Stan Grant and Australia's failure to talk about racism
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From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.
When Australia’s most high-profile Indigenous journalist was forced to step away from his role because of racist abuse, it made headlines around the world.
But here in Australia, most of the media and our political leaders have struggled to comprehend the meaning of the moment, and appear to be trapped in a cycle of well-wishes, apologies and outright denial instead of taking action.
Today, Yorta Yorta writer and contributor to The Saturday Paper Daniel James, on whether Australia is mature enough to have a national conversation about racism and justice for Indigenous people.
It’s Wednesday, May 31.
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So just over a week ago, veteran broadcaster Stan Grant, he announced that he was resigning or stepping away from the ABC for a while. In the week or so since that moment, there's a lot that's been said publicly about racism in Australia, about what's published by certain media outlets, what happens behind closed doors at other media outlets, and what appears on social media as well. What have you thought as you've watched that play out?
I thought the fallout from it was sadly predictable. I think Stan, through his actions, was, as he has done with a lot of his work over the years, he’s tried to hold a mirror up to Australia, but this time in particular the media. And he hasn't shied away from holding that mirror up to his employer, the ABC. The fallout has been one that has been full of denial by certain media companies, that they stoked the flames that led to him stepping away from the ABC. The ABC itself has been revealed to, in my view, be out of touch with the needs and wants of First Nations broadcasters and presenters there in particular.
I think the whole thing has been handled really poorly. It was extremely surprising to see Stan take that action, because I always thought he was someone that was kind of like above it all, someone that was impervious to criticism, not an active role in social media, would never talk to or talk about his critics externally. And for him to just, Friday afternoon drop a bombshell, write an article in which he criticises the ABC as an institution, and the feeling of abandonment that he felt, means that trying to have a civil conversation around the voice itself is proving itself to be very, very difficult because there just seems to be a lack of maturity around the debate and how to protect the people around the debate as well.
And of course the social media world has, you know, come alight on the back of it, stoked in part by News Corp, stoked by the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, with the rhetoric that he's been using around the voice in particular mirrored very much, in much more harsher terms, through social media.
It was clear that there was a tipping point for Stan Grant a week ago, and there are sort of many threads that we could pick up on there. But I think it would be worth just thinking a little bit further about what Stan Grant actually said when he resigned. So he talked about the ABC broadcast of the coronation of King Charles, and the way that what he said on that broadcast was taken and distorted, and the way it led to attacks on him personally in other media outlets, particularly in News Corp. So as those articles started to come out about Stan Grant, what did you think?
I first of all thought that his appearance on the panel, which was an eight hour coverage of the coronation, of which he appeared on the first hour of it. I thought immediately that this is perfect fodder for those wanting to flame the culture wars, particularly News Corp.
And I think in many ways, reflecting back on it, I was one of the people that was really critical of the way the ABC had handled the death of Queen Elizabeth by expending, you know, in a time of finite resources for the national broadcaster, spending oodles of money on sending presenters there.
And I think getting Stan on the panel before the coverage of the coronation was kind of like a response to that previous criticism. They were trying to cut any criticism of them being too, sort of, sycophantic around the monarchy by having Stan on the panel.
Archival tape – Julia Baird:
“When you hear the word stability, continuity, tradition, how do you respond to that?”
Archival tape – Stan Grant:
“Well, it’s not our continuity. It's not our tradition. It's not our stability. You know, the Australia that Julian spoke about there, the Australia with an indigenous heritage, a British foundation and the migrant richness of the migrant experience is a lovely idea. I don't know where that Australia is. We haven't lived in that Australia.”
But what it meant is that he was going to go on there and he was going to articulate, from his perspective, what the monarchy meant for him and for Indigenous Australia.
Archival tape – Stan Grant:
“But we are a long way from that Australia. And the Crown is not above politics to us, because the symbol of that crown represented the invasion, the theft of land and, in our case, the exterminating war, which next year will mark 200 years.”
