As the global Black Lives Matter movement and protests continue, it is worth taking a look at where Australia fits into the puzzle, including the language we’re seeing from our Prime Minister and his Coalition government in the justification for government inaction on Indigenous issues.
As the outrage of the Black Lives Matter movement spread globally, this time sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of violent Minneapolis police, Australia has been forced to confront their own race relations.
Demonstrations were held in all major cities with a distinct focus on the systematic mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. In response, Scott Morrison stated that “there’s no need to import things happening in other countries here to Australia”; a careful choice of language from our PM, as to “import” implies that something is external and foreign in nature. It commodifies the BLM movement as an unwanted package, positioning those taking direct action as ridiculous and overly sensitive. It is patronising and dismissive.
Asserting that the Black Lives Matter movement is foreign and irrelevant to Australia is a tactical and bold move on the part of Morrison, his choice of rhetoric perhaps aided by his past in advertising. It demonstrates a wilful blindness and unwillingness to meaningfully address not only Australia’s genocidal history, but current Indigenous issues; think, Rio Tinto given the green light to knowingly a destroy 46,000-year-old Indigenous heritage site, 400+ deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission, the obscene incarceration rates of Indigenous youths - to name a few. Just last week, Morrison declared on radio station 2GB that there was “no slavery in Australia”, leaving Australians to wonder whether our prime minister is either grossly uninformed or intentionally partaking in the erasure of Indigenous history.
Australia has a history of tokenistic government initiatives. “Closing the Gap” was created in 2008 with the intention of “improving the lives of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians”; the 2020 report showed that five of the seven targets were not on track. In 2017 the Federal Government refused to acknowledge the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in which our First Nations People asked for constitutional reforms in order to regain agency over their land and end the alienation of Indigenous children from their families. Thinking back to Kevin Rudd’s “sorry” speech in 2008, whilst meaningful in the way it recognised the inhumanity and brutality of Australia’s past (the same cannot be said for our current PM, who’s choosing to turn a blind eye to this in favour of the ‘at least we’re not as bad as America’ narrative), has not since been followed with meaningful action.
We’re seeing conversations emerge regarding proposed new targets and government initiatives. We need to, as a community, be wary not to jump on the praise train too soon, as until drastic changes are made and quantifiable results are seen (i.e. lowering the over-representation of Ingenious Australians in prison and youth detention), talk is just talk.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister’s statement “Australia is not the US”, comes as an empty justification for his own mediocrity and inaction.The implication is that comparatively, Australia is doing an ‘alright’ job when it comes to mediating our own countries racial tensions. Of course we know this is not based in reality. Through his statements, Scott Morrison urges Australians to simply turn a blind eye to our governments systemic and historical mistreatment of First Nations People. He prematurely closes the chapter on racial tensions.
This sentiment is also reflected in Morrison’s response to the Black Lives Matter protests organised around the country last weekend, as he described the action of attending the demonstrations as “completely unacceptable”, as well as urging Australians to “respect our history”. The PM also asserted that those who attended rallies should face charges. Our last article discussed the free pass Morrison gave to the group of conspiracy theorists who chose to protest lockdown in early May. In relation to that demonstration we heard our PM say “It’s a free country. People will make their protest and make their voices heard”.
The hypocrisy is clear in which movements Morrison choses to endorse and which to suppress. Scott Morrison’s instinct to distance himself and Australia from the US led Black Lives Matter movement shows he is afraid he may be asked to look in a mirror and confront his own governments brutal past and continued unwillingness to address Indigenous issues.
Photo credit 📷 Kon Karampelas