This is the second part of the commentary on Morrison’s Canberra Citizenship ceremony speech and follows the one about his abrogation of responsibility for quarantine and aged care1. As I said in that earlier effort, I attended the ceremony because someone I knew was becoming an Australian citizen. As part of this we had to suffer through a speech by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
In one part of his speech, he said:
“Today, on Australia Day we reflect on that journey [creating our future], the price that has been paid for our freedom, the lessons of our history and the privilege of being able to call ourselves Australians. We do it on this day when the course of this land changed forever. There is no escaping or cancelling this fact. For better and worse, it was the moment where the journey to our modern Australia began.”2
This is a snide way of diminishing the suffering of the indigenous population and is thereby lying by omission. Nowhere does he mention that introduced diseases killed many, many thousands and massacres killed many more. The most immediate consequence of colonisation was a wave of epidemic diseases including smallpox, measles and influenza, which spread ahead of the frontier and annihilated many Indigenous communities. Governor Arthur Phillip reported that smallpox had killed half of the Indigenous people in the Sydney region within fourteen months of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Furthermore, sexual abuse and exploitation of Indigenous girls and women also introduced venereal disease to Indigenous people in epidemic proportions3. If this was not enough, between 1788 and 1928, there were over 500 recorded massacres of Indigenous people, with government forces actively engaged in some of these until at least the late 1920s. The attacks became more lethal for Aboriginal, with the average number of deaths generally increasing over time. The most common motive for a massacre was as a reprisal for the killing of a settler or two, but at least 51 massacres were in reprisal for the killing or theft of livestock or property. Only once were colonial perpetrators found guilty and punished – in the aftermath of the Myall Creek killings in 18384,5.
Rarely do you read that in history books, and you certainly will not hear it in any public speech by a Coalition member of parliament, and probably least of all Scott Morrison, as he is more concerned with not upsetting the far right of his party and of society, to whom he wishes to appeal. This sort of denial of history is endemic in the Coalition parties, and has been so forever, but it became more brazenly so under John Howard, who referred to it as the black armband view of Australian history. Howard’s view was immediately labelled the white blindfold history, and still it remains so. Never from the Coalition parties will you hear a speech like that given by Paul Keating in Redfern7,8. All you get from the Coalition politicians is as epitomised by Milly Majich, who said: “Australia Day is when we are expected to selectively forget about what happened in the past so that we can move forward as a better country, and ANZAC Day is when we are told to never forget about what happened in the past so that we can move forward as a better country.”
Morrison’s odd phrasing of: “There is no escaping or cancelling this fact” is worth remarking upon. Most people would simply say: ‘there is no escaping this fact’ or ‘there is no avoiding this fact’, but to say ‘escaping or cancelling this fact’ is a way of giving a nod to his RWNJ fraternity, because they love to use the phrase ‘cancel culture’ whenever someone disagrees with one of their pontifications or pulls them up on a lie. This is because those who whine about cancel culture are those who prefer monologue over dialogue10. This allusion by Morrison is much like his nod to his QAnon fraternity of conspiracy theorists, when he inserted the word ‘ritual’ into his apology to child sexual abuse survivors, by saying: “The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities, and in family homes as well”. There has never been anything ritual about the sexual abuse of children in churches or other organisations; it is just opportunistic malevolence which has destroyed lives.
Morrison is an aficionado of Howard’s white blindfold history, for whom the deaths of over three quarters of the Indigenous population of this land11, is something not to be mentioned or brushed aside. To speak of these would require honesty, and this is something with which this government and many, but not all, previous governments are unfamiliar.