The black 'no' campaign is not Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine
New shadow Indigenous spokesperson Jacinta Price, Warren Mundine and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson at a Queensland Police conference.
Just as we expected, the mainstream media has equated the ‘no’ campaign with black conservatives like Senator Jacinta Price and former ALP National President Warren Mundine. Mundine in particular fronted an ad for his “Recognise a Better Way” campaign this week, which he described in crikey.com.au as a “fake campaign” in anticipation of a formal launch later this year, when the referendum bill goes before Parliament. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Mundine outlined two main reasons for his opposition to the Voice to Parliament: one that it would recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a homogenous ‘race’ rather than nations, and the second, that it would strip control from traditional owners at the local level through the Voice, who have an ability to make representations to government enshrined by the constitution. He claimed that he had “written and spoken extensively about attempts to undermine traditional owner decisions about their own Country, particularly to approve projects on their lands and waters.”
But black Australia has a long memory and the stench of hypocrisy is overpowering. Warren Mundine, as many would know, was a prominent member of the Howard government’s hand-picked advisory body the National Indigenous Council (NIC), which was put in place after Howard abolished ATSIC - our last truly national representative body - and made way for mainstreaming, normalisation and neoliberalisation of Indigenous affairs. The era was focused on dismantling any form of self-determination, and seizing control from traditional owner groups through assaults on land rights and Native Title, attacks which did not go away but continued under different forms from successive governments. It was Howard who made the 11th hour promise to ‘recognise’ Indigenous people in the preamable of the constitution, on the eve of his electoral demolition by the incoming Labor opponent Kevin Rudd. Rudd failed to deliver on constitutional reform, his successor Julia Gillard never responded to the Expert Panel report handed down in her term, Tony Abbott was one of the first to promote the lie of a third chamber, and Malcolm Turnbull immediately rejected the Uluru Statement when it was handed down.
Mundine’s time on the NIC was characterised by his agenda to reform land tenure in the NT, through the Land Tenure principles, which led to the Howard government and in particular Mal Brough’s 99-year leases on Aboriginal land. The leases were heavily opposed by the land councils in the Territory at the time. When they passed, many communities said that Brough was bullying them to sign over their land on leases in exchange for much-needed housing infrastructure and other government investment. While Brough and his cronies, supported by the media, blamed Aboriginal communities and painted them as hubs of depravity and abuse, they had been sorely let down by governments, and then in turn threatened by them: if they did not comply with government demands to sign over their land on leases, they would not receive the rights of citizenship like housing and education resources. The amendments to the ALRA, one of the strongest land rights regimes in the country which allows inalienable freehold title to be held in trust by traditional owners, also allowed for the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal townships for five years under the NT intervention legislation in 2007. These changes to land tenure were an attack on the right of traditional owners to have control over their land.
The NIC was criticised because it was a hand-picked black body who rubber-stamped punitive, draconian government policy. It helped rip away control from traditional owner groups - the very same people that Mundine now claims will be undermined by a hypothetical Voice, the make-up of which we currently do not know because the design has not been formulated or set in concrete. If Mundine wants to criticise the Voice he must also own up to his own impact in Indigenous policy including his role as black voice to the racist John Howard.
Which brings us to Jacinta Price, the NT CLP Senator whose electoral fortune is not due to any political powreress on her part but because of her promotion by the Murdoch press. She was a black voice to dysfunction and violence which made her a darling of The Australian, Sky News, and the Liberals. This week, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton announced she was the new shadow minister for Indigenous affairs. Price has been the black voice sanctioning Dutton’s harmful rhetoric on child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory. It feels like we are going back to 2006 and 2007 again, although we really never left.
The Guardian’s Josh Butler reported earlier this week: “Last week Dutton claimed that “young Indigenous kids are being sexually assaulted on a regular basis” in Alice Springs, while Price claimed that children were being returned to abusive homes. The Northern Territory and federal governments have said Dutton would be required to report specific incidents of child abuse to police, but the opposition leader countered that he had raised the issue with Albanese in meetings last year.
When asked on ABC’s 7.30 on Monday about Dutton’s claims that he had raised the issue with the prime minister, Albanese said he had “no idea”.
“It’s possible that there may well have been a letter somewhere,” he said. “I don’t know what the basis of it is. But certainly he has not raised any specific issue about any claim, about any individual circumstance with me.”
This reminded me of Mal Brough’s infamous ‘paedophile rings’ statement - which had no basis in fact, and for which he had continually failed to hand over evidence to back his claims to the NT Police. ABC Lateline tried to vindicate Brough’s claims by slandering the community of Mutitjulu, using a ‘whistleblower’ who turned out to be a staffer in Brough’s own department. These stories and claims led directly to the NT intervention - and gave the government legitimacy to not only stage a military intervention into black communities, to declare war on them, but also compulsory acquire black townships. This is the same political playbook - it has not changed. It’s as if Brough left behind instructions on how to slander black communities to pass punitive government policies on the back shelves of the parliamentary library. I’m bringing this up to show that in order to actually debate a “Voice”, the Liberals - Dutton and Price - are simply relying on the same tired strategies of bashing blackfellas to position themselves as moral authorities, when they are authorities on very little.
The Central Land Council today hit back at Price for again slandering black communities as havens of child sexual abuse. CLC Deputy chair, Warren Williams, from Yuendemu, said: “Our kids are the apples of our eyes. We are not abusers. We love our children. We’d like to know where she got her information from. It’s mandatory to report such evidence to the authorities. We can do without self-appointed lone crusaders who are unable to bring people of good will together.”
The black conservative ‘no’ campaign reeks of hypocrisy and self-interest, and the most egregious part of it, is that it undermines a very sophisticated ‘no’ campaign from other blackfellas who are approaching the issue from a different viewpoint. Many blackfellas I have spoken to are still concerned that the Voice may not lead to change or a challenging of the status quo. There are concerns about the racist rhetoric inevitably drummed up in a referendum year, and concerns about what a Voice design could look like. There are legitimate concerns about when and how we can ask questions and whether a Voice will be truly representative. These questions are drowned out by noise from the black conservative ‘no’ campaign who should not be given any air time because they have had a ‘voice’ for years now, both in Parliament, as hand-picked members of racist government, or as the Senators for the NT CLP - one of the most racist parties in this country’s history. If they want a voice they can have it, but don’t deny others the right too - or the right to ask questions of it.