Yesterday, we laughed off Mark Latham’s suggestion that seemed very much like eugenics. The problem is that similar legislation has been successfully tabled in the past, sponsored by Australia’s elite.
Yesterday, Mark Latham dinted the headlines with his plan to push the nation closer to eugenics, with his plot to DNA test all of those who purport to be of aboriginal origin. Latham framed it as a means to stop something that all Australians (no matter which race) could unify to stop – those who take an extra long slurp from the government tit.
“Everybody hates a welfare rorter”, Latham said, promising to enact a system of established testing, instead of the current self-identification method in place. In response, Twitter lost the plot, articulating the poor historic comparison that such a system evokes. Comedian Shaun Micallef liked it to the machinations of Hitler’s machine, while the rest pondered upon the brutality of 2019 politics, wondering how the flames that powered Kristallnacht finally set our humble island aflame.
Perhaps a small patch could be sewn onto their clothing after they are genetically tested so that they may be more easily identified as they walk through the streets. #SuggestAOneNationPolicy pic.twitter.com/H4dqGY2Q6g
— Shaun Micallef (@shaunmicallef) March 11, 2019
However, the concept of eugenics (defined by Google as “the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics”) has a long and murky history in this country, something that would have become law, had it not been for political instability, or a successful 1939 unanimous vote, only vetoed by the brutality of the Holocaust.
Per was presented to the parliament in 1926, 1929 and 1939 by Premier Stanley Argyle, a friend and colleague of (Professor of Anatomy at Melbourne University from 1903 to 1929) Richard Berry. The bill aimed to institutionalise and potentially sterilise a significant proportion of the population – those seen as inefficient. Included in the group were slum dwellers, homosexuals, prostitutes, alcoholics, as well as those with small heads and with low IQs. The Aboriginal population was also seen to fall within this group.”mportant legislation, in the form of three Mental Deficiency Bills,
The Eugenics Society of Victoria (which stood until 1961) proudly sported a roster of Melbourne’s elite, inclusive of the Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research — the precursor to the CSIRO, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Per Jones, “…although the aims of the society included supporting the sterilisation of mental defectives, more and more they were involved in environmental reforms (such as slum clearance) and the birth control movement.”
As a matter of fact, those who engineered the first trade schools (the modern day TAFE) in Victoria stemmed from the eugenics crowd. Clearly, those they deemed inferior, or incapable of learning, would be shuttled into these institutions in order to learn a trade. Again, per Jones, “…perhaps the most influential, the first director of education, Frank Tate, was associated on most important government bodies with Berry and strongly supported his research on head size and, on occasions, introduced his public lectures.”
Whatever Latham is, he’s certainly not original. The vibe of modern discourse seems to promote the extreme side of the discussion. Headlines become easily digested and quickly regurgitated. While his acidic rhetoric is ancient in origin, it is new in its intensity. The danger, of course, is the exposure it brings. As usual, he’s following the reactive Trump playbook, as the last time he evoked the golem of “questionable DNA” in the name of personal gain, great column inches were gained and great tweets were won, the fact that it was an awful thing to say was agreed upon, and entirely the point.
Perhaps we should not be recognising the ploy of someone looking to be elected next week, but rather what has come before. Latham, whenever it is that he decides to flee Australian politics again, will remain a minor footnote. I’m fairly certain he doesn’t even believe what he’s saying, but perhaps his modern reboot should remind of the original, and the men who harboured these views and used their great power and influence to advance it. They should serve as a reminder of what we’re capable of, and what we’re capable of supporting.