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Stan Grant, racism and the Voice to Parliament debate

Sam Hawley: Hi, I’m Sam Hawley, coming to you from Gadigal Land. This is ABC News Daily. When one of the nation’s most prominent indigenous journalists, Stan Grant, decided to step away from the ABC this week, it sparked a debate over race, racism and the Australian media. Today the ABC’s referendum correspondent Dan Bourchier on Stan Grant’s departure and how it coincides with an increase in online hate, as we prepare to vote on The Voice to Parliament.

Dan, we’re going to talk about the debate over the voice to parliament referendum bill that’s now before the parliament in a moment. But first, I just want to unpack with you what our colleague Stan Grant did this week. He called out racism.

Stan Grant: Sometimes we need to just take time out. Sometimes our souls are hurting. And so it is for me.

Sam Hawley: Was a really, really difficult thing to have done.

Dan Bourchier: Yeah, it certainly was. And it was a searing moment in the Australian conversation.

Stan Grant: To those who have abused me and my family. I would just say if your aim was to hurt me, well, you’ve succeeded and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I must have given you so much cause to hate me so much to target me and my family, to make threats against me. I’m sorry.

Dan Bourchier: And that’s what the level of criticism and critique on him and the twisting of his words was. Another point that he made in some of the Australian media on social media and the lack of support from the ABC pushed him to need to step back.

Stan Grant: I’ve had to learn that endurance is not always strength. Sometimes strength is knowing when to say stop.

Sam Hawley: Of course, ABC management, including the news director, Justin Stevens. We know he’s apologised for not defending Stan Grant earlier after his appearance during a coronation broadcast. What did Justin Stevens say?

Dan Bourchier: The news director apologised for really not backing in Stan and calling out that level of vitriol and the twisting of his words. And and that led arguably to what was that onslaught on social media.

Justin Stevens: Me personally, I’ve said to him I’m deeply apologetic that he feels that way, that he feels let down by us. And secondly, we want to have a good look at ensuring in future none of our staff members ever feel this way.

Dan Bourchier: And in that, the news director also responded for the first time to the call that was made by the managing director, David Anderson, over the weekend that there would be a review into the way the ABC handles racism. It raises a serious question about how we debate in Australia and how we have conversations where there is a difference of perspective or things that we might not like to hear.

Stan Grant: And to those who have sent messages of support, thank you so much, but I’ll be okay. Please send that support and care to those of my people and all people who feel abandoned and alone who are wondering whether they have a place in this country and who don’t have my privileges.

Sam Hawley: And Dan, this abhorrent abuse that Stan Grant has faced and of course, others, we know that others are facing this, too. It comes at a time when there’s been such a surge in racial hatred. We can see the E-safety commissioner says there’s been a 10 per cent increase in complaints since the debate over the Voice to Parliament began. That’s so concerning.

Dan Bourchier: It’s really alarming. And we heard that at Senate Estimates this week. The boss of the Australian Electoral Commission was also speaking to those statistics and saying that there’s been that real uptick in concerning language and treatment online.

Tom Rogers: We’re already seeing an increase in disinformation on social media and a regrettable increase in threatening commentary. We are adapting our approach to manage this for the referendum, including.

Dan Bourchier: We heard from one of Australia’s spy bosses saying that there was a real concern about arguably right wing extremists really using this as a lightning rod to have that conversation.

Mike Burgess: Unfortunately, we do expect people, as they’re exchanging their views and presenting their views online, that might inflame some people. There may be some protest and counter-protest and some of that might result in spontaneous violence.

Dan Bourchier: We’re hearing this from some of our most senior leaders within government structures who are saying that they are worried.

Sam Hawley: Mhm. Okay. And then the voice Bill, it is now before the Parliament. It’s being debated and already we can see, you know, the lines of division deepening. Peter Dutton this week he told the Parliament it will re-racialise Australia.

Peter Dutton: It will re-racialise our nation.

Sam Hawley: What does he mean by that, do you think, Dan? Because it’s a term that I mean, I hadn’t heard that term before.

Dan Bourchier: No, me neither. So the sense that I get about this term of re racializing is, is that the very concept of introducing that component of race into the Constitution flies in the face of changes that have been made in the past.

Peter Dutton: The great progress of the 20th century’s civil rights movements was the push to eradicate difference, to judge each other on the content of our character, not the colour of our skin. Instead of being one, we will be divided in spirit and in law.

