We may live in times of politicised racial division, but those who run elections based on this fear have always failed.
It is not in the public interest to predict a “race-based” election, which in real life means a racism-based election, like the losing campaign that Matthew Guy ran in Victoria. That his strategy was a monumental failure is not in doubt: the Liberals are likely to lose seats to the incumbent Labor government which faced conservative cheerleaders – like the Murdoch-owned Sky News and Herald Sun – running negative media every week, every single day, of that incumbency.
I have never lived in Melbourne and have no particular connection to Victoria and am not here to commentate on the ins and outs of the state election. But I did happen to notice a few Canberra press gallery journalists writing commentary and analysis on the risk or implications or meaning or whatever of a federal election campaign next year potentially run on racist settings.
These were (obviously) columns written with one eye on (and no certainty of) the Victoria election result, columns designed to appear prospectively pro-neutrality and retrospectively predictive. I realise that sounds as confused as all get out, so here it is in plain English:
Political journalists, and many others, believe that Australia is racist. And it is. Ask any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, ask any person of colour. Hegemonic white Australia has a racist mindset; and white dominance of the polity means that Australia is a racist place to be. But there is more to this country than the dominant narratives.
First, on election day – with compulsory voting – everybody gets their one vote. Nobody has to do what their boss at Friday drinks wants, or that laydee on the P&C says to do, or racist uncle at Christmas reckons is the go, or the most annoying bloke at the BBQ tries to dictate from behind the tongs. We are Australians and we will rise at 4am to bake and wrap and cook (mostly women) or stroll to the local public school in thongs with the dog (mostly men) at 4pm and cast a vote for whoever the fuck we want to and nobody ever, ever stands on the corner with a gun when we do so.
Second, our commitment to egalitarianism, mythological as it may be, outweighs other national narratives. The Liberal Party might think it is smart to run what media call dog-whistling and what anyone with a clue calls racism, but it is not smart, and here is why. We might be racist – hell, Australia is a racist place, on every credible measure – but we do not want to think of ourselves as racist, and we do not want our political leaders to legitimise racism to the extent that Matthew Guy was prepared to try and do.
The Victoria election result can be understood as a comprehensive rejection of racist campaign strategy. This is a good thing, but it is not the end of it, because so many people who cover elections had placed their cards on looking smart and analysing racist campaign strategies while calling it something else, like “dog-whistle” this or “law-and-order” that. It is not smart to predict the presence of racism in Australian election campaigns – anyone can do that – but it is wrong to cling to discredited predictions for the sake of personal ambition.
We have been here before, when white saviour Brian Harradine sold out Native Title supposedly to save the country from what we have seen time and again already: a racist election. White media had it covered, in that self-fulfilling-prophesy lowest-hanging-fruit way that is the most obvious prediction of all.
Is the Australian electorate as receptive to racist politicians as we are told by people whose job is to attract readers to their analysis of racist politicians?
It is worth remembering that the 1967 referendum was the biggest landslide in Australian electoral history. Nothing and nobody, before or since, mobilised Australian voters like the promise of meaningful change in the relationship between First Peoples and colonial-settler Australia.
No political party could dream of a 90% majority vote, but that is what the electorate delivered up to the only vote on race – literally – that we have ever held.