For some reason that I can’t fathom, Paul Kelly is regarded as something of a giant among the political scribblers who now routinely pull the strings of our marionette politicians.
In his Wikipedia entry he is described as a ‘conservative’ political journalist. He may be conservative in name but much of his writing exhibits a decidedly pronounced lean to the Left and he is not above distorting, even misrepresenting, the facts to buttress his own ideological mindset.
Let me give you one example from a year or so ago.
In the context of the failed ALP bid for the Senate to petition the Governor General to dismiss Dyson Heydon from the Trade Union Royal Commission, Kelly, writing in The Australian, said:
The principles here are exactly the same as in the 1975 crisis. On that occasion the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, acted on a motion passed by the Senate, defied the advice of the prime minister, broke the conventions surrounding his office and took a unilateral decision to preference the wishes of the Senate over the position of the executive government.
This is blatantly untrue and Kelly must know that. There was no motion passed by the Senate to dismiss Whitlam. And, as far as I am aware, I am the only person who has called Kelly out on this.
Now is Kelly is up to his old tricks again.
In yesterday’s Australian, he has a piece on Reconciliation, the main thrust of which, not unreasonably, suggests that indigenous activists, and their useful idiot cheer squads in the ALP and Greens, need to abandon their divisive rhetoric surrounding Australia Day and memorials. However, the general tone of the article highlights Kelly’s credential as a genuine, whatever-it-takes, Left wing ideologue.
For a start, he tells us:
There are two tough principles at the heart of this. First, there can be no full justice or restitution for the enormous crimes and sins committed against the indigenous peoples, though this cannot gainsay efforts to address injustice against them; and, second, this is a dialogue between two different cultures, both of which have legitimate claims on this continent, with such legitimacy needing to be recognised by the other. Without acceptance of these harsh realities, we are collectively doomed.
The purported aim of Kelly’s piece is to promote a civil dialogue between mainstream Australia and the Indigenous population. Telling one side that they have suffered ‘enormous crimes and sins’ for which there can be no ‘full justice or restitution’ seems more like pouring oil on flames. To then augment that sense of grievance by suggesting that both sides have legitimate claims on the continent (apparently legitimizing the idea of some form of Aboriginal sovereignty) doesn’t leave a lot of incentive for indigenous activists (who, let’s face it, are driving this issue) to moderate their demands. In fact, Aboriginal culture has no claim on the continent because it never exercised sovereignty, in any meaningful modern sense, over the continent.
And let’s look at the ‘enormous crimes and sins committed against the indigenous peoples’. These take two forms. The first encompasses, yes, the undoubted incidents of murder, violence, enslavement, discrimination and so on against individual members of the indigenous clans. For those victims of past injustice there can be no restitution. That is unfortunate but, insofar as they were ever conducted on an ‘enormous’ scale, they are well in the past and current generations are not materially affected at a personal level by these events. That is not to say that this type of injustice does not still occur from time to time but it is not systemic and full restitution is available to victims under our laws. And it is not to say that current generations should not be saddened, even angry, about these events. But they should not shape our current debate about the way forward. Using emotive language like ‘enormous crimes’ just feeds into the ‘genocide’ meme that we now hear, all too often, from activists.
The other form of ‘crime’ which we have committed is the overarching one relating to the debasement (even eradication) of traditional aboriginal culture and the way in which this has impinged upon the lives of those living in remote areas. Again that is a tragedy, but one that was always going to happen as the modern world inevitably made its presence felt on this continent. There is no going back to the past on Aboriginal culture and there are already enormous efforts underway to preserve what’s left of it. The tragedy is not that Aboriginal culture became obsolete but that the speed with which it happened has caused serious problems for those who have been unable to adapt. That is what we have to deal with and it demands practical solutions not symbolic ones that, on one hand, will do nothing for Aboriginal disadvantage but on the other hand would damage our polity.
Now we come to the bit where Kelly, again, propagates a false narrative:
For Aborigines, Federation in 1901 meant nothing and gave them nothing. The founders believed they were a dying race. In 1902, in a shameful act, the new parliament legislated a uniform franchise for elections, giving the vote to men and women and denying it to Aborigines. Racism lay at the heart of the new nation.
For a start, Kelly’s assertion that ‘the founders’ believed they were a dying race’ is just throwaway line with no basis in fact. Who are ‘the founders’ who believed this? If we narrow the definition of ‘founders’ to those who were most instrumental in framing the Constitution we find a group of men who were at the forefront of ‘progressive’ thinking for their time. In particular, Charles Kingston, as Premier of South Australia legislated in 1895 to allow women, which included aboriginal women, to vote – seven years before any woman in the other colonies got the vote. By the time of Federation, aborigines, along with all 21 year old males, had the right to vote in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Section 41 of the Constitution mandated that these aborigines could not be denied the vote in Federal elections. And Section 25 was intended to encourage Queensland and Western Australia to extend the vote to aborigines or, at the very least, to disadvantage them for not doing so.
And to put Kelly’s hyperbolic claim that ‘racism lay at the heart of the new nation’ in context, by 1860 aboriginal men had the vote in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. That was less than thirty years since the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and five years before it was abolished in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Yes, the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 did deny the vote to aborigines who did not already have it i.e. those residing in Queensland and Western Australia. That was shameful, but that result was not intended in the Constitution and only appeared in the Act after considerable debate, with many Members and Senators opposing it. The original bill, presented to the Parliament, did not have this provision in it.
To be fair, there are claims that, after Federation, many aborigines legally entitled to vote were refused enrolment. That may or may not be true – there are so many myths surrounding this issue – but if so they would be instances of bureaucratic overreach and, yes, even sheer bastardry. If they occurred they were not sanctioned by either the Constitution or the Electoral Act. We have to evaluate these claims, which are largely anecdotal, against the written evidence of the Constitution and the Electoral Acts of both the Commonwealth and the States. Kelly’s claim implies that all aborigines were denied the vote by Act of Parliament and that is patently false.
(This issue of the right to vote is very comprehensively addressed by Keith Windschuttle in his excellent and very readable book The Breakup of Australia. I urge anyone interested in this topic to get hold of it.)
Kelly then makes a valid point which is greatly devalued by his resort to identity politics:
If indigenous leaders want to tear down the past they will find a populist right-wing reaction against them. Everybody will be the loser.
If Kelly thinks opposition to historical revisionism is ‘populist’ and solely the province of the ‘right wing’, he has been too long in his Fourth Estate ivory tower. This is clearly a pejorative usage and it is this kind of inflammatory language that militates against the civil debate that Kelly claims to want.
The moral crimes against the Aboriginal people mean the work of reconciliation is never done — yet our obligation is to find a way to live together.
What does Kelly mean? Is reconciliation a magic pudding that can be dipped into generation after generation? If ‘reconciliation’ means anything it must involve a closure. There must be some point at which it is done and dusted. The only problem is that, on this issue, it’s a moving feast and only one side gets to decide when it’s complete. And we know which side that is, don’t we?
I wonder how many indigenous people would care a fig about recognition or reconciliation if they weren’t being constantly reminded, by a clique of indigenous academics whose comfortable sinecures derive from the very events that they claim to deplore, that they should, indeed must, feel aggrieved? And as to the remote area indigenes, who do live in fourth world conditions, how genuine is the grief and compassion they feel for long dead ancestors and a culture that had largely disappeared before they were born, when many of them can’t be bothered sending their kids to school or keeping them safe from predation?
For a supposedly eminent wordsmith, Kelly is very careless with the tools of his trade.