The view from Billinudgel

Mirror, mirror
The only thing Andrew Bolt wants to recognise is his own reflection

Last week’s television debate Recognition: Yes or No? did not really advance the issue, which was a pity; it could have been more helpful had the participants been better matched.

But Andrew Bolt and Linda Burney were never going to find common ground. Burney is intelligent, nuanced, and to an extent flexible; her beliefs are strong but she realizes that she must come to accommodations with others. Bolt, on the other hand, is not for turning: he arrives at a position and sticks to it, impervious to argument.

His stance against recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution is defensible, but his refusal to negotiate or compromise with the opposing viewpoints meant that, in the end, the program got nowhere. But Bolt’s formula needs analyzing, but because it is actually not as simple and straightforward as it sounds.

Bolt says we are all Australians; we should not discriminate in any way, and particularly when it comes to race. Okay, fair enough. But mine down from that simple adit and what he really means is that we should all be like him – safe conservative, resistant to change and most particularly to the kind of legal and judicial innovation embodied in the document prepared by our hirsute forebears more than a century ago.

Bolt refuses to accept that culture and society evolve, that indeed they must do so or decline into irrelevancy: he wants things to stay as there are, preferably in the relaxed and comfortable times John Howard promised 20 years ago and never actually delivered.

Bolt knows we cannot all be white and middle class (although one suspects that he actually wishes it) but we can at least pretend that we are: we should speak English, honour the church, the crown and the flag, and not interfere with things that are not our concern.

If migrants, or the children of migrants like himself, sometimes like to dress up and dance in the traditions of their past, this is excusable; but it should never be seen as a core part of mainstream Australia. That remains – well, what? Apparently whatever he decrees.

Thus Bolt’s absurdities – his vehement denial of climate science, for instance – are not eccentricities; they are part of his credo.  And it makes it all but impossible to explain to him that there are other points of view, equally passionately held and equally valid.

It is significant that he skirts around the 1967 referendum which counted Aboriginal Australians in the census and brought the Commonwealth into their administration; this was constitutional change – revolution, even – endorsed by a huge majority of what Bolt would regard as ordinary Australians. If he were consistent, he would have opposed it, as he opposes the far less confronting concept of recognition. 

And he wants it both ways: one the one hand it is divisive, a form of apartheid, pushing the country towards a treaty or, far worse, self-determination. But on the other hand it is no more than empty symbolism. But whatever it is, or whatever he thinks and fears it may be, he doesn’t want it. 

And the sociopathic corollary to his argument is that if he does not want it, then it is, by definition, wrong for everyone else to. So Linda Burney never had a chance.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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