‘When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.’
That’s one of my favourite quotes from Thomas Sowell, the great American writer and thinker. Sowell grew up in segregated North Carolina, and then lived in Harlem. His father died before he was born and his mother was unable to care for him, consequently, his brother and sisters had him adopted by his great-aunt. After Sowell dropped out of high school he was drafted into the US Marine Corps during the Korean War. After his discharge he studied at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago. He’s regarded as one of the most brilliant economists of his generation. Sowell has fought against ignorance and racism all his life and he’s done that on the basis that we are all individuals worthy of respect, regardless of our skin colour or background.
We are all entitled to the dignity of being treated as individuals who can make choices and have responsibilities. Unfortunately, this is not how the left see it. The left seek to divide us by pigeon-holing society into two classes, the oppressors and the oppressed. They have carefully manufactured gender stereotypes for men and women while, simultaneously, generating brand-new gender constructs. They have also developed racial stereotypes, enshrined within Critical Race Theory, to condemn the ‘white race’ as oppressors, and subjugate ‘people of colour’ as victims. If I were to follow leftist dogma and regard myself as nothing more than an oppressed Aboriginal woman, I would be wallowing in my victimhood and rationalising the notion that I am inferior to my oppressors. According to that dogma I have no agency in my life and no ability to make choices. This is dogma that we must reject, for many reasons, not the least because it is patronising and deeply dehumanising.
We are a lucky people living in a lucky nation. Our way of life, democracy, and freedoms are the envy of the world. We have welcomed millions of people to our shores and there are so many more people who would rather live in Australia than anywhere else. But we can never forget that nations just like individuals very much make their own luck. We are lucky Australia was settled by the British rather than colonialists from any other country. History cannot be undone, and the inevitable inquiring explorations of mankind have meant all corners of the earth have been settled. This landmass we call home was never going to be left untouched by anyone other than our First Peoples. The British brought with them the rule of law, concepts such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and what became our democracy. Too often when young Australians are taught history, these gifts are either ignored or taken for granted. Yes – like every nation our history features dark and shameful incidents—but that is not our whole history. We shouldn’t shy away from the fact that our history is made up of the good and the bad. There is much to celebrate from our efforts to strive to make better lives for all Australians.
Our nation’s schools’ sole responsibility should be to educate, not indoctrinate, but we have in recent times witnessed the overwhelming politicisation of our children. Children are now encouraged to skip school to be paraded as activist spearheads by adults who place the weight of the world on their shoulders. Meanwhile, children in remote communities, where school attendance rates are in some places as low as 19 per cent, do not have the privilege of gaining an education that the activist class take for granted. Everyone wants to be an activist—to push governments to solve their dilemmas—but no-one wants to be responsible for themselves.
Our aim should not be to blame our current democratic institutions for all our perceived failures but to encourage the individual responsibility of all Australians. We need to focus on nation building, not nation burning.
Cancel culture’s war on free thinking and free speech must be brought to an end. In order for future generations to benefit from common sense we must arm ourselves with the weapon of truth and stand unified with pride in our shared Australian values and national identity.
When we live in reality, when we call out and say ‘the Emperor has no clothes’, we can begin to solve some of our most challenging problems and we can begin to lift our marginalised out of the pit of their despair. It is time to reassert the values that all good and decent people have fought the hard, long battle to impose through law, the right to freedom of speech, and the overcoming of racism and sexism. All it takes is courage and good sense.
When cultures collide, as happened in Australia over two centuries ago, everyone is affected, for good and for ill. My mother was born under a tree and lived within an original Warlpiri structured environment through a kinship system on Aboriginal land. Her first language was Warlpiri, and her parents, my grandparents only came into contact with white settlers in their early adolescence in the 1940s. I’m proud my family are from the Northern Territory. In the Territory we call a spade a spade. We are realists and this is likely due to the direct connection to our environment. We have space to think, and the harsh reality of our country is that you need to be very aware of your surroundings and yourself; otherwise, you could perish rather quickly. We had the foundation of a sophisticated but brutal culture, where it was kill or be killed over resources such as water, women and later livestock — food for survival — or from doing the wrong thing like marrying the wrong way or sharing knowledge that’s not yours to share.
I can understand the widespread willingness to recognise Australia’s indigenous heritage. But most of that ‘recognition’ is virtue-signalling.
In Australia, we have experienced historically significant acts of symbolism that include the 1991 reconciliation walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge. For six hours, 250,000 Australians of all backgrounds walked together to demonstrate the fact that we are not racist but are overwhelmingly in support of Aboriginal Australia. We have spent a week every year since, commemorating this event and what it means. Throughout Australia, the reinvention of culture has brought us welcome to country or recognition of country, a standard ritual practice before events, meetings and social gatherings by governments, corporates, institutions, primary schools, kindergartens, high schools, universities, workplaces, music festivals, gallery openings, conferences, airline broadcasts and so on and so forth. I personally have had more than my fill of being symbolically recognised.
