Recognising bias in the debate on indigenous recognition

recognise-large-logoSimon Morgan has an important piece published in the most recent edition of The Spectator. His thorough analysis of Recognise – the taxpayer-funded organisation responsible for promoting the referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution – can be read online here. I’ve excerpted the opening paragraphs:

There is a tremendous cache to be found in portraying oneself as an ‘underdog’ in contemporary Australian society, whether that be in the cultural, the commercial or the political arena.Australians love the notion of a scrappy band of outsiders banding together and taking on powerful interests. The emotional appeal of insurgency is a key aspect of the public campaign being waged by ‘Recognise’ – which badges itself as ‘the people’s campaign to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution.’ The use of the term ‘people’s campaign’ is no doubt deliberate, and meant to evoke romantic images of a mass uprising that forces ‘the system’ to bend to its will.

There are a couple of minor problems with this narrative. The first is that a genuine ‘people’s campaign’ is an organic uprising, often social protest against the established order. In contrast, Recognise is possibly the first ‘people’s campaign’ to be not only birthed by the State, but also financed by it, around $15 million thus far.

The second, more troubling, aspect of Recognise’s evolution was its decision last month to burst into partisan politics.The catalyst was the WA Liberal Party State Conference, which among 52 policy motions listed for debate, included one that proposed the Party ‘oppose any move to recognise a single race to the exclusion of all others in the body or preamble of the Commonwealth Constitution’.

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