Voice of Reason
It is difficult to hear a voice of reason in the conflicting babble of noise that passes for our democratic process; a binary political system of government where political triumph is always more important than principle or substance. It is not even about winning; it is more about making it abundantly clear others have lost. This is where political rivalry has taken dialogue on the forth coming referendum.
I have just finished reading Megan Davis’s “Quarterly Essay” (issue 90 2023) commending the Yes vote at the forthcoming referendum. It is such an important read.
My level of despair has been rising in recent days as the referendum approaches, not only because of the false and conspiratorial claims made by the No campaign, but because those promoting the Yes case are doing such an ordinary job.
A few days ago, I linked into a conversation Noel Peason conducted with members of the Christian community. One of the important points he made is also affirmed in Davis’s article – namely that, in the process leading to and following the Uluru statement from the Heart, multiple conversations were held with both sides of politics to ascertain and confirm strategy and wording which might garner bi-partisan support. History reminds us how important this support is in the championing of a referendum which inevitably asks for change to a perceived norm.
My admiration for Julian Leeser has grown substantially. He was a key figure in those discussions on behalf of the Coalition. He has upheld integrity in the process. His support is not simply because he believes in the outcome, but also because what is now being presented is in significant part, framed following conversations with coalition members on what they considered to be politically deliverable. That Dutton and his troops have turned their backs is worse than deplorable, it is duplicitous.
What has become abundantly and shamefully clear is that the No case is not about opposing a mechanism in the constitution for the furthering of Indigenous empowerment, but primarily about an opportunity for the Coalition to regain political ground over its opponents. This is made transparently clear through the aggressive campaign of its media champions, Fox News and Murdoch publications.
Through the influence of my sister Valerie, I have become accustomed to understand that poverty is not best defined through its presenting features of homelessness, incarceration, morbidity, lack of education etc, but through an acknowledgement of powerlessness – not being heard, not understood. Davis explains that it was through this understanding that ‘Voice’ was settled on as the ground on which to stand in seeking to address disempowerment. The depressing statistics of poverty with which we are familiar in our First Nations communities, and which are recited in the regularly disappointing ‘closing the gap’ reports, can only be addressed through empowerment of those disadvantaged. This is why the Voice is so important – and it is why its defeat would be so catastrophic.
I was intrigued by the names Davis claimed to have influenced the development of her thinking.
Hope on the one hand is an absurdity, too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion; and one only does that at great political and existential risk.
On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretensions of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question. (the “prophetic imagination” Fortress Press 2001 p 110).
2. Theoretical Physicist David Bohm
“Bohm talks of the Greek word dialogue: ‘dia’ meaning through, and ‘logos’ meaning word. It evokes the image of a stream of meaning flowing among us, through us, and between us. Bohm says, It’s something new which may not have been in the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is what holds people and societies together…. Contrast this with ‘discussion’ which has the same root as percussion and concussion which is to break things up.
Davis finishes her essay with a wonderful quote from the late Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu.
“What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you.
And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are, not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are – Aboriginal people in the modern world – and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past has thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people – our full identity.
What a gift that is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way”.
The proposal before us is that we walk together in a new, creative, and respectful way. We have always thought our way to be superior, that our way would lift ‘these poor savages’ out of a much lesser world. The truth of the matter is that what First Nations people mean by sovereignty and treaty is no threat to other Australians, but an invitation for us to enter a more connected way of being. Of course, our world, particularly its science, medicine and education, have much to offer. We can and will all benefit from shared lives. A No to walk together is unthinkable and will entrench enduring racist attitudes.
A Yes is a yes to a shared life of respect. There are still songlines to be carved across this ancient land, may these lines be ones of listening, companionship and shared story.