It may or may not be a well-known fact that the Uluru Statement From The Heart has a beautifully subtle, double meaning.
The first and most obvious one is that this one-page statement is an invitation to Australians, an invitation to listen and understand Aboriginal Australians in a way that comes from their heart. Rich in Indigenous practice, the idea to walk along with me is a generous, deeply personal courtesy being extended to all Australians from Indigenous Australia.
Come, walk beside me. Come, see me. Come, listen to me. Please listen.
The other meaning is less obvious. The Uluru Statement was developed and signed off at Uluru, our nation’s heart, the geographic core of our vast country. It is deeply symbolic of Aboriginal culture that Uluru, Australia’s heartland, its spiritual centre, was chosen as a place to finalise a simple document that was years in the making with the input of so many richly diverse, far reaching Aboriginal nations.
Covering tens of thousands of kilometres and reaching 1,200 Indigenous community representatives, the Uluru Statement working group spent years developing the crystal clear but deeply complex document that Sky News Australia spent 24 hours demolishing.
And therein lies the rub.
If you were a person who monitors Australia’s media in all its forms, you would have noticed by now that the voices of those thousands of Indigenous people, the years of hard work and dialogue, the earnest, forgiving, generous pleadings from the heart, have all been drowned out for a 10 second sound bite from a white bloke who just happens to be leading an increasingly unrepresentative political party.
It’s a funny thing to have a white man dominating the 24 hour news cycle with his constant voice as he busily proclaims every hour of every day that Indigenous Australians don’t need a voice. But why should they, when Peter Dutton’s alright Jack? Have a close look at how predictably the opposition leader gets his voice out there; he opens his mouth and Australia’s media come running. Peter Dutton says his pie is too hot, Peter Dutton gives us his favourite fish recipe, all amplified and promoted relentlessly across Australian media daily.
The vast majority of Dutton’s daily comments on the Voice are comments that Dutton has already said in a thousand different ways, in hundreds of different interviews, over many, many months. But still the media treat his every utterance like a rare pearl of infinite wisdom, headlining it and holding it aloft like a magic jewel instead of treating his deliberately deceitful and antagonistic statements like the derivative, tedious, stale, repetitively boring shit that they are.
If only Indigenous Australians, especially the women, got 1% of the media coverage Dutton has laid at his feet, there would be little need for a Voice to Parliament.
After all, why should our media give prominence to the opinions and views of rarely heard Indigenous women on the Indigenous Voice when they can platform the views of a white man who stands in the centre of Australia’s most important forum, Parliament House? The poor man can barely get his views heard.
Peter and his powerful, elite white friends funding the No campaign don’t believe in the Voice To Parliament because they already have a voice. It’s their power, their privilege not anybody else’s. Why share it around with others?
It is to Australian media’s eternal shame that the leader of the opposition has been repeatedly platformed and disproportionately highlighted in an issue that largely has nothing to do with him. Drowning out the voices of those who desperately crave to be heard by consistently amplifying the Trumpian ramblings of a political liar is a hideous stain on their profession that will never leave them.
It also points toward a dangerous path ahead in our democracy. All anyone has to do to hijack the daily news cycle is to drip-feed outrageous inanities twice a day, drowning out the voices of the very people begging to be listened to. Watch out for it coming to our next major election campaign in an ugly way Australia can never reverse.
We know the Murdochracy have been busily indulging the opposition and the No campaign in this game, but this hideous amplification of meritless drivel from the ABC, helped along by a social media team of 10 year olds and a management team of cowered, catastrophically tone deaf has-beens, has been something to behold.
We have also seen the American influenced and co-funded No campaign intentionally flood the zone with shit, only to rejoice at their ploy as journalists rush to analyse the latest piece of drivel as if it is in any way newsworthy. It’s not.
The purpose of the No campaign’s twice weekly outrage dumping (a very American tactic) is to provide media outlets with constant content, regardless of its merit. Keep pumping out that river of excrement. One of the more obvious ones in the anti-Voice campaign last month was the baseless assertion that “some people” were confused and worried about marking their vote with a cross or a tick instead of a Yes or No. This claptrap was coordinated with Peter Dutton on one day and amplified in Fair Australia’s training sessions the next day.
Never mind that there was zero evidence for this “mass confusion” actually happening. The anti-Voice campaign’s latest fodder-vomit was designed to keep journalists engaged, keep them guessing, keep them ever eager to scream BREAKING NEWS! with the latest utterance, beating the other media outlets to the punch with, with what exactly? Like much of the No campaign’s outpourings, it is an endless river of meaningless, uninteresting, unfactual, un-newsworthy shit. Controversy and outrage are now the drugs conservatives crave in order to thrive.
But it is not only Dutton who has mishandled the issue. In an act of breathtaking stupidity, cowardice or heroism, depending on your point of view, Anthony Albanese stood up on election night and propped up the Voice and Indigenous Australians, telling Australia it was his absolute number one issue. And then he disappeared.
The Prime Minister put a huge target up there on election night, pumped it up, held it aloft and then left it. It was Albanese who put the Voice front and centre as his main priority. Nobody else did, Albanese did. Then he let it go. Erecting such a massively fragile target and then leaving it without the supports it needed to survive isn’t just a breach of the basic laws of physics and horticulture, it’s a breach of basic common sense and human decency.
Sure, Albo popped up in bizarre photo stunts with American basketballers and threw out the occasional social media post, but his overall selling of the issue stalled, missing in action in promoting and marketing it – like most of the Labor government as well (excluding Linda Burney). If Labor as a whole had no clear, tactical, cohesive, well researched plan to get totally and fully behind the campaign from Day 1, throw absolutely everything they had at it, then they should never have thrown it out there in the first place. To do so was to dishonour everything it stood for.
Labor could have spent time too, in tending to the garden, like amending the Referendum Act, the Privacy Act, the Spam Act. Labor – who are the party with the majority in government – could have ensured the various loopholes that the opposition have exploited in this issue to their advantage, were legislated, amended and tightened up.
What Labor’s lax and waffling wait-and-see attitude did was allow the No campaign free reign to fling shit, all day, every day, largely unimpeded while the Yes campaign spent their time hoping to kick with the wind in the final quarter and appealing to Australians’ better judgment.
The Yes campaign ignored one very vital lesson – appealing to other people’s better judgement only works when other people actually have better judgement.
The Uluru Statement and its desire for an advisory voice to parliament is, at its core, simply a request to be heard. Yes, it asks to be seen by recognising the existence of Aboriginal Australians within the Constitution, but it also asks to be heard. The deepest human desire is to be acknowledged and listened to – I hear you. It is not enough just to acknowledge Aboriginal Australians in the Constitution by seeing them.
The fullest acknowledgment of humanity is to say, I see you and I hear you.
Contrary to the constant refrain of the No campaign, this referendum has not divided us. We were already divided. What it has done is exaggerate gaps and fissures that already existed.
If we vote No on October 14, it will not suddenly reveal Australia as a deeply racist nation – all it will do is prove it.