A few days ago, Andrew Bolt shared a rather strange idea:
“I AM an indigenous Australian, like millions of other people here, black or white. Take note, Tony Abbott. Think again, you new dividers, before we are on the path to apartheid with your change to our Constitution.
I was born here, I live here and I call no other country home. I am therefore indigenous to this land and have as much right as anyone to it.”
Of course, that caused a bit of a controversy. And, I am aware that Bolt thrives on controversy and does so deliberately – because let’s face it when it comes to his place in the media, it’s really all he has. Yes, I’m sure that some of you will say that if you just ignore him, then he’ll go away. While I can see some merit in that argument, I also think that lies and misinformation need to be challenged. Otherwise, we end up with things like Jon Faine telling a talkback caller that the Liberals took the sale of Australia Post to the election as one of their policies. Does anyone remember that? The sale of Medibank Private was tucked away in their fine print, but I can find nothing nor can I remember anything about it.
And so to the word “indigenous”. People are arguing. Some are saying that “technically” he’s right. However, I can find no definition to support even a technical argument to enable someone to argue that he or she is indigenous, simply by virtue of being born in a place.
The Oxford Dictionary defines it:
originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native:
the indigenous peoples of Siberia
coriander is indigenous to southern Europe
If someone can find a definition that includes zoo animals which are born here, then I’ll be willing to concede that Bolt is as indigenous as a cane toad. (Or almost, cane toads have been here for several generations now).
But Bolt is not content with manglng the word indigenous in order to inflame and insult. He goes on to quote Tony Abbott, before twisting history:
“If we had known in 1901 what we know now, if our hearts had been as big then as now, we would have acknowledged indigenous people in the Constitution back then,’’ he said this week.
This is nonsense. The writers of our Constitution no more lacked heart than do people today. The difference is they were inspired by the creed that all citizens — those, at least, we admitted — are as one before the law.
True, they did not always live up to that ideal (although, contrary to popular myth, they granted Aborigines the vote in all states where they had the franchise).
But even if we don’t always follow our moral compass, the answer never is to break it. Changing the Constitution to divide Australians between the “first” and the rest — on the basis of the “race” of our ancestors — is not just immoral and an insult to our individuality.
There is much in this that’s highly questionable, but his assertion that “although, contrary to popular myth, they granted Aborigines the vote in all states where they had the franchise)” can’t be allowed to go unchallenged.
Section 41 of the Constitution ensured that people who already had the right to vote weren’t disenfranchised by the new Federal Parliament.
‘No adult person who has or acquires a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State, shall, while the right continues, be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either House of Parliament of the Commonwealth.’
Its main impetus was to protect the rights of women in South Australia who had already gained the vote. As a by-product it gave rights to a number of others, including “non-white” migrants who had arrived before the “White Australia” policy and Indigenous Australians if they already had voting rights.
While two states specifically excluded Aborigines from voting – Queensland and Western Australia, others did little to make them aware of their rights or to encourage them to enrol.
The initial interpretation of Section 41, by the first Solicitor General was that franchise rights only included those who were on the role at the time of Federation, meaning that no new Aboriginal voters could be enrolled. While this was challenged successfully in 1924 by an Indian man who’d been rejected as a Commonwealth voter in spite of being enrolled at State Level, the history of the voting rights of Aboriginal people is not as simple as Andrew Bolt implies with his throwaway line about “popular myth”. It wasn’t until the 1967 Referendum that the voting rights were ensured; to suggest otherwise, is to be mischievous.
But Bolt has always been one for contradictions. He suggests that he just wants us to be all one, but points out that both the judge and the prosecutor at his trial were Jewish. Not that he has a problem with that – it’s just that he thought that such people would understand the dangers of an oppressive government trying to shut down free speech. However, a media organisation should never use its free speech to “aid the enemy” by publishing allegations about who’s being spied on – even if it’s us – or which suggest that our navy has treated people roughly when turning their boats around. In the case of the ABC, the whole organisation should be shut down or sold off for daring to publish that which the public has no right to know. A celebrity’s hacked phone records, however, are no reason to launch an inquiry which may inhibit the media from doing its job.
However, the thing I find worrying is not the fact that Bolt has made a fool of himself with his inaccurate and inflammatory use of language. It’s that – for just a millisecond – he’s made Tony Abbott look good. Oh, I know that some of you will question Abbott’s motives about the constitutional addition, but that’s not the point. When Bolt starts criticising Abbott as being too trendy and left wing, it almost makes Abbott sound like he’s mainstream. (No, of course, not to you died in the wool Left wing socialist, latte-sippers who lap up sites like this 🙂 ). While we’re making effigies of Bolt to throw on the bonfire, we can be distracted from the fact that he’s not the one in government. In the end, Bolt is an irrelevant errand boy who’ll write what he’s told.
And yes, I am aware of the irony of spending an entire blog only to say that Bolt doesn’t matter. However, I make the simple defence that one can’t allow misinformation to spread, no matter who’s spreading it.
“Much has been accomplished when one man says ‘No’!” Bertold Brecht