Dan Bourchier: And I think the Opposition leader there is really going to what he says his concerns are about driving divides within our country.

Peter Dutton: The voice as proposed by the Prime Minister promotes difference and it’s sadly a symptom of the madness of identity politics, which has infected the 21st century.

Sam Hawley: So it seems like Peter Dutton argues that it’s an over-correction, that the voice to Parliament isn’t needed, that we should all be judged on our character, not the colour of our skin. That’s his argument. So what’s the counter argument to that, Dan?

Dan Bourchier: Well, the counter argument came from a number of places. First from Bridget Archer, Liberal backbencher. .

Bridget Archer, Liberal backbencher: If you support constitutional recognition but you oppose the voice, what exactly do you hope to achieve? This referendum provides an incredible chance to begin writing so many wrongs. I think that most Australians agree that the status quo isn’t acceptable and that as a country we must do better .

Dan Bourchier: But you’d have to say, Sam, that the strongest rebuke came from Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney.

Linda Burney: We have just heard in one speech every bit of disinformation and misinformation and scare campaigns that exist in this debate.

Dan Bourchier: So really what we’ve seen this week in this debate is a ramping up of what sort of rhetoric and language we’re going to see throughout this campaign. And for many people, including Warren Mundine, the leader of one of the leaders of the No campaign, was telling me just a couple of days ago that we haven’t even seen the campaigns kick off in earnest. That will happen once this legislation is passed. And we know that that debate has been happening very much this week and that we were expecting there to be a vote on that legislation next week in the next part of this sittings fortnight.

Sam Hawley: Yeah. And we know Dan, don’t we, that it will pass this bill because it has the support of the Greens. It confirmed it’s backing it this week and later in the year, maybe October, maybe November. We don’t have a date yet, but we will go to the referendum. We will vote. What are the polls showing at the moment, Dan? And I know we take polls with a grain of salt, but what are they showing?

Dan Bourchier: Yeah, and I think it’s really important to note that the polls come and go and there have been polls really ranging from of the broader population between 50 to 60 per cent, many people are saying that those numbers are a bit soft and a bit wobbly. And I think that campaigners on both sides have acknowledged that at this point it’s not clear whether the majority of Australians have turned their attention to the voice, to Parliament discussion and the debate about the referendum. And of course this comes at a time when we we know that there are very big pressure points around cost of living and the way that we all live our lives. So whether or not Australians are fully turning their attention yet, I think is probably a fair call. And I’ve been travelling around the country and I tell you what, Sam, I’m hearing so many different views in the community and there are lots and lots of people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous who are saying to me they just don’t feel like they have enough information yet that they need more information from the government, from the Yes campaigns. So this is something that’s really interesting that I think will have to be considered very closely, particularly as we’re heading well towards the middle of this year. And then, of course, we will be onto the final stretch of this debate for both sides in the back half of the year.

Sam Hawley: And regardless of whether they support the voice to parliament or they don’t support the voice to parliament, what do you think that time will be like for First Nations people? I can imagine it’s not an easy time to live through.

Dan Bourchier: I think this is is really tough and I was on Bunuba country in northern Western Australia and everyone that was happy to tell me that they were supporting of the Voice were happy to do it on camera. Many people that were were concerned or not wanting to support it were happy to tell me because the visibility of the jobs I’m doing but didn’t want to go on camera. Such was their concern about how they might be treated or the reaction. And I think that that says so much about our nation. And I guess, Sam, going back to where we started talking about Stan Grant is such an indication of where this debate is right now.

Stan Grant: To my people, I have always wanted to represent you with pride. I know I might disappoint you sometimes, but in my own little way, I’ve just wanted to make a scene and I’m sorry that I can’t do that for a little while to my family. I love you and to my mum and dad brother [continues in Wiradjuri language]. Good night.

Sam Hawley: Dan Bourchier is the ABC’s referendum correspondent. The voice to Parliament would be a permanent advisory body for First Nations people enshrined in the constitution. New South Wales police have charged a man with making online threats towards Stan Grant. This episode was produced by Veronica Apap, Flint Duxfield and Sam Dunn, who also did the mix, our supervising producer is Stephen Smiley. Over the weekend Catch This Week with David Lipson, he’ll be looking at the death of the 95 year old great grandmother who was tasered by police last week. I’m Sam Hawley. ABC News Daily will be back again on Monday. Thanks for listening.

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