Truth Telling , circular arguments and colonialism

Andrew L. Urban

Just when you thought Australians had voted firmly against the voice and its entire grievance baggage, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney says she is in active discussions with cabinet to develop a model for a ‘Truth-Telling’ process, flagging that it could be included in the school curriculum. The phrase ‘Truth Telling’ is code for weaponizing the past. The Burney-preferred meaning of the phrase matches the Oxford Dictionary (woke edition):“Recognition or acknowledgement of historical injustices affecting Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people following the colonization of Australia, and re-evaluation of the impact of the discrimination and often violent treatment they have faced since that time.”

As a guide, look to the purpose of the Yoorrook Justice Commission which former Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews green-lighted in 2020; it is to ‘investigate historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation, across all areas of social, political and economic life’. This is a circular argument that starts with the conclusion it is trying to prove.

That rings a bell: the original mandate from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the IPCC did not seek to explore possible reasons for any warming; it was to address ‘dangerous human-caused climate change’. That set the agenda, which became the ruling orthodoxy, a circular argument that starts with the conclusion it is trying to prove.

A circular argument is a useful device when evidence is absent or too weak to prove an allegation.

A good (bad) example of this is the prosecution’s case against Robert Xie, tried for the murder of five members of his wife’s family.

“The Crown does not know exactly what time it was that the murders occurred,” said prosecutor Tanya Smith in her opening address in trial 4 (the final one), “but our case is that it must have occurred after 2 o’clock in the morning, because you will hear that it is accepted that the accused had been at home with his wife using the internet until around this time. So it is at some point after 2 o’clock and before 5.30am.”

In other words, the murders must have been committed after 2am because “we accept he was busy on his computer until then.”

The prosecutor didn’t say ‘we will show you evidence that the murders occurred after 2 o’clock in the morning’. She couldn’t; there was no such evidence. There was no direct evidence against Xie at all. The Crown’s case had been built AROUND Robert Xie’s computer-proven alibi but challenging his after 2am alibi of being in bed asleep beside his wife.

Indeed, the forensic pathologist agreed with defence counsel that it was possible that at least one of the victims (Min) could have been killed well before 2am. With jury absent, the judge recognised evidence to that effect. And the jury bought the Crown’s circular argument. (Xie was sentenced to life imprisonment.)

grievance gathering

Like the IPCC taking as proven the ‘dangerous human-caused climate change’, and the Yoorook commission taking as proven ‘historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians’, Linda Burney’s Truth Telling will consist not so much of ‘truth telling’ as of grievance gathering, a regurgitation of how evil the white settlers were – and are.  Apologies and atonement not accepted.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be the mantra, as in court. For if Truth Telling is merely another example of evidence-free, biased ‘blak’ history, it will be as catastrophic as a wrongful conviction. In this case, perhaps the wrongful conviction of colonialism.

As Ramesh Thakur observes, “The colonial legacy is mixed rather than uniformly evil or virtuous. Every culture and civilisation has stains in its history.”

The controversial Canadian-American author, Bruce Gilley, professor of political science at Portland State University, argues extensively in his recent book, The Case for Colonialism, that colonialism was not always harmful, and had significant benefits, such as the enabling of human flowering through “expanded education, improved public health, the abolition of slavery, widened employment opportunities, improved administration, the creation of basic infrastructure, female rights, enfranchisement of untouchable or historically excluded communities, fair taxation, access to capital, the generation of historical and cultural knowledge …” Some of these apply to the Australian experience.

He says “The origins of anti-colonial thought were political and ideological. The purpose was not historical accuracy but contemporaneous advocacy. Today, activists associate ‘decolonisation’ (or ‘postcolonialism’) with all manner of radical social transformation, which unintentionally ties historic conclusions to present-day endeavours. One failure of anti-colonial critique is perhaps most damaging. It is not just an obstacle to historical truth, which itself is a grave disservice. Even as a means of contemporary advocacy, it is self-wounding. For it essentially weaponises the colonial past…”

Andrew L. Urban is the author of Murder by the Prosecution and The Exoneration Papers – Sue Neill-Fraser, among other books.





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