23 January 2021

Claire G Coleman: “Most Australian politicians, particularly those in the two major parties, lack the political will to do what the majority, and perhaps even they personally, support. Instead, politicians pander to conservative ideologies, driven by the morbid fear of criticism from a small but vocal minority. Australian politics is, for the most part, power without passion. And nowhere is this more stark than in Aboriginal affairs. … I cannot remember the last time an Australian politician took a risk on something that showed real initiative. … [B]oth major parties have long been guilty of failing to act because they are afraid of reaction from white nationalists. … When you look at the history books, though, there were times when Australian governments did the right thing, even at considerable political risk. I think of Gough Whitlam pouring sand into the open hand of Vincent Lingiari, a moment captured in an iconic photo by Murri photographer Mervyn Bishop. The gesture was, of course, symbolic, but it was not empty — it made vivid the return of land to the Gurindji people. Supporting land rights was just one of many risks Whitlam took, one of the times he did what he thought was right, regardless of the political consequence. Even after all this time, Whitlam is remembered and loved. I wonder how people will remember Scott Morrison? Perhaps it will come down to a single word: afraid.”