Warren Mundine is wrong. It’s a ruse to suggest Indigenous issues are apolitical. Mundine would like to believe this because then it would justify why he, as the next president of the party that is supposed to be an Opposition, is also a key drafter of Indigenous policy for the Howard Government, as a member of the National Indigenous Committee.
Mundine has been highly visible of late, striking blue steel poses for The Bulletin to which he has regaled tales of sharing cups of tea with big business, big miners and big Beazley, eating with journos at restaurants authentically named Gunya and vocally selling John Howard’s Liberal Party policies on Aboriginal issues - a position he says he is very proud of (The Bulletin, September 28, 2005).
Who needs a newspaper as your propaganda arm when you have the next president of your main political opponent selling your policies all under the remarkable ruse that Indigenous issues are above politics? Forty million dollars worth of taxpayer-funded advertising couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.
The tenor of current media debate on issues like Indigenous land policy and welfare policy (welfare policy experimented on Indigenous peoples, later to be rolled out to all Australians) is intended to manipulate public opinion and legitimise radical policy reforms. Yet the recycling of eighties right-wing US poverty theories and the recycling of US style policies to privatise Aboriginal land (which failed miserably for American Indians) must be properly debated by Indigenous Australians - just like the adoption of US style industrial relation laws are being debated.
The reality is that Western liberal democracies like Australia have short electoral cycles and are inherently utilitarian. The interests of powerless and poor minorities in minimalist ballot box democracies, like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, will always be trampled. In contrast, powerful and wealthy minority groups, for example farmers, who are valued for their wealth and often bolstered by enduring sentimental mythologies of the Bush, benefit from public funds unscrutinised, in a way that the undeserving Aboriginal is not able to.
Add to that undeserving image, the random stories of Aboriginal men sucking on beers and boasting around Sunday BBQs about bashing their wives because “white people took their country” (Sydney Morning Herald,,23/11/05) - anecdotes that the mainstream media laps up, and you can pretty much experiment with any radical reform agenda upon Indigenous Australia (of course you can anyway with absolute control of both houses of parliament).
But it doesn’t help that the president of the only viable Opposition party is hawking Howard’s trend, giving the impression to the community that there is no discernable difference between either political parties.
Accordingly, it would be much easier to admit our inherent weaknesses (grog and sitting down) and moral failings by virtue of our indigenousness, gratefully take our little pockets of Shared Responsibility Agreement money and shuffle on our way to National Scout jamborees, Hillsong conventions and our chlorine pools.
And that’s the political genius of Howard. He has stunningly and strategically muted the voice of Indigenous Australia.
Among his PR achievements: abolishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, an organisation of which he has long been vehemently opposed; rendered self-determination a “failed experiment”; implemented what is benignly labelled “new arrangements” (which is a variation of keeping communities reliant on government handouts); and hiring an “authentic” and media savvy Noel Pearson, as a consultant on welfare. He preaches to conservative think tanks and a salivating, uncritical mainstream press an approach to Indigenous poverty that renders government, and Australians, invisible in the equation, and Indigenous peoples as the “deadbeat” architects of their own misfortune.
But the Howard masterstroke was to offer a seat on the National Indigenous Committee to the future president of the ALP, effectively neutralising for many in the Indigenous community the hope of any alternative policy or voice.
Now Howard’s greatest, lifetime political enemy is hawking conservative wares to the electorate (kindly allowing Howard to focus on industrial relations and counter-terrorism). Howard has cleverly and deftly depoliticised and neutralised a policy area and a first people with whom the ALP has undeniably had a true and natural affinity with.
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