The Politics    Thursday, June 23, 2022

Voice control

By Rachel Withers

Image of Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, May 14, 2021. Image © James Ross / AAP Images

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, May 14, 2021. Image © James Ross / AAP Images

Once again, conservatives are attempting to police who gets to have a say on Indigenous affairs

Flag-gate has entered its fourth day, with News Corp continuing its all-out assault on Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman. For those lucky enough not to be initiated, the controversy began on Monday, when Greens leader Adam Bandt moved the national flag out of frame for a press conference because it represents “lingering pains” for some Australians, an act that sent conservatives into meltdown. The controversy has escalated, as controversies do, with Thorpe saying that the flag had connotations of “invasion and dispossession”, during a Project interview that has generated significant backlash against host Waleed Aly, who accused her of ceding her sovereignty by becoming a senator. (Thorpe said that swearing allegiance to the “colonising Queen” was a sacrifice she had made in order to represent her people.) The Daily Mail has today labelled Thorpe an “enemy of the state”, while today’s Australian front page asks its readers, “Should this woman be in parliament?” Once again, we are reminded that the proudest practitioners of “cancel culture” are those who rail against it.

In its bid to “cancel” Thorpe, News Corp has enlisted the help of incoming Northern Territory Coalition senator and Warlpiri/Celtic woman Jacinta Price, who started out arguing that Thorpe’s views don’t reflect those of all Indigenous Australians. Price has today ramped things up, calling for Thorpe to be removed from parliament if she doesn’t consider herself Australian, and adding that the governor-general “should take a closer look at what her real intentions are and consider whether this is possible grounds for dismissal”. Following up on RN Breakfast, Price said that Thorpe was failing to represent “all Australians” when she denigrated the flag – a ridiculous suggestion, as host Patricia Karvelas pointed out, considering that Thorpe was elected to represent Victorians, and Victorians who voted for her at that (that being how representative democracy works). Price, who opposes an Indigenous voice to parliament, said that Thorpe’s “divisiveness” doesn’t solve problems, making specific note of Thorpe also being of mixed heritage and calling out her privilege. It’s clear that Price, who told Karvelas that her grandfather had “wanted to be part of” the changing world, will be a key player in upcoming debates on the voice, and beyond that the republic, as a loud and proud Indigenous conservative.

The issue, however, is that Price and the conservative media amplifying her don’t seem to think that Thorpe (or anyone who voted for her) deserves to have a voice. Price contradicted herself throughout the interview, at first saying that Thorpe was wrong to not represent all Australians as a federal senator, but later saying that she herself didn’t seek to speak on behalf of white Australians as a “homogenous group”. Conservatives have repeatedly accused Thorpe and Bandt of “undermining progress”, suggesting their behaviour “puts reconciliation in peril” (while not necessarily taking issue with the actions of people such as Victorian backbencher Tim Smith, who yesterday decided to be one of the few voices opposing a state-based treaty). “It doesn’t bring Australians together,” Price said of the Greens today, while also arguing that it wasn’t divisive for Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to refuse to stand in front of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags – something the new prime minister has begun doing – because “we’re Australian and we all stand under one flag”.

Conservatives, it seems, still want to have full power over deciding what is disrespectful and what is divisive – just as they did with Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who, lest we forget, was chased out of the country for making a point on Anzac Day. Most of all, they want to decide who gets to have a voice – whether a voice in the parliament or a Voice to parliament. Price (and others, though they are happy to use the Indigenous woman who identifies as half Celtic as their spokesperson) want Thorpe removed from the Senate for showing “contempt” for the Australian people. But in arguing for her removal, they show open contempt for all those who voted for her, and open disregard for democracy itself.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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