Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Perspectives on Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook's one-word change to the 36 year-old* Australian national anthem

Luke Person writing at Indigenous X on 1 January 2021:

Last night the Morrison government announced that they were changing the national anthem, to be more inclusive of Indigenous peoples and of migrants (the not white ones anyways), by changing a single word, ‘young’. It’s now ‘one’.

We are one and free.

We are One Nation.

Pauline must be stoked.

This, from the same political party who every Invasion Day assure us that Indigenous peoples aren’t interested in meaningless symbolic gestures like Australia no longer throwing a party on the anniversary of invasion, are now confident that Indigenous peoples will be so excited about this meaningless symbolic change that presumably we will no longer refuse to sing it at national sporting events.

Changing the anthem from ‘young’ to ‘one’ is not only problematic because it’s symbolic tokenism aimed at silencing dissent that completely misses the nature of the dissent in the first place, but it’s also problematic because it’s the same wrongly labelled ‘one’ as the one made famous by ‘One Nation’.

The original version of ‘we are one’ was a view of multiculturalism which tried to encourage white Australia away from its traditional view of a fair go meaning ‘if your skin ain’t fair, you gots to go’ and to accept instead the notion that we could be ‘one nation with many cultures’.

This was quickly co-opted by racist ideologues who replaced that sentiment with the assimilationist idea that one nation meant ‘one culture with many races’ and that was quickly cemented into the national consciousness by Pauline Hanson who seized the moment and took the name for her political party ‘One Nation’.

Despite One Nation tainting the concept of ‘one nation,’ both meanings have persisted in Australia without much national discourse or reflection on which one we should have, but it’s been pretty clear from a Liberal Party standpoint since the days of John Howard that they aren’t huge fans of the multiculturalism actually meaning multiple cultures.

They are generally more on the side of white/western supremacy, which many liberals have hinted at, and which Tony Abbott flat out stated on multiple occasions when he was PM.

Their views on Indigenous assimilation are much the same.

This can be seen by their political insistence that reconciliation can only be achieved by ‘closing the gap’ rather than by recognising Indigenous Rights as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Having an ambiguous working definition of multiculturalism began as a contest between the two, which the nation should have chosen between by now. Instead, both definitions have been left unchallenged to ensure that politicians can conveniently dog whistle to both sides whenever they talk about us being the ‘most successful multicultural country on Earth’.

This change plays right into that blurring of the lines between the two definitions.

We are one. And we are free. And from all the lands on earth we come.

You’d have thought they would have just straight up changed the anthem to ‘I am Australian’ by the Seekers, but I guess it has too much brand association with QANTAS these days, and because you don’t want to be seen as caving in to the politically correct demands of the slightly left of centrists who were presumably campaigning for this change.

Yesterday, on the last day of 2020, IndigenousX published a powerful piece from Gregory Phillips called ‘Can We Breathe?’ talking staunchly about truth telling, and about Indigenous empowerment.

Today, on the first day of 2021, we are talking about the anthem, or at least we are meant to be.

Instead of continuing to explain why the new anthem is just as shit as the old one though, I’m going to remind people of what some of our Indigenous Rights are:

Article 3: Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.

Article 5: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.

Article 8.1: Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

That’s only four of them, there are 46.  Read them. There will be a test.

This is the test, and Australia is failing at it.

These are what needs to be informing our discussions around change.

Australia has worked hard for decades now to poison the well of Indigenous Rights discourse by reframing any such discussion as ‘Indigenous people want special treatment and free handouts’.

We need to move beyond the fear of being shown in this light and embrace the reality that being the Indigenous peoples of these lands and waters is special, and it brings with it special rights and responsibilities.

This is not us wanting something for nothing. This is us demanding our rights, and we have already paid far more than we should ever have had to for them.

Adjunct associate professor at the School of Psychology, University of Queensland, and proud Wiradjuri man, Joe Williams, writing in The Guardian on 1 January 2021:

I was made aware on Thursday by a friend of the incoming changes to the national anthem. My reply was an “eye roll” emoji with the words: “But we aren’t all one, we certainly aren’t treated as one; and many, sure as hell, aren’t free”.

I put out a tweet on Friday with my thoughts:

For we are one and free, is like a present from yr nerd uncle, who tries to be cool, but fails hard. I mean, is that line trying to convince us, or you? Cos’ we definitely aren’t treated as one, & many sure as hell aren’t free”

Prime minister Scott Morrison was quoted as saying the change “takes away nothing … but adds much”.

'We are one and free': Australia's national anthem to change in attempt to recognise Indigenous history

Is it supposed to hit the “warm and fuzzies”, taking away the notion of “us and them” by pretending that all people who live on this continent are one big happy family?

Let’s be brutally honest, we aren’t.

You all know the rates of incarceration when it comes to First Nations v non-Indigenous Australians, deaths in custody, the drastic health disparity and the difference in life expectancy between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians. You know of the negative profiling when it comes to mainstream media between the two (if you don’t, it’s not hard to Google). Why on earth would anyone think that the changing of just one word would encourage First Nations people to feel as “ONE” with any Australian?

To me, changing just one word with the view of inclusion does very little for actual inclusion, and does next to nothing for the hope of uniting a nation......

The song I believe is a beautiful representation of a united, multicultural Australia is the one written by Judith Durham, Uncle Kutcha Edwards, Lou Bennett, Camilla Chance and Bill Hauritz. It’s time for a fresh start and to get a new song. And if we are genuine about this word “reconciliation”, we need to start a relationship before we try to heal one that never existed. 


* Advance Australia Fair became the national anthem on 19 April 1984.

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