Aussies have said No to identity politics
Nick Cater on why Australia rejected the Voice to Parliament.
The Australian elites are in meltdown. In a bitterly fought referendum last month, the demos Down Under overwhelmingly rejected the proposed creation of an Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’. If successful, the initiative would have created an advisory body exclusively for Aboriginal Australians. Effectively, this would have granted special status to a subset of the population based entirely on their race – something the vast majority of Aussies were not prepared to countenance. This was a referendum on identity politics, and the verdict could not have been clearer.
Nick Cater, Australian writer, broadcaster and publisher, joined Brendan O’Neill on the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show to discuss why Australians rejected the Voice to Parliament. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full thing here.
Brendan O’Neill: How do you explain the elites’ vitriolic backlash to Australians voting No in the Voice to Parliament referendum?
Nick Cater: Elitist, anti-democratic sentiments certainly played a big part. But I also think that, on a very basic level, the elites are still genuinely bemused that the No campaign won. They live in a world where everybody around them shares their identitarian vision. Now all their assumptions and beliefs have been turned upside down.
As always, the great and the good have tried to say that the people who disagree with them are stupid, mad or bad – or a combination of those things. But even they know now that the people who have been arguing against the Voice are certainly not stupid, and they’re probably not bad either.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, shadow minister of indigenous affairs, was a leading voice in the No campaign. She’s Aboriginal, which has been confusing for the Yes activists. She’s supposed to be a victim. She’s not supposed to be powerful and have a view of her own. But she’s refusing to conform. It was very hard for the Yes campaign to delegitimise her.
O’Neill: What was the Voice to Parliament referendum really about?
Cater: The Voice to Parliament certainly wasn’t about expanding democracy – it was about further empowering the elite political class. Fifty years of massive government welfare programmes have created a group of intelligent, university-educated, largely urban people with Aboriginal backgrounds. This group has made a living from dependency culture. And these activists are supported by a huge group of elites who also benefit from indigenous dependency.
We were never told, for example, just how much those working in the Voice would be paid, or how big the secretariat would be. But we can guess that it would be huge. It would have been just another platform to help activists feel important in the public square. Of course, these activists are hurt by the outcome of the referendum. It has basically killed a potential new meal ticket. And while we easily could have given them that ticket, and more political power, it would have no real positive impact on the Aboriginal communities themselves.
The Voice to Parliament would have empowered the activists, but it would have also disempowered the people who actually need help. It threatened to further entrench them in this endless spiral of paternalistic welfare. We need to break out of this cycle. We need to give indigenous Australians the confidence and ability to change their lives for good or for ill.
O’Neill: How much has racial identity politics taken root in Australia?
Cater: Colonial guilt has a very strong undercurrent here in Australia. And it’s been getting worse in recent years due to the influence of movements like Black Lives Matter from the US and the Rhodes Must Fall nonsense from the UK. The problem is, the actual impact of these ideas, particularly reparations, has never really been thought through.
We need to ask some basic questions. Should a child who’s born in Australia today, or a migrant who arrives from another country, immediately have some colonial sin laid against them? Is that fair? And if somebody is born with some indigenous blood in them, is it fair to suggest that they therefore don’t have that sin? Is it fair to expect that some debt will be repaid to them?
The idea of reparations wasn’t part of the Voice proposal. But some Aboriginal activists on the fringes, like Thomas Mayo, have specifically said the Voice was the first step on the road to reparations. That’s when this ideology becomes completely absurd. Take Jacinta Price’s case. Will her two children with Aboriginal blood receive reparations from her white stepson? When you reduce it to that level it becomes unreal. The whole idea of colonial guilt – and endlessly pursuing historical grievances – is just a dead end.
It’s also a direct attack on the Australian concept of a ‘fair go’. While both sides of the Voice referendum invoked this idea, Yes campaigners argued that it meant giving indigenous Australians special support – a kind of reverse discrimination. But that’s not what a ‘fair go’ means. What most Australians understand by ‘fair go’ is everyone having an equal chance, and it’s up to each person what they make of it. It’s an important part of our democratic culture. It’s one of the great and empowering things about Australia. And it’s under threat. The whole woke ideology behind the Yes campaign is completely anathema to this idea.
That’s why the result of the referendum was so heartening. It was absolutely and explicitly an expression of the ‘fair go’. Australians said: we don’t care whether you’ve been here for five minutes or 500 years, everybody has the same rights and responsibilities. As a citizen, there are things that you have to do and there are things you are owed, but both must flow equally. Thankfully, this idea is still going strong in Australia. The very idea that some people, by virtue of their race, are entitled to special rights is still abhorrent to most Australians.
Nick Cater was talking to Brendan O’Neill on The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:
Picture by: Menzies Research Centre.
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