Extraordinary scandal nobody saw

 

This week, an extraordinary event took place and nobody noticed.

It happened in the middle of the national capital, in the middle of Parliament House, and still nobody noticed.

It was an event so bizarre and unprecedented that even that morning it would have been utterly unimaginable.

Indeed, 20 years ago it would have been front page news across the country.

And yet here it was happening right under the nose of our national leaders and the national press gallery and nobody noticed.

So for the benefit of history, what happened was this: A dozen Aboriginal women from rural Australia made the long and torturous journey to Canberra - many for the first time - in a desperate effort to tell our national leaders of the violence and dysfunction that was crippling their communities.

And to do so they reached out to the one politician they thought might actually listen to them: Pauline Hanson.

One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson made headlines again this week with her controversial comments. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson made headlines again this week with her controversial comments. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

I have often said that there is a counterintuitive commonality between the far left and the far right.

It now seems the same applies to the far black and the far white.

The phenomenon is the same. People who feel unheard by their community leaders will start looking in the opposite direction until they eventually meet up with another mob coming the other way.

Then, like with any other love-hate relationship, they either f**k or fight. Such is the angry and turbulent mood of the modern political age.

At any rate, this grassroots delegation was cobbled together by Josephine Cashman, a firebrand Indigenous lawyer who has become so frustrated and enraged by tokenistic platitudes and political cowardice in tackling Indigenous disadvantage that she has, for want of a better term, gone rogue.

Her message was basically this: Forget the endless debates about changing the date or the flag or the anthem; forget the limitless accusations of racism on all sides: Can we please just stop people dying in our communities?

These brave Aboriginal women came to Australia's most progressive city and its most powerful institution in a month when politicians and pundits were bending over themselves to declare how dedicated they were to closing the gap, after yet another Closing the Gap report showed they were doing anything but.

They also came in a week when the whole nation was traumatised by the sickening murder of a mother and her three children at the hands of a monster and commentators vowed to do everything in their power to stop violence against women and children.

And here they were, survivors and witnesses of such violence from the places where it happened the most, and still nobody noticed.

And, in the irony to end all ironies, the one politician who met and stayed with them more than any other was the one being excoriated on that very day for her latest clumsy comments on this very issue.

Hanson’s comments on domestic violence following the murder of Hannah Clarke stoked outrage. Picture: Facebook
Hanson’s comments on domestic violence following the murder of Hannah Clarke stoked outrage. Picture: Facebook

A lot of people will ask, given Pauline Hanson's long and infamous history of false and outrageous claims about Aboriginal people, how on earth a group of Aboriginal women could stand in the same room with her.

To that, I would offer a more telling question: How much must mainstream politicians have abandoned and condemned these women with their silence for them to see a maverick redneck senator as their only hope?

I am certainly no fan of Pauline Hanson. In my last column I detailed just some of her racist absurdities, including the disgraceful and discredited allegations of Aboriginal cannibalism in her first book.

Some might say she has softened since then, although even just this month she was singularly unsympathetic to the plight of our First Peoples, which she blamed almost entirely on themselves.

I vehemently disagree with that view. I have no doubt that much of the endemic disadvantage that seems to strangle Indigenous communities is an overhang of the disease, the grog, the killings and the kidnappings that we brought with us.

But I also vehemently disbelieve that any such attitudes and actions are the driving force behind Indigenous policy today. Any honest person working in this area knows that there is an abundance of goodwill on all sides of politics. The problem is there is an equally abundant amount of argument and confusion over what the way forward should be.

Clearly I am too pale and too bruised to offer my own solutions but it strikes me as a national outrage that women who are living through the worst of this disadvantage were almost entirely ignored when they tried to rise their voice.

Credit to the Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt who did meet with them - even if it was apparently a bit underwhelming - and Senator Jim Molan who took them all to lunch - which was apparently a bit of a hit.

Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt met the women who’d travelled to Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt met the women who’d travelled to Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

And yet Pauline, incredibly enough, was the biggest hit of all.

"They really liked her because she's not a snob," Cashman told me. "She's open to listening." Unfortunately the only press about Hanson that day was over her excruciatingly contorted comments on poor Hannah Clarke and her family, which are impossible to comprehend let alone defend.

But you have to wonder if we are all equally contorted by a modern political and media culture that is more outraged by words than deeds.

While the nation was rightly united in grief for the Clarke family, the same deadly epidemic continues to sweep through our most vulnerable communities every day yet is strangely invisible.

According to Cashman, in the small and mostly Indigenous town of Wilcannia, which is home to only 550 people, 10 people have died in just the last eight weeks. Some by suicide, some by violence, all bound by poverty.

Pauline Hanson (centre left) meets Aboriginal women at Parliament House accompanied by Indigenous campaigners Josephine Cashman (3rd from left) and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. Source: Supplied
Pauline Hanson (centre left) meets Aboriginal women at Parliament House accompanied by Indigenous campaigners Josephine Cashman (3rd from left) and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. Source: Supplied

I have no die in the ditch objection to changing the date of Australia Day, nor the national anthem, nor even the flag - all relatively recent constructions. But it's hard to feel passionate about parlour room debates when the people we pretend we're trying to defend are dying at our grandstanding feet.

So anyway, all of this happened this week.

It happened in our national capital, it happened at Parliament House and it's happening all over the country.

And nobody told you about it, so I'm telling you now. What happens next is up to all of us.



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