And when he did that, that was always, always going to be fodder for the, for the culture wars. And, you know, the way the culture wars are conducted in this country, we need a villain. And Stan Grant, he presented himself as the perfect villain for News Corp, people in the media and in social media. They need someone to, you know, focus their attention on if they're going to prosecute what they see as their case.
And as you've mentioned, he also singled out ABC management in that article that he wrote, saying that he was stepping down. He said that he hadn't been publicly supported by them. What message do you think that sends? That someone like Stan Grant, someone like him, doesn't have the support of a major institution like the ABC and that leadership failed to act to prevent that kind of backlash from happening and then, when it did happen, to defend him.
I know that Stan is highly regarded amongst other Indigenous journalists and broadcasters and presenters at the ABC. He's been in the media, in high profile roles, here and around the world, for 40 years. And the perception, which I think is not really a perception, is actually real. The fact that he was left swinging in the breeze, for weeks on end, while this bombardment of stories, personal attacks, I can only imagine what his inbox looks like on a daily basis. And some of the vile attacks that he would be receiving there. It sent, in my view, a very clear message, and I write that in the article that when the going gets tough, really tough, and you're a First Nations broadcaster, then it would appear that the ABC doesn't have your back. Now, they've come out and made statements since then saying that they're going to see this as a learning opportunity, which I have full faith that the ABC will actually go ahead and try and address something like this not happening again. But it's going to take a long time, in my view, for that trust between the institution and the management within that institution to regain the trust of First Nations broadcasters. I can't even imagine where Stan’s mindset is at the moment around all that as well.
Yeah. And I think, I mean, while Stan, Stan Grant's resignation, he talked about the coronation, he talked about the articles that came out, he talked about ABC management. The timing of what's happened to him. I mean, it's happening in this year of, of a referendum on a voice to Parliament. You can't overlook that, can you? It's informing so much of what we're seeing and hearing at the moment.
And that's right. That's where the coronation itself has fallen on a very, very incendiary political and social debate that's happening around the country. And that is, of course, the referendum around the voice to the parliament, which will be held somewhere, sometime in October, I believe. I've equated 2023 to what it's like in January every year for First Nations people, with the debate around Australia Day slash Invasion Day, and how that debate eventually gets hotter and hotter, the closer we get to the 26th of January. Well, it seems to me that 2023 is just like one long, hot January at the moment.
The closer we get to the referendum, the more heated the debate will get, the looser people will become with the truth. And in the midst of all of that, First Nations people, both active and not so active in the debate. They will see their loved ones being piled on, in a social media sense. They will see lateral violence between family members and other community members.
And they will just feel as though that they're a topic of discussion, rather than a part of the discussion. And as that discussion becomes more and more putrid, the harder it's going to be for people. And I have a real concern about a lot of people's social and emotional well-being in 2023, as a result of this discussion.
We'll be back in a moment.
Daniel, you said the closer we get to the referendum, the more heated the debate is getting. Let's talk more about that, about the language we’re hearing, and where it comes from. Because what appears on social media, it doesn’t appear in a vacuum, does it? It’s connected to what's published, and to what politicians say.
The language is very much being, on in a social media sense, is being parrotted by people on social media from the conservative No campaign, from the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, and from multiple elements within News Corp.
I've seen on social media this weekend terms like, we don't want an apartheid Australia.
Archival tape – Peter Dutton:
“It will have an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others.”
We don't want the re-racialisation of Australia.
Archival tape – Peter Dutton:
“The voice will re-racialise our nation.”
The voice is divisive for Australia.
Archival tape – Peter Dutton:
“At a time when we need to unite the country, this Prime Minister's proposal will permanently divide us by race.”
