Nothing epitomises the hypocrisy that is Australia’s racism denial like Tony Abbott being awarded a Queen’s birthday medal by a non-Indigenous “independent” panel for his “service” to Indigenous affairs.
The perhaps once-prestigious accolade was bestowed on the former PM for
‘… eminent service to the people and parliament of Australia, particularly as prime minister, and through significant contributions to trade, border control and to the Indigenous community’.
Also indicative of institutional racism is the part that recognises his disgraceful “stopping the boats” border control exploits, but we shall leave that aside for now.
While for most onlookers the irony is obvious, others have taken to their collective keyboards and mobile devices to declare the right of past prime ministers to be awarded for their public service.
A commendable argument. One that may even hold weight were it not for two annoying little details.
The second detail is that even if holding the top job in the country should be reason enough for lacklustre, even disastrous, politicians to receive yet another award not based on merit – a debatable point in itself – Abbott was awarded the honour because of his service to the Indigenous community. Not simply for his embarrassing leadership — the farce of which caused even his own party to be rid of him.
The only thing more ludicrous than presenting this symbol of colonialism for imagined achievements in Indigenous affairs to Abbott – in the week when George Floyd’s murder has highlighted the litany of wrongs against Australia’s own Indigenous people – would be his being awarded for his services to the advancement of women.
WHITE LIVES MATTER
The horrific murder of George Floyd has catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement into the limelight, where it will hopefully stay until something significant changes.
Those who reduce Black Lives Matter commentary with the all-encompassing and intrinsically privileged “all lives matter” slogan, simply choose to ignore the undeniable evidence that in the U.S., as in Australia, Black lives matter less.
As IA's David Donovan responded to one "all lives matter" commentator, this
‘…ignores the uncomfortable disadvantage and discrimination Black people continue to experience since being kidnapped and shipped [to the U.S.] and used as slaves for the wealth creation of White landholders. It ignores the fact that even after the Civil War, which was over the right to keep slaves, America still insisted on a system of discrimination against them, via the Jim Crow laws. These persisted at least until the 1950s and 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement forced change. But discrimination did not die then. The War on Drugs begun by Nixon was directed largely against Black people and resulted in mass incarceration. Now we see police and White people in America murdering Black people with relative impunity, hence the Black Lives Matter protests. That is the background.’
In Australia, while we continue to vehemently protest the fact of our institutional racism, we are not far behind. Essentially, Europeans came, conquered, raped, pillaged, wiped out thousands upon thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, allowed their slaughter without consequence and didn't even recognise them as human beings until the 1967 Referendum.
The systematic discrimination, disadvantage and loss of hope suffered by Australia’s Indigenous population, despite all claims to the contrary, continue on.
Once again for emphasis are a few figures, cited last week, which belie the “all lives matter” rhetoric:
- one in four prisoners is an Indigenous Australian;
- First Australians are the most incarcerated race in the world;
- Indigenous children make up seven per cent of the youth population but a staggering 54 per cent of those in youth detention;
- there have been 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into this statistic; and
- Aboriginal people can expect to die at least eight to nine years earlier than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
How can there be 432 Indigenous deaths in custody and no perpetrators? Would this ever happen if they were White deaths? Of course not.
‘… We have all become witnesses to Floyd’s death. The footage, powerful, confronting and undeniable, has backed the testimony of the black witness, who has known intimately the reality of police brutality, while awakening the white witness, who is more likely to be believed.'
ABBOTT'S INDIGENOUS SERVICE LIE
As with most complete lies, it is important to set the record straight with a few facts about the former PM with respect to his Indigenous service record.
- as reported only in IA, fell asleep in a parliamentary committee meeting after Indigenous participants trekked for three days to be heard;
- as PM, chose to appoint himself Minister for Indigenous Affairs to counteract the widely-held view and public relations problem that he was racist;
- this double-up of duties also ensured Indigenous affairs did not have a minister dedicated only to this role;
- prior to his election, promised, in front of Indigenous Elders and other participants, to spend his first week in office in a remote Indigenous community but ignored this once elected, eventually spending just three days in Arnhem land;
- reaffirmed terra nullius with this comment: "I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British Government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land.”
- cut total Indigenous funding by $600 million;
- labelled Indigenous communities “lifestyle choices”;
- abolished the position of co-ordinator-general for remote Indigenous services;
- claimed to be “volunteering” while ignoring traditional owners of the land in taxpayer-funded, private jet-flown, photo opportunity tours of outback Australia;
- described Australia as “nothing but bush” before the arrival of the First Fleet; and
- in his final, impressively titled “special envoy on Indigenous affairs" role – bestowed on him by the current prime minister – was not even required to report as to his activities, which cost the taxpayer an additional $95,000 in travel expenses and $200,000 in advisory staff, for six months “work”.
We continue to silence our Indigenous voices with claims of “all lives matter” as if that should be reason enough for no action on 432 unexplained deaths. We continue to rub salt into their wounds by dismissing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which asks only for an Indigenous voice to parliament.
Finally, for Tony Abbott’s award to at least be truthful, surely it should refer to his undying service to White supremacy.
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