Indigenous Australia

Turnbull's loud and clear contempt for Indigenous voice

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Referendum Council discussions (Image via

The Turnbull Government dismisses the suggestion First Nations people should be involved in decisions which affect them as "undesirable" and has no intention to negotiate on an equal footing, writes Indigenous affairs editor Natalie Cromb.

OVER 230 YEARS of violent brutality, paternalism and ethnocentric contempt and the Government – in its infinite wisdom – suggests the way forward is through constitutional recognition and seeks the input of First Nations people on how this can be achieved.

Years of work, consultation and dialogues, and a report is released which recommends a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament and an extra-constitutional declaration.

Those familiar with my writing and politics know that my personal suggestion for a way forward is far more radical than what is being reasonably suggested by the Referendum Council. Clearly, the Referendum Council has given great thought to how White Australia would receive any suggestions and decided on something very uncontroversial, reasonable and underwhelming to those of us who seek a more dramatic change — but even so, the Coalition has rejected the options outright.

Loud and clear, Malcolm, loud and clear.

The elders and community members who input into the consultations and dialogues are made to experience further indignity at the hands of the Coalition as they lay the boot in with a resounding rejection. The grace of the First Nations people is once again being taken for granted and being spat upon.

As if there was ever any doubt about how elitist former investment banker Malcolm Turnbull viewed Indigenous Australians, he has made it abundantly clear with this latest response. Moreover, his "Indigenous Affairs Minister", Nigel Scullion, even went so far as to state to the media that the downfall was speaking to First Nations people.

Ridiculous, isn’t it, that First Nations people should have a say in their own affairs?

Where I would say we need to assert sovereignty and pursue treaties, all that was put forth substantively was the right to be consulted on matters that affect us. And something so small has been rejected, which demonstrates the prevailing contempt for First Nations people.

The Australian Government rejects the notion that First Nations people ought to have a say in executive actions that affect us. Let that sink in.

Why does the Government continue to waste funding on consulting if they don’t want to hear what is said? So they can blame us. Why do they want to maintain the status quo of oppression? Because then they can control the Australian narrative.

The Turnbull Government is diametrically opposed to any and all efforts that would see First Nations people advance to the point where they could impact upon the narrative. They’re certainly not going to let the truth get in the way of a good story — particularly one that has the masses lulled into a false sense of security, whereby they are complicit in the contemptuous actions of the Government.

This is a Government that continues to excuse, as evidenced by its actions – or more to the point – inaction:

  • epidemic levels of child removal;
  • physical and sexual violence of children in State care;
  • black deaths in custody; and
  • oppression of First Nations people, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

We are told we are the “land of the fair go”, but this is complete and utter bullshit. There is no fair go unless you are in the homogenously powerful White demographic and – even better – if you’re conservative and concern yourself only with the capitalist agenda.

The Government lost its mind when the University of New South Wales (UNSW) truthfully said in their course materials that Australia was not peacefully settled — that it was in fact invaded. The main tool of the Government, the mainstream media, went into meltdown and accused UNSW of attempting to "rewrite history". Yes, in a sense, it was a rewriting, but it was about calling out a lie that has been allowed to stand for far too long.

The Government’s decision to reject the referendum options recommended in the Referendum Council’s report is a pathetic attempt to claw back any power that has been building from the grassroots efforts of the First Nations protest movements and activism across the country. The Government realised that it had to be seen to do something and it was with this knowledge that they empowered the Referendum Council to set out and consult. But when the report was handed down it did not contain what the Government wanted — and so it was rejected.

I understand the reticence of the Turnbull Government to make any substantive change to the Constitution. It is, after all, the document that relegates First Nations people as savages and enshrines their power. To change it is to admit that this country was founded on a lie — the lie that is terra nullius. The Government would have to admit that this country was and continues to be stolen, and all of the wealth derived from the stolen land proceeds of crime. This certainly doesn’t fit within the narrative of Australia being the land of the "fair go".

But the Turnbull Government’s rejection is not only a continuation of the paternalism but it is strategic — the Government stands to gain from the rejection by once again controlling the narrative. This time, the narrative is that the Blacks want something that is not possible and not fair to the Australian public. With this stance, they can manipulate the masses into demonising the First Nations community once again, thereby undermining any potential for law reform of the substantive variety.

The Government’s continued relegation of First Nations people to the helpless or the problematic is strategic. There is no intention to ever negotiate on equal footing and if we continue to waste our grace showing respect to an institution that shows us none we will burn out. We need to stop compromising on what we want and go for what is right. This should not be about what will fly with the masses because, frankly, this is about righting a wrong and if this is going to happen in any substantive sense, the masses need to understand they don’t have a right to dictate the terms.

This country is stolen and each and every non-Indigenous Australian who is here benefits from the theft of this country. The privilege is something afforded to them as a result of the oppression of the First Nations people of this land. You are not in the "lucky country". You are not part of the "fair go" and you are not being truthful with yourself if you continue telling yourself that what has happened to First Nations people is a matter for the past. The oppression continues — as does your privilege.

If you have a conscience, you need to lend your privilege to those without it. Elevate Black voices and the cause. Contribute in any way you can — by joining us on the streets, social media protests and trends, monetary contributions, letters to Parliament and media outlets. Use your commercial power by demanding better standards from mainstream media.

Stop speaking for us and over us. Stop thinking your opinions matter at all in this battle for what is right. You need to understand that for this all-important fight to right the wrongs of this and every government before it — you need to be support staff. You need to demonstrate that you understand your privilege by checking it at the door and supporting us, standing behind us and silently sending the message to the Turnbull Government that the populace fighting to right the wrongs is not a mere three per cent as they would like to believe — we are many and we are growing.

Natalie Cromb is a proud Gamilaraay woman. You can follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

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