All these terms that have been used by the likes of Peter Dutton, Warren Mundine and Jacinta Price, as well as columnists within News Corp, both in print form and in Sky After Dark. We're still a long way from the referendum itself, so I can only see it getting worse. We are also in a state of affairs where one of the major social media platforms in the world has decided that, I guess, content moderation is something that it doesn't want to focus on. And any social media platform can only be measured by the quality of its content moderation. And in this case, Twitter has, seemingly, walked away from that. And these aren't people that are being fair minded and have serious questions about the voice, of which there are many. These are people that are conducting their conversations purely along race, with hatred and all that goes with that, at the heart of the way they approach things. And it’s designed, purely, to shut people up.
And it's doing a good job. A lot of people are now afraid to stick their head above the parapet, to become part of the national discussion. Because they see what happened to Stan Grant. And it's just not high profile journalists that are copping the racist abuse. If you look at someone like Senator Lidia Thorpe, someone that you would think would be an ally of some of the people that are actually purporting to prosecute the no case. The amount of racist, sexist abuse that she cops on a daily basis, through social media in particular, but also through some of the pages of our so-called newspapers, is something that I haven't seen before. And when we're talking about the prosecution of people like Stan Grant, we need to remember that there are people like Lidia Thorpe, and other indigenous leaders around the country, that are copping it day in, day out, and we need to reflect on that as well.
And ultimately, what is the damage that's being done here? And I ask that question on several levels; to the people who have abuse directed at them, to indigenous people all over this country and also, to our country as a whole, and the way that we might like to see ourselves and imagine that we could have a referendum.
It's doing a lot of damage, because whether the referendum is successful or not, the actual nature of the conversation, the way it's been conducted, is fraying the social cohesion of the place at its very edges. And it's also fraying the nerves of a lot of people that are caught up in that. And so I'm reasonably confident that the referendum will be successful. But I fear that there's going to be an immense amount of damage done in the meantime, and to the way that people have been licensed to conduct themselves around matters of race and culture and recognition in this country. And I just hope that there isn't too much, I don't want to use the term collateral damage, but I just hope that there isn't too much damage done to people who are part of a strong but fragile section of our community. And that's the First Nations community.
Yeah. As you say in your piece for The Saturday Paper, you pose this question of whether Australia is mature enough to have a meaningful and respectful national conversation. Where did you land on, on the answer to that?
I thought about that this morning and I thought in a perfect world, in a world where it's just a straight up academic question, the answer is no, we're not mature enough to have this discussion.
But in the real world, where the effects of the discussion are real and there is a need for pragmatism if you are going to prosecute any case, either affirmative or negative, I still have to say, no, we're not. We're not mature enough.
But does that mean we don't have the conversation? The answer is no. We have to. We have to confront our hard truths, no matter how difficult they are. And that, again, is where indigenous people are at the front of having those hard conversations.
And they are doing it from a place of love, as Stan Grant himself said. But they also are doing it to add value to the broader community. This is not to take away anything from anyone. It is to add value to society overall. But in the process of getting to that point, there might be more damage done than there is benefit. But that remains to be seen.
Daniel, thank you so much for your time.
Thank you, Ruby.
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Also in the news today…
Bruce Lehrmann has dropped his defamation case against News Corp’s news dot com and it’s political editor Samantha Maiden, after reaching an out-of-court settlement.
The settlement contained no damages payment, but a contribution was made by the publisher to Mr Lehrmann’s legal fees.
At the moment, it appears Lehrmann’s defamation claims against both Network 10 and the ABC will continue.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi says she has experienced racism within the Australian Greens.
Faruqi, who is deputy leader of the party, said racism is systemic in Australia, and that she has experienced it in every institution she has worked within during her career, including the party.
The senator made the comments during a press conference, in response to news that Senator Lidia Thorpe had made a complaint about racism within the party to the Human Rights Commission.
I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See you tomorrow.
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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.
It’s produced by Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Zoltan Fecso, Cheyne Anderson, Yeo Choong, and Chris Dengate.
Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Scott Mitchell.
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Mixing by Andy Elston, Travis Evans, and Atticus Bastow.
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