Andrew L. Urban
It would have detonated, multiple times over a few years, as the Voice package, if accepted by Australians, shed its outer gift wrapping of recognition. Voters sensed the presence of something else within the package as they handled it and felt the sharp edges of grievance and revenge within. These sharp edged elements were kept away from the public square. They formed the real agenda, the real ‘gift’. We weren’t voting YES or NO on the high notes of recognition and reconciliation (I’ll come to that one later), but on a package that, like a transformer toy, would open up to unbundle its weaponry.
A month before the referendum, Chris Battle and Keith Windshuttle wrote about ‘The Hidden Documents Behind the Uluru Voice’ in Quadrant (13th September) opened the packaging and revealed some of the payload. Battle begins: “It would be more accurate, and truthful, if the Uluru Statement from the Heart was renamed “The Uluru Manifesto” because, like The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, it is a document declaring a revolutionary political plan of action. According to my dictionary, a manifesto is a public declaration of policy or principles, and that is precisely what the Statement is, particularly when read in the full context of Document 14.
“There are actually fourteen documents totalling 112 pages, and they are all watermarked in the bottom right corner with: “Released under the FOI Act by the National Indigenous Australians Agency”. Whether or not they have always been publicly available or were kept secret is a moot point, but irrelevant to this article.
“We should be mindful that Aboriginal activism had its genesis in the Communist Party, as revealed in Geoff McDonald’s Red over Black (1982) and The Evidence (1983), and so we should be fully aware that the activism behind the Voice still holds to the old party-line doctrine of liberating the oppressed victims of colonialism and capitalistic imperialism. Nor should we forget the radicalism of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra (which still exists) and its communications with Gaddafi’s Libya, Mao’s China and the Black Power/Black Panther movement in the US.”
My purpose here is not to regurgitate their extensive and troubling article but to make the point that most Australian voters either knew or sensed that the Voice was more than its gift wrapping suggested.
The underlying grievance activism contained in the Voice ‘manifesto’ as Battle calls it, is echoed, for example, in Marcia Langton’s think piece in The Saturday Paper https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/indigenous-affairs/2023/10/14/marcia-langton-whatever-the-outcome-reconciliation-dead#mtr published on the day of the referendum. “The “No” campaign and the architects of it will have a political win that will only further entrench structural racism in our lives. They will gloat about it. They will go out of their way to make our lives worse simply because they are filled with a hatred of the marginalised. This is a curdled view of the world, based on a perverse neoliberal agenda that divides people into those who deserve support and those who don’t. Pull up your socks, get a job, the gap will be closed.”
Perhaps it is her own view of the world that is curdled? It is worth noting because her sentiments are bound up with the YES campaign’s ultimate plans to not just ‘recognise’ but to prioritise indigenous Australians. That push to separate us is what sticks in the Australian craw.
As for reconciliation, I have argued for years (eg The Spectator Australia cover story, Sept. 2, 2017) that it is up to indigenous Australia to accept the outstretched hand of reconciliation, evidenced by the overwhelming demonstrations of good will with countless formal and informal apologies for past deeds, and a structure of welfare and social regulations that make discrimination against indigenous Australians an offence – as well as a social taboo. I often quote writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt in this context: “those who hold on to (this) grievance are often regarded as displaying not sensitivity or honour but belligerence.”