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MISSPEAKING? March 16, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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According to ABC News Online, Tony Abbott has pledged a new commitment to what the headline describes as Indigenous Australians. Political leaders in an long election campaign may of course peak too early.

Let me assume that Tony Abbott has a genuine commitment to Aboriginal Australian well being and flourishing. Unreflective cynicism is corrupting of the democratic process such as for instance is the childish front pages of the Daily Telegraph, which appear to operate as pamphlets of propaganda, rather than journals of record and accountability. One has to assume that this mode of operation works well enough, and their proponents know what they are doing. This is just one element of the degradation of the second-order aspect of democracy, representative government. The role of television and such techniques as focus group opinion delineation and fragmentation has to be added to give the full effect of the mix. They have significantly contributed to the collapse of first-order democracy, although they may not be the primary cause.

Tony Abbott may well hold the position he is espousing, but his phrasing, at least as reported, appears to be somewhat clumsy, if not revealing. The report has him saying:

“It began to dawn on me that Australians should be just as committed to Aboriginal people as they are to us.”

Perhaps he meant, but did not say, or said but was not reported, “other Australians”.

The ABC further reports:

The Opposition Leader said he was aware the Coalition’s track record on Indigenous affairs would cause for suspicion for some, and distanced himself from John Howard, who he served as health minister in the last Coalition government.

“I think it was a pity that as a government we got hung up on that word, ‘sorry’,” he told the audience.

“John (Howard) was of a generation… where perhaps Indigenous people were not valued as in different circumstances and different times.”

Mr Abbott has received some unlikely support from Indigenous leader and former ATSIC deputy chairman Ray Robinson.

“The Gillard Government, especially Jenny Macklin, have done a very poor job,” he said.

“They have taken the Aboriginal vote for granted. I say to the Aboriginal people out there now, let’s get together and let’s vote the Liberal-National party in and let’s get a new direction.”

Tony has a way the language, and perhaps it beyond the grasp of we lesser mortals. It sounds like me telling a story, but not telling it in full, so as to be politic, and being caught out. Does he mean that John Howard was a racist? The truth requires plain speaking. “The broad church” has its political realities, and the more you attract and harbour fringe thinking through the wedging process, the more careful you have to be in expression to the point where is wisest to say nothing, although pretending to say something. As Shakespeare might have observed,  “to be or not to be. . . hoisted by your own petard”.

There are faults with both parties, and perhaps Ray Robinson is right to suggest that people should vote strategically to get better outcomes, but then again at this point Tony cannot, or will not, provide policy specifics.

Traditional and indigenous Australians, I suspect, have long memories. Their invisible presence in those places that many of us live tell the tale of dispossession and cultural genocide, along with introduced diseases. On one telling it is the inevitable development of what happens when an “advanced European society contacts a diverse set of hunter gather peoples.

“Sorry” and Constitutional recognition, particularly the latter is more symbolic  than substantive, which is not to say in political and social terms it is not worthwhile as representing a sea change in attitudes towards the past and the future (if we are allowed to have one).

Seeing the Constitution again, and recognizing parts of it is a realization that despite its distinguishing feature of referenda, in its language and form it very much a product of British Imperialism. Proposing amendment to the Constitution since the failure of the Republic campaign, has been consigned to the politically unrealistic category.

Postscript:

There is an election on the horizon, I should at least try to keep up, while avoiding tendentious commentary.

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