The Voice: Newscorp’s dangerous zero sum games

Mar 25, 2023
Newspapers and Open Laptop with Blue Screen.

As the wording of the Voice referendum question is released, the Murdoch media’s “news” drives resentment with propaganda as constant as drums of war. The pounding message for its audience is that every development is a zero sum game, one that only defrauds this “conservative” base.

The unspoken subtext for all these battles is the idea that everyone comes from a place of roughly equal opportunity. The concept that anyone might be disadvantaged (or advantaged) by decisions that we make as a society is anathema. The knowledge that history can trap people is inadmissible. Any attempt to mitigate harm so that we can all benefit is dismissed as social engineering, a slippery slope to socialism.

The poor, the welfare dependent, women, non-white people: any action to diminish barriers to their achievement is portrayed as theft. The idea that a society where most can flourish is a flourishing society is poison to this narrative. Equally, the benefits of upper/middle class birth are obscured: the successful achieve through grit and determination. Anyone can replicate this if they try, the story declaims. The default identity is middle-class, white man. Any other status is an “identity” to be deplored as divisive. (Sheridan, Greg “Identity politics the real risk in voice,” The Australian 7/2/2023).

Sometimes News Corp targets refugees, who are rarely depicted as the fellow builders of this nation that they have been. Instead they are deplored as taking from us, either our wealth or our safety. The recent announcement that “boat” people can apply for family reunion in the years ahead (replacing the painfully destructive decade’s separation from vulnerable family) is presented as inviting people smugglers. Actually that “business model” is prevented by the boat turnback policy: the last decade of human rights abuse by the Coalition government was wanton cruelty.

The Voice to Parliament is now the primary front of the war. The Voice is in actuality little more than a token. The Discussion Paper outlines the intent: it will allow “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [to] have more of a say on the laws, policies and services that impact their lives.” There is no power to compel government or ensure that advice is incorporated into the ways Indigenous lives are impacted by Canberra. It is incorporated into the constitution in order to recognise the weight of the fact that this land was theirs for over 65,000 years before we took it, unceded, over the last 200 years.

The Northern Territory intervention showed the worst ways that outside interference could impact groups traumatised by history: “any possible benefits to physical health [were] largely outweighed by negative impacts on psychological health, social health and well-being, and cultural integrity.” The idea is not that the Voice should replace concrete strategies, but that it should help tailor them to be more effective. The hope is that the damage done by the colonial project can be better mitigated by a more thoughtful and appropriate series of strategies achieved through consultation.

We have shown ourselves to have the capacity to continue hurting First Nations people more than any other population, from the beginning when we eliminated an estimated 90% of their population to this moment where we continue to attempt ham-fisted “solutions” to the problems born of poverty, intergenerational trauma and marginalisation. We owe them more thoughtful, consultative solutions.

Instead of the truth about this feather duster of a body, Murdoch’s audiences are told that it is “third” chamber in parliament and poses a dire threat to white Australia’s autonomy. Andrew Bolt described it as a “new apartheid” with just one “race” benefitting from the racism, equating it to the White Australia Policy (Bolt, Andrew “Architects of new apartheid,” The Herald Sun 31/10/2022). He also labelled it an “undemocratic farce” (Bolt, Andrew “Giving voice to an undemocratic farce,” The Herald Sun 19/1/23). He depicts many of the Indigenous Australians it will represent as “Fakes, frauds and rent-seekers,” in his repeated efforts to discredit the Aboriginality of claimants (Bolt, Andrew “Whose voice is being heard,” The Herald Sun 14/11/2022). Henry Ergas describes the prospect as entrenching “racial separatism” and denying “political equality” to white Australia, akin to disenfranchisement of French Jews before 1789 (Ergas, Henry “Voice to entrench racial separatism,” The Australian 27/1/2023). Albrechtsen depicted it as “preferential privileges” (Albrechtsen, Janet “Oratory is no substitute for cool, hard-headed analysis” The Australian 5-6/11/2022) and “a radical shift in power” (Albrechtsen, Janet “Conventional approach to real debate in voice” The Australian 8/2/2023). A typical letter-writer describes the Voice as singling out one group for “special treatment” and scuttling equality by putting them above the rest of the population (Needham, David “Terrible irony of attempt to right historical wrong,” The Australian 2/2/2023). Peta Credlin depicted it as a “trojan horse” to usher in “Aboriginal states” (Credlin, Peta “Voice a Trojan horse,” The Herald Sun 12/2/2023).

