Ed­i­to­rial, Let­ters and Ge­off Pryor’s car­toon.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents -

His­tory is un­pleas­ant to read, of­ten be­cause of who wrote it.

In 1977, work­ing for The Bul­letin, Mal­colm Turn­bull wrote a piece de­scrib­ing First Aus­tralians as “a Stone Age peo­ple”. He wrote about coloni­sa­tion as the “seizure of a whole con­ti­nent from a prim­i­tive peo­ple”.

Af­ter vis­it­ing Alice Springs with mem­bers of the Aus­tralian Law Re­form Com­mis­sion, he wrote: “As one large drunken black woman yelled ob­scen­i­ties at us across a park I de­cided the Abo­rig­ines could do no worse than us in gov­ern­ing them­selves.”

These are the thoughts of a dif­fer­ent time. It would be un­fair to use them to claim a per­son’s hypocrisy. But it is a dif­fer­ent ar­gu­ment if they show how lit­tle a per­son has changed, how they still have the high-hand­ed­ness they pos­sessed at 23.

Turn­bull’s bi­og­ra­pher, Paddy Man­ning, chose to leave out these clip­pings when he pub­lished his book, Born to Rule. He has since changed his mind.

“Now, how­ever, more than two years into a prime min­is­ter­ship that has let down Indige­nous Aus­tralians, those ref­er­ences seem more re­veal­ing,” he wrote in

The Monthly re­cently. “I fear that when it comes to Abo­rig­i­nal sovereignty, dis­ad­van­tage – any­thing – the prime min­is­ter has a tin ear.”

When Mal­colm Turn­bull walked out on the re­lease of a new re­port into Indige­nous dis­ad­van­tage this week, he walked out on a decade of fail­ures. He walked out on the ap­palling dis­par­ity between black and white Aus­tralia, on ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment and health. He walked out on a re­port that found First Aus­tralians had been “ef­fec­tively aban­doned” and that tar­gets for bet­ter­ment had been de­stroyed by bud­get cuts and po­lit­i­cal my­opia.

Pat Dod­son said Turn­bull’s de­ci­sion to leave the launch of the Close the Gap re­port was “in­dica­tive of the deaf­ness, of the ab­so­lute de­ri­sion and the con­tempt, which this gov­ern­ment is met­ing out to the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple”.

It has be­come part of a pat­tern in this gov­ern­ment’s re­la­tion­ship with Indige­nous Aus­tralia.

It is there in the re­fusal to have a good faith dis­cus­sion about Aus­tralian his­tory and the cel­e­bra­tion of Jan­u­ary 26 as a na­tional day. It is there in the dis­missal by press re­lease of years of con­sen­sus in the Uluru state­ment.

Pa­ter­nal­ism is rife, with its as­so­ci­ated hec­tor­ing and con­de­scen­sion. Tar­gets move back­wards, as do de­bates. There is no will­ing­ness to spend po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on this, no will­ing­ness to even try.

The re­fusal to take the Uluru state­ment to a ref­er­en­dum, or even to a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion, was a clear in­di­ca­tion of this. “His­tory will ever re­mind Aus­tralians that at a cru­cial junc­ture of our his­tory the prime min­is­ter lied,” Noel Pear­son wrote of this de­ci­sion, “and his lie was a slur on the coun­try’s most un­equal peo­ple – its First Peo­ples.”

The re­port on which the prime min­is­ter walked out this week found that the Clos­ing the

Gap strat­egy “per­sists in name only”. Tar­gets have be­come frag­mented, lead­er­ship is ab­sent. “It is al­most a full re­treat…” the re­port said. “The na­tion is now in a sit­u­a­tion where the Clos­ing the Gap tar­gets will mea­sure noth­ing but the col­lec­tive fail­ure of Aus­tralian gov­ern­ments to work to­gether and to stay the course.”

It is 40 years since Mal­colm Turn­bull “de­cided the Abo­rig­ines could do no worse than us in gov­ern­ing them­selves”. His gov­ern­ment has done every­thing in its power to make this true.

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