Racism, Social Media, the Voice
A minority of people who live with unresolved issues bombard others with a reflection of their cyclopic state, rather than resolving discord and blindness in their personal lives. Social media has now become the ever-available channel of choice for this self-indulgence and self-delusion. The agenda or personhood of others they bombard are not the issue, confected and unpleasant outrage is the issue. These people seem to so dominate the air waves of social media that the good the medium offers is easily swamped under a dark cloud of abuse and, at times, vengefulness. It is, perhaps, impossible to turn the clock back, or put the genie back in the bottle, but if it is reasonable to assert all forms of communication in the public domain should serve common good, how is the dark side of social media to be addressed? If not, will the next generation be smart enough to shut it down?
Sure, domains can and should be expected to be far more diligent about what they allow to be published on their platforms. But, behind the front which is social media, is there a powerful ill-wind that feeds on discontent and division, a wind that encourages conflict and serves to stimulate mindless abuse on social media?
Recent court cases have confirmed there is such an ill wind blowing in the United States. It is called News Media with its subsidiaries like Fox News. The recent US court case showed Fox News to depend upon discontent and division to sustain and perhaps grow its business. When Trump looked like he was losing the 2021 election, News Limited momentarily called it accurately in Arizona. They quickly discovered that telling the truth cost them significant readership. They backed down and gave comfort to those who were determined to claim that Trump had won.
The News Limited stable in Australia is hewn from the same stock. Whether the ABC should have asked Stan Grant to give his important commentary on the crown, colonisation, and the fate of indigenous people while people were entering Westminster Abbey for the coronation could be debated. But News Ltd used all its media outlets in a scathing attack not just on the commentary, but on Stan himself. Having fed the hounds of racism (in social media) they tried to redeem themselves in a belated show of sympathy for Stan.
It is hardly a surprise that the State most likely to reject the referendum on the Voice slated for October or November is Queensland. News Limited has a strangle hold on print media in that State. Now, I know few people make use of print media, however the ideas presented through News Ltd and its stable mate Sky News percolate in the public space and are picked up and repeated in social media posts.
News Media is not a serious journalistic player nor a serious presenter of news, it is a propaganda platform in support of conservative ideology. This statement is hardly contentious.
The conservative side of politics is currently arguing that the Voice referendum should be defeated because it is inherently divisive, giving privilege to one section of the population that is denied to the rest. Nonsense! the reverse is true, opposition to the Voice is divisive, and purposely so, for division and discontent is the political weapon of choice for conservative politics seeking electoral approval here, and in the US.
There is goodwill among Australians for such significant advancement as will enable Australia’s First Nations people to flourish and prosper on their terms. That indigenous people have chosen the path they believe will best facilitate this journey, that should be enough for all Australians to vote for it. Sadly, we know there is always a gap between what is ideal and what in a democracy is politically deliverable. Mr Dutton has said he and his party cannot (will not) accept the wording asked for at Uluru and accepted by the Prime Minister.
Mr Dutton has been invited to offer an alternative set of words that in his view are politically deliverable. He has declined to do so. Like News Ltd deciding to support Trump’s false claims, he has calculated this stance is the one most likely to win him accolades from those on the right of politics. Does he follow Murdoch and Sky, or do Murdoch and Sky parrot Dutton?
History shows it is almost impossible for a referendum to succeed if it does not enjoy bipartisan political support.
The respected Jesuit priest and lawyer, Father Frank Brennan, has been working hard to find a path that both sides of politics will accept. In his recently launched book, An Indigenous Voice to parliament he offers an alternative set of words:
There shall be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice with such structure and functions as the parliament deems necessary to facilitate consultation prior to the making of special laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and with such other functions as the parliament determines.
He argues that these words do not alter the constitution but complete it.
The Prime Minister has made it clear he will not offer a set of words that do not fully embrace the intent of the Uluru statement. This is the right path to take, but it may not be politically astute. What is presented must be politically deliverable and workable in practice. On the other hand, Dutton’s refusal to offer a different set of words demonstrates a lack of good will. Clearly his ʹnoʹ is ʹnoʹ regardless of the words.
At both ends of the spectrum people will vote yes or no regardless of words and arguments presented between now and the referendum. However, there are significant numbers in the middle who need to be persuaded, some of whom will sadly be seduced by disinformation.
The best possible result will be the passing of the referendum with words that most adequately express the desire of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and which serve the intended outcome of improved lives. The worst possible result would be for a referendum to be held and lost.
The vitriol experienced by Stan Grant is a sad reminder that we Australians are not readily open to hearing that the advantage experienced by most of us has come at the expense of disadvantage suffered by First Nations people. Listening is the first and necessary step to reconciliation. The Voice is the best, perhaps the only, offering in the room which might put our listening into effect.