Chris Kenny of all people warned Dutton in November, buried deep in a long column, not to risk being seen as “a political anachronism, a flint-hearted curio” by pursing the smear campaign on the Voice, a body that can do “no significant harm to the nation but could provide considerable benefits” (Kenny, Chris “Sound the alarm, Mr Dutton” The Weekend Australian 26-7/11/2022). The Australian published the account of the nitpicking stress testing of the wording of the amendment by a mixed panel of constitutional heavy-weights from one of its members. George Williams makes clear that there is no veto power over parliament. There is no requirement that government listens to the Voice. There are no special rights conferred (Williams, George “Expert stress tests show the voice is not a threat” 23/12/2022). This is why some First Nations’ activists are dismissing the body as a sop.

Any other claim for inclusion is treated as a threat to the mainstream’s ownership too. Marriage equality took nothing from “traditional” marriages and yet this was the framing that throbbed through News Corp. Janet Albrechtsen recently expressed that JK Rowling ought to be woman of the year for her attacks on trans existence. Albrechtsen performed horror that the word woman “is being erased.”

This distortion of the facts is not freshly concocted by the columnist. It is a standard trope of the women’s right wing space (even though not all declaring it realise the provenance). It emerges from the idea that various groups in the LGBTQI+ community have asked that language includes them. When a lesbian couple have a baby, one of them is the “birthing parent” since both will be mothers. Nobody is eliminating the term “mother;” it is just that our language is able to open out to include other experience where relevant.

Leaving language open for professionals to address people as required is not an erasure of women’s existence. The controversial term “chestfeeding” has been devised purely to speak to people for whom breasts aren’t relevant. It is not a replacement for the term breastfeeding. The lesson is merely asking midwives to be thoughtful about the needs of the individual recipients of their instruction. Change is complicated and messy. We make mistakes. Solving the inherent problems is our task.

The result of this campaign is deadly violence.

The only recent battle where News Corp’s audience arguably does stand to lose something, rather than cowering in fear of manufactured monsters under the bed, is the tantrum over Jim Chalmers’ The Monthly essay. The opinion and letters page of The Australian (Letters The Australian 1&2/2/23) was filled with outrage over his “socialism” expressed in a work that asks, as Katherine Murphy puts it, “in conciliatory terms that capitalism should (brace yourselves readers) be tethered by values.” He continued the focus on economic growth as the solution to our ills, despite concern that this is a dangerous path.

In fact, the idea that these readers stand to lose in capitalism balanced with regulation and government programs is a myth created by the plutocrats who believe life truly is a zero sum game.

Robert Reich detailed in a February essay that the “free market” is a poisonous lie that has created massive inequality, dysfunction and disaster. There is no such thing as a free market, he points out: markets are designed by judges, legislators and government agencies for a party, either “to advance public purposes or monied interests.” As servants of the monied interests, our right wing political parties have become circuses filled with clowns and jerks, or zombie parties, gutted by deceptive free market ideology. Nativist populist creeps and campaigns are winning and damaging countries in predictable ways. Britain is paralysed with rolling strikes after years of neoliberals starving infrastructure of funds. The “antiwork” movement represents workers’ growing disgust at the exploitation laid bare by the pandemic.

Murdoch’s Dog Line treats a request to be included in our societies as though the target is digging up the graves of our ancestors and stealing our inheritance. Politics based on this resentment and rage can only damage us. It is crucial that those who continue to follow Murdoch’s “news” do so in the full knowledge that his zero sum games are a dangerous distortion intended to distract us while the monied interests take everything.

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