Australians of Indigenous heritage haven’t only been racially stereotyped – we’ve been politically stereotyped too. Because of my skin colour I’m supposed to vote Labor. It was an exchange with the former leader of the Labor Party Bill Hayden, who conveyed this very stereotype, that compelled Neville Bonner to confirm his membership within the Liberal Party of Australia. Bonner had been handing out how-to-vote cards for a Liberal friend when Hayden exclaimed, ‘What are you doing handing out those how-to-vote cards? We do more for you bloody Aborigines than those bastards do.’ ‘Well,’ Bonner thought, ‘How dare someone come up to me and presume that, because I’m black, I should support a particular party!’
It is the same attitude we hear with platitudes of motherhood statements from our now Prime Minister, who suggests, without any evidence whatsoever, that a ‘Voice to Parliament’ bestowed upon us through the virtuous act of symbolic gesture by this government is what is going to empower us. This government has yet to demonstrate how this proposed voice will deliver practical outcomes and unite, rather than drive a wedge further between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. And, no, Prime Minister, we don’t need another handout, as you have described the Uluru statement to be. No – we Indigenous Australians have not come to agreement on this statement, as you have also claimed. It would be far more dignifying if we were recognised and respected as individuals in our own right who are not simply defined by our racial heritage but by the content of our character.
For all the symbolism and the ‘recognition’ the left claims it provides to Indigenous Australians, the left continues to ignore Indigenous communities. The lifting of alcohol bans in dry communities, despite the warnings from elders will see the scourge of alcoholism and violence return to those communities. Coupled with this, we see the removal of the cashless debit card, which allowed countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group. I could not offer two more appalling examples of legislation pushed by left-wing elites guaranteed to worsen the lives of Indigenous people. Yet at the same time we spend days and weeks each year recognising Aboriginal Australia in many ways—in symbolic gestures that fail to push the needle one micro-millimetre toward improving the lives of the most marginalised in any genuine way.
The left are more interested in symbolism than outcomes. Symbolism is easy. Creating a symbol is a one-off act that doesn’t require diligence and persistence. Once it’s done it’s done, and you can move on to the next symbol of your virtue. Achieving outcomes is hard. There are no easy wins and achievement is measured not on the front page of a newspaper but over years and decades of hard work. Every Labor prime minister since Gough Whitlam has preferred the symbolism of their own ‘Whitlam moment’. When I see the photo of Whitlam towering over Vincent Lingiari, pouring sand into his hands, I think of what the sand symbolises.
It symbolises welfare dependency, unlimited access to all that is destructive in the modern world but no tools to manage it, our land back but without the ability to create economic independence, failure of access to private home and land ownership, copious amounts of virtue-signalling and the message that only the government can bestow power upon us Aboriginal folk.
There is no better example of how politicians of the left think than former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s statements about the voice. He describes suggestions the voice will produce a ‘three-chambered parliament’ with ‘activist judges overruling parliament and lawyers lining their pockets’ as ‘fanciful’. But he ignores the history of activist judges doing exactly what he said won’t happen. Rudd is happy to write articles about the symbolism of the voice, but he has never shown any interest or support for the concerns I have raised as an Aboriginal woman about the plight of our families, children and women around domestic and family violence. Perhaps that is Rudd’s true ‘Whitlam moment’. Whitlam stigmatised assimilation and promoted self-determination. In other words, instead of providing Aboriginal Australia with the tools to progress with a modern world, Aboriginal Australia was left to its own devices and separated from the rest of the country. Left to languish in spiritual connection to the land under control of land council CEOs, lawyers and anthropologists.
In 1988 at the Barunga Festival, Bob Hawke as prime minister said he hoped that within two years a treaty would be signed ‘between the Aboriginal people and the Government on behalf of all the people of Australia’. The promise was just more Labor symbolism and obviously it didn’t happen. Just like another one of Hawke’s promises ‘by 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty’. The Barunga Statement to which Hawke agreed included a call on the Commonwealth government to pass laws providing ‘a police and justice system which recognises our customary laws and frees us from discrimination and any activity with may threaten our identity or security’. Hawke said he hoped Aboriginals would have their law and tribal customs ‘apply to the maximum possible extent’.
