys, one Senator (I can’t remember who, just that he was a heavyweight power broker) said to Latham, “Why don’t you play dirty like Howard.”

    Latham replied, in these exact works, “I’m not going to stoop to that c***’s standards.”

    He since has.

  16. Clakka

    Thanks Michael, and best regards to AC.

    Michael, Latham is indeed a classic example of the pathology of might and power. It emerged as he sniffed the power, and has since revealed himself as being expedient only to his own aggrandisement, regardless of the cost to others. Much more than ‘rogue’ and reckless, it seems his early manifestos may have simply been convenient theoretical rungs for his own ascendancy, and that beneath lay the deep-seated and fundamental drivers of intolerance, hostility and vengeance to all who doubted him or did not ascribe to his thinking.

    Not a politician’s little toe. And sadly, this corruption of the political process, and self-serving ‘absolutism’ appears to have taken hold of the weak and ‘for-sale’ members of our political class – those who have disregard for their constituents,

    Politicians already have parliamentary privilege, and so be it to facilitate their jousting in pursuit of compromise, and they can answer to the parliament for their misrepresentations – let it be.

    However, with media often in cahoots, it goes to show how careful and diligent voters have to be. To establish guardrails against such duping, it is way beyond time that laws were established for truth in political promulgations and instant revelations and limits on political donations – even if campaigns have to be funded via the public purse.

  17. Barry

    AC, any failure of the referendum could be temporary. Back in 1984 PM Bob Hawke toured Central Aust to meet with Aboriginal leaders, saying that he would create a treaty by 1990. Now 33 years on and Labor has done nothing and now denies that a Treaty is anything to do with the Voice referendum.
    Labor is disingenuous, just like the LNP.
    Aboriginals should focus on Labor’s 1984 stated intention to have a Treaty. Go for Treaty first. Part of the terms of condition of a Treaty could be that an Aboriginal representative group have access to the govt of the day as indicated by the Voice. Any Treaty proposed by Aboriginals could either – include some basic human rights like freedom of speech as a condition, or, Aboriginals could demand a Bill of Rights as a separate issue. A Bill of Rights would likely have overwhelming public support.
    Treaty 2024, setting very big idea-cats amongst the duplicitous little political-pigeons since 2023, cheers.

  18. A Commentator

    Mark Latham! What an embarrassment!
    I was recently recalling the unstinting decency of the man he replaced, Simon Crean.
    While Crean left a legacy of goodwill, Latham will be remembered as a loudmouth with a screw loose.
    I think every opportunity should be taken to advance engagement with Aboriginal people and issues and rectify no their dispossession.
    A voice does that.
    There is no downside.
    A yes vote doesn’t preclude a treaty, it is a step forward.

  19. Phil Pryor

    I had time to comment on post Friedman evils recently, but others have talked of the Voice, Latham, etc. I support a voice and always have, as other nations of similar post-imperial histories have done so and we are slow and dull here. An advisory body, one, visible, pointed, relevant, would (perhaps) stop the leaching out of funds and ideas. But, the dills and nasties imaging that backyards would lost, wealth from scraping, gouging, hacking and damaging the very body of Australia might see opportunities for fortunes go. Not from toil, but wealth from selling off irreplaceable actual parts of the nation, and to foreign corporate profiteers and cynical careless exploiters. Would they “carefully” mine the environs and precincts of the Vatican, Ile de France, Manhattan, Sancta Sophia, the Parthenon? But there are those disrespectful types, egofixated who want “Greedom” and “Gliberty”. The voice, Aukus, homelessness, underfunding of essentials, media maggotty muck, financial consultant fraudery, profiteering deliberately, what’s not to like if you can organise a supremacist, righteous position? The voice concept seemed doomed to declne and falure, given our referendum requirements and track record. We will fail to succeed yet again. The real effort is beyond us.

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