I loved this news article yesterday.
Julia Gillard bypassed her party’s selection process and announced that she was choosing the Labor (sic) Party Senate candidate for a Northern Territory seat. She called it a “Captain’s Pick”. Rather like that carbon tax we got last year too, I suppose.
Funnier still, it wasn’t a particularly empty seat. The incumbent was alive, reasonably well and until yesterday afternoon, presumably fairly confident that she’d be defending the seat at the next election. As far as I can tell, Senator Trish Crossin hasn’t had any major scandals, gaffs or issues in her 15 years in office, but she’s been handed an opportunity to spend more time with her family at the end of the year, regardless.
The various reactions to this are equally amusing; the PM has replaced Crossin with an Aboriginal sports hero (the first native Australian to win an Olympic Gold) and until yesterday she wasn’t even a member of the party. You can be sure those forms were rapidly completed last night.
So folk are caught in a bind; on the one hand it feels like the right thing to do, for the first time ever giving an Aboriginal candidate a slam-dunk opportunity to get a Senate seat.
On the other hand, a democratic party process has just been railroaded by executive privilege and (this is the part people are a bit loathe to articulate) an ethnic minority just got “positive discrimination”.
Oh what an awful position to be in as a politician asked to comment on this. What to say? What to say?
Well, I’m not a politician, hell, I’m not even allowed to vote, so I feel entirely qualified to offer the correct response to this;
While the selection of a candidate from any minority not currently well-represented is laudable, this is not the way to do it. Democracy isn’t an optional extra to be modified at the behest of an individual, especially not one with such a slim personal mandate. As personable and untainted by the cynical ways of Australian politics as Nova Peris may be, she’s got absolutely zero experience in any of the workings of government. The only two obvious qualifications that she possesses for public office is that she’s famous and black.
In fact, this episode is an excellent example of all that is wrong with Australia’s attitude and actions towards the first inhabitants of the country. Perhaps special treatment, as well-meaning as it might be (and a cynic might suggest that is often done for not so laudable reasons) simply reinforces the status of outsider, of “other”, of difference.
Why does the word “Aborigine” or “Aboriginal” need to be applied to any of the billions of dollars of welfare and “intervention” programmes to assist those in poverty or with addictions? Shouldn’t it be simply due to need, regardless of genetic history?
The vast majority of the population have to get on their bike to find work if there is none available in their neighbourhood. Any benefits paid will be conditional on some level of effort being demonstrated that you’ve been job-hunting. However, if you live in an extremely remote part of the country AND you have a Certificate of Aboriginality different rules apply.
In fact, stick a combination of the words “Indigenous”, “Aboriginal”, “Torres Strait Islander” with the word “Benefits” or “Payments” into a search engine and be astounded at the myriad schemes directly-targeted at, and let’s not mince our words here, a specific “race” over all the others. I use the term “race” with caution, I’m not sure it’s particularly useful in any positive sense in the 21st century.
Actually, the legislation itself seems confused about whether genetic ancestry is important or not. To get the certificate, you need to show that you comply with all three of the following;
- You are of Aboriginal descent.
- You identify as an Aboriginal person.
- You are accepted by the Aboriginal community in which you live.
I don’t think anyone has ever had to prove the first one yet (presumably with a blood test) because the important one is the last; if the locals say you’re one of them, you’re one of them.
This is just a big legal and constitutional mess. Worse still, it’s re-enforcing the third world status of an entire section of the population. Where else in the world is the “race” of a citizen a legally-defined factor in access to housing, education, health services and other welfare?
Surely it would be simpler to consistently execute the existing laws relating to crime, access to benefits, health, education, etc. regardless of skin colour and location instead of this anachronism that keeps some citizens separate but
“Diplomatic immunity Mr. Riggs.”