As a Warlpiri woman who has lived connected to traditional culture and understands the real consequences of customary law, I am grateful no government has legislated to recognise customary law despite the Barunga Statement calling for such recognition. When customary law is not clearly defined it can be interpreted however any cunning opportunist may choose. We do however have example of written customary law, one has to look no further than Arnhem Land’s Ngarra Book of Law and read for themselves the violent punishments that deny human rights administered to those who break certain laws, including women being subject to torture and rape for breaking certain laws.
Paul Keating’s ‘Whitlam moment’ was his Redfern Speech in December 1992. A defining moment that in my opinion clearly established the now ingrained defeatist notion that non-Aboriginal Australians are responsible for our nation’s unjust historical record and that it has become the responsibility of non-Aboriginal Australia to forever repent for these sins.
The words that condemned us as a nation were: “And, as I say the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the Aboriginal lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases, the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.”
In these words, all our responsibility, all our agency was stripped from us; and we could blame non-Aboriginal Australia for all our disadvantage and failures as an entire race. This significant “us and them” moment laid the foundations for the resoundingly stagnant and crippling guilt politics we have continued to endure.
Julia Gillard’s ‘Whitlam moment’ was not as grandiose as Rudd’s apology or Keating’s Redfern Speech, but struck two virtuous birds with one stone. Gillard ousted a non-Aboriginal female senator, Trish Crossin, for no other reason than to parachute into federal parliament Labor’s first female Aboriginal senator, Nova Peris. Crossin – rightfully upset – stated: “This action has been taken without consultation or negotiation with the NT branch of the ALP or my input as the long-serving federal Labor senator for the Northern Territory.’’ Gillard’s justification for her parachute pick was that she was “very troubled’’ that federal Labor had never been able to count among its number an Indigenous Australian, arguing Peris’ selection was “a matter of national significance”. Peris lasted one term before ending it, as she stated, “on her terms”. The consequences of favouring positive discrimination and quotas over merit.
Understanding our history reminds us not to be blindly, emotively coerced into readily accepting the ambitions of leaders whose actions serve themselves before those they purport to oblige – and are looking for their own ‘Whitlam moment’. Beware the language used by those seeking to manipulate your support. The clever, crafted words we have heard for years that many a leader has weaved into their language we all know: self-determination, recognition, reconciliation, sorry and truth-telling – just to name a few.
More recently the emotional weaponisation of the word “heart” in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, The Voice and now the repeated use of the question “if not now, then when?” have all been crafted to appeal to our emotions. If we consider the position we are in now as a result of the past emotional blackmail we have been subject to, then it is pertinent we do not repeat history by doing nothing more than granting Albanese his ‘Whitlam moment’.
We have every right to question, seek clarity or outright disagree with a vague proposal that’s being sold as a completely new approach to resolving disadvantage. There is zero proof the voice proposition will be successful. ATSIC and the many replacement bureaucracies are testament to the likelihood of it failing; but enshrining it in the Constitution guarantees that if it should fail it can never be dismantled.
If there is anything history tells us, it is that loading bureaucracy upon bureaucracy tramples a person’s path toward self-determination. To enshrine a Voice to Parliament is to enshrine the notion that Aboriginal Australia will forever be marginalised and will forever need special measures pertaining to our race. A voice for some Australians but not others also permanently enshrines the notion that there are different categories of Australians. I have witnessed at many citizenship ceremonies the gratitude and love for our nation from our newest citizens. They made Australia their home, the place to raise their families and the land to make their dreams become reality. The way they feel about our great land is the same way I feel. We are rich with the contribution of Australians of many backgrounds, 30 per cent of whom were born overseas, and this is one of our greatest strengths as a nation. We cannot grow as a community and a nation if we welcome new Australians coming to our shores by saying ‘you’re different’ and according to the country’s constitution you’ll always be different because you don’t have a Voice to Parliament as do some other Australians.
If this government is so hellbent on establishing this voice then it needs to first demonstrate it can be successful, by legislating it rather than enshrining it. In the meantime, gaslighting Australians to coerce support for a ‘Yes’ vote and calling Australians racist, troublemakers and uncaring if they do not oblige does not make for a healthy democracy and is completely and utterly un-Australian. It’s OK to say ‘No’.
I began this essay by quoting Thomas Sowell. Something else he said goes like this – ‘If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labelled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.’
I believe one of our great strengths as a country is that, as Australians, we all play by the same rules and every Australian is entitled to equal dignity and respect, regardless of our background and upbringing, and regardless of how many generations our forebears have been here. Australia is a great country and our way of life is the envy of the world. I am proud to be Australian.
This article is from Volume 1 of Essays for Australia 2023 and is written by Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is a Country Liberal Party senator for the Northern Territory. This essay for Essays for Australia draws on some of her recent comments and writing. To find out more, head to ipa.org.au/essays.