The Voice, a broken system and the righting of old wrongs

Oct 17, 2023
Indigenous dancers strike a pose during the Homeground festival - a major annual celebration of aboriginal culture.

The cut-through of mercenary, racist and Trumpist tropes reflected in the “No” referendum campaign has many people, including refugees, alarmed.

Any endorsement of Dutton is going to play against not only those experiencing the lowest infant mortality, highest incarceration rates and shortest life spans: it will also affect asylum seekers and refugees. Labor has attempted moral leadership on such a mild ask … and lost. Will Labor dare stand up against mindless redneck selfishness again?

It is bad enough that right wing media can reflect a conservative agenda. It is worse to have it confirmed that they can prosecute that agenda effectively in almost every part of the nation. The conservative cabal clustered around Dutton appears to have gotten away with disinformation of the most transparent kind.

Never mind that for ten generations aborigines have experienced visibly negative treatment. Shallow and frankly hypocritical arguments about racial unity have trumped the bare facts. Victim blaming wins again.

Did Labor appease racists for too long when in Opposition? Is this the price?

Is Labor even more likely to capitulate on race and immigration issues now? Is it “safer” for them to go back to denying the humanity and harm done to refugees offshore? Do we go back to top down military interventions in the Territory? Do we get on with blaming people who climbed into boats to get away from serious oppression for their “life and death” decisions? Will Labor again join Dutton’s LNP in trivialising genuine fear and desperation as a lifestyle choice? Or will Labor confirm that other categories of economic adjustment or migration are affecting the housing market?

Perhaps Labor can wake up and smell the “Teal” message: that vigorous campaigning on progressive issues can convert educated voters in former Liberal seats. Independents show that it is possible to convert complacent Liberal seats into conscience-led ones if you pick your issues and target your message well. Access to affordable tertiary education is powerful in changing politics. So too is building community from the grassroots up.

Perhaps Labor can also see that the backlog of refugees languishing on temporary visas are 20,000 potentially grateful voters. Such refugees have handed out “Yes” material without having the right to cast a ballot themselves. They will not readily forget the horror inflicted on them offshore and on by the LNP. Dutton is never going to be their friend and they will not vote for him. Each of those people has a network. Labor needs that network. These are people desperate enough to leave everything behind them. They are not conservative Golden Ticket migrants.

This week, there is a convergence of refugees in Canberra. Will Labor sit licking their wounds over the lost referendum or will they renew their stand against racism? The Government have a chance to emerge from their offices, to look victims of cruel social policy in the eye and say “We are better than this”. We are judged by our deeds. There are many ways of helping review the medical, education and legal outcomes for First Nations peoples. Consultation need not be enshrined in the constitution to occur.

Similarly, the Department of Immigration can switch temporary visas to permanent ones. There is the opportunity to close offshore detention for good and to admit that regional processing of refugees will prevent irregular arrivals by any mode of transport.

People whose lives have been Pezzulloed or Duttoned need not stay that way. We can bring fairness back to broken systems and begin by righting old wrongs.

I am hoping that every member of Cabinet will emerge from their bunker and look a First Nations person or a refugee in the eye this week.

See you in Canberra Tuesday 17 October 2023 from 10am and again on Wednesday when women refuge walkers (WAVE) complete their hike from Melbourne.

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