Australia’s political history is a dark tapestry, woven from the repeated redrafting of truth with a litany of political lies.
From John Howard’s lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to Malcolm Turnbull’s statement that the Adani mine will “create tens of thousands of jobs” the list is endless, creating what some call “the normalisation of lying in Australian politics”.
Some lies are worse than others.
The most heinous are deliberate lies about serious issues, negatively impacting many individuals. These lies are damaging, even catastrophic to those it victimises, particularly when they become urban folklore, no matter how untrue.
In the age of social media urban folklore equals votes.
Nowhere is the socio-political manifestation of this more apparent than in the strategic excoriation and deliberate misrepresentation of the state of Indigenous affairs.
From the little white lies of political spin to the sprawling bloodstain of genocide, the biggest casualty of all is the truth.
Since 1991, Indigenous and social justice advocates have awaited a government to fully implement the Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody’s 339 recommendations. The 441 black deaths in custody since and the lack of real reform in police practices, suggests things have deteriorated.
A common lie peddled in defence of this mass murder is that “they” are over-represented both in deaths and incarceration because “they do more crime”.
The evidence has never supported this.
A NAIDOC Week oration to NSW Police by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner noted Indigenous people are at least 13 times more likely than whites to be picked up by police for the same common misdemeanors, blowing out to 23 times for juveniles.
Many of its statistics debunk the popularist lie that people are imprisoned for more time because they commit more crime. If only it were that simple. A lethal combination of racial profiling, social disadvantage and an almost complete lack of police and government accountability are just a few of the real reasons the killings in custody continue.
In 2007, the John Howard government perpetuated the invidious outrage that came to be known as the “Northern Territory intervention”. The Northern Territory National Emergency Response included the introduction of the Basics Card, which has since morphed into the Indue Cashless Welfare Card.
In his seminal 2013 documentary Utopia, John Pilger exposed with raw clarity how ABC’s Lateline colluded with the Howard government, then-Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough and a staffer, to manufacture a child protection emergency.
Porn, pedophilia and drug and alcohol abuse were said to be so rampant in a single cluster of Indigenous communities that declaring an emergency response and sending in the army was essential.
The intervention was so racist that, with the help of the Labor opposition, the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended to render it lawful. The reputation and social damage to the Indigenous community was immense.
The basis of the intervention was later proven to be a wholesale lie with a fake whistleblower who was also the minister’s adviser.
The expert whose report proved no such emergency existed, and that indeed some of the crime indicators cited were lower than in other communities, was promptly sacked. Her report was buried, along with the last shred of government integrity.
None of the corporate media who parasitically fed off the story for years ever printed a retraction — another cancerous, racist lie by omission.
As for the Basics Card, reports too numerous to mention have found it to be expensive, ineffective and often foisted on people who never needed income management in the first place.
It damaged local small businesses who cannot get Centrelink approval to accept it, even for non-alcohol purchases. Multinationals, with grog shops attached, appear to have no such issue.
Only time will tell the real reasons governments want those remote areas abandoned, again declared terra nullius. But with fake interventions used to send in the army, and a mining magnate allowed to drive government policy on income management, it smacks of a colonial land grab.
Closing the gap?
In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments developed the Closing The Gap initiative. The promise was an inter-governmental agreement to work with Indigenous people to implement reforms to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. Current evidence shows implementation did not go to plan.
In July the Scott Morrison government released the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. It claims some improvements as a result of the 2008 framework, while recognising “more needs to be done, and done differently”.
It acknowledges Indigenous peoples have been saying for a long time that they need a much greater say in program and service development and delivery, particularly at local level. They have also been asking government agencies and institutions to address “systemic, daily racism, and promote cultural safety and transfer power and resources to communities”.
It is a credit to Indigenous leadership that they are prepared to yet again put in so much time and effort and produce such an outstanding strategic planning agreement, determined it will be implemented in full.
Economic autonomy and self-determination has been the catch cry of many governments purporting to address Indigenous disadvantage. It remains a constant refrain, even as the government is unnecessarily forcing Indigenous populations into dehumanising and ineffective ration cards under the guise of it being an essential social service.
Even the best agreed targets can only be met through genuine power sharing, Constitutional recognition and land rights that genuinely allow Indigenous people a democratic say over Country.
This is where the many good-faith, inter-governmental agreements concerning Indigenous people have so often fallen short.
The result is that social, economic and racial imbalances remain a significant impediment to real reform.
In the words of Yothu Yindi’s “Treaty”, a politician’s “promises can disappear / just like writing in the sand”.
That much, at least, is true.