What leaders have in common.

18 September 2023

By: John Roskam

They see the truth and speak it.

‘You could have heard a pin drop.’

That was my first reaction at the end of Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price’s speech at the National Press Club on Thursday last week. What you’ve heard about the speech is true – it was incredible. It was completely unlike anything I’ve seen in my more than 30 years of involvement in politics and public policy in Australia. I went to Canberra with my colleague from the Institute of Public Affairs, Colleen Harkin to show our support for the Senator. I’m so glad I went.

Within moments of Price starting to speak the journalists in the room ceased shuffling in their seats and they stopped casting surreptitious glances at their phones. Based on the tone of their questions I’d suspect that few of the media in the room would have agreed with much of what Price said. But nevertheless they sat spellbound, as I did. They knew they were witnessing something special.

Since Thursday I’ve been trying to think of anything similar I’ve experienced. Two occasions come to mind. They weren’t political events at all – but just like last week, they were both celebrated profound leadership. The first was the funeral of Professor Bob Carter in Townsville in 2016. Bob’s friends, colleagues, and family spoke about Bob’s passionate commitment to scientific truth – Bob was brave and dauntless and honest. Bob lost his position at James Cook University because he believed in the integrity of scientific enquiry in the face of a university administration that would brook no opposition to the academic consensus on climate change. The first time I met Peter Ridd was at Bob’s funeral.

The second occasion that came close to last week was the memorial service for Bill Leak at the Sydney Town Hall in 2017. I’d use the same words about Bill as I would about Bob Carter, and Jacinta Price – brave and dauntless and honest. Bill’s famous ‘Yeah, righto, What’s his name name then?’ cartoon about family dysfunction in indigenous communities prompted a complaint about him to the Human Rights Commission under the infamous section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Just like Jacinta Price has done, Bill provoked the ire of the grievance industry.

In December 2016, a few months before he died, Bill spoke to a parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech in this country. As was to be expected, nothing came of the inquiry, but I’ve kept a copy of what he said to the politicians. Bill told them that after a cartoon he drew of Mohammed in the wake of Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 he received death threats which forced him move house for his and his family’s safety. Until he died in March 2017 Bill lived in the shadow of fear.

In his biography of Bill, ‘Die Laughing’, Fred Pawle wrote about that episode meant to Bill. ‘After a life spent pursuing truth, beauty and humour, [Bill] could hardly step back… More was at stake than most people realised.’ Fred continues:

‘We’re allowing them to kill off Western art and, soon, they’ll blithely push ahead and complete the job of killing of Western Civilisation once and for all,’ [Bill] wrote with exasperation to me in an email in 2016.

‘It’s all happening right before our very eyes… Being able to see the truth isn’t regarded as important anymore.’

It’s interesting that when you talk about leadership of Bob Carter, Bill Leak, and Jacinta Price – three people from very different walks of life and endeavours – a scientist, a cartoonist, and a politician – they all have one thing in common. Bob and Bill spoke the truth, as does Price.

Bill would have laughed at what the ABC tried to do to Price’s speech. Sophie Elsworth, the media reporter at The Australian wrote yesterday about how until just a few hours before it was due to be delivered the ABC was not going to show Price’s speech on its main channel. ‘Instead an episode of Hard Quiz was scheduled, and viewers who wanted to watch Senator Price’s speech would have had to switch to the ABC News channel, which draws far fewer viewers. A check of all the newspaper TV guides said the same thing: Senator Price’s address would not air on the main channel.’ It took a phone call from Liberal senator Sarah Henderson to ABC managing director David Anderson to have the ABC put the speech on their main channel. Presumably Henderson pointed out to Anderson that just the week before Marcia Langton’s speech to the Press Club had been given pride of place on the public broadcaster’s main channel.

Elsworth concludes – ‘But what do viewers want to watch? Well, ABC TV’s YouTube channel shows viewers wanted to watch Senator Price in droves. Her Press Club address has drawn 84,000 views so far, [as of this morning it has 97,000 views] compared to Professor Langton’s 17,000 views [now 18,000 views], and Minister Burney’s 10,000 views [still on 10,000 views].’

It wasn’t only the ABC that treated Price differently from how Yes advocate Marcia Langton was treated. Langton’s speech was delivered in the Club’s biggest venue with a capacity of nearly 300 people. But, apparently because of building works, Price was relegated to a room off a corridor. As best I could count about 70 people were squeezed into it.

As the great Tim Blair wrote about it today:

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price on Thursday delivered one of the most significant National Press Club speeches in the last 50 years. The significance wasn’t diminished at all by the fact Price was prevented from speaking in the Press Club’s main hall – closed, as Press Club director and Sydney Morning Herald political correspondent David Crowe explained, due to ‘renovations we’re doing downstairs’.

It didn’t matter. If anything, the power of Price’s words were magnified by her dinky surroundings, which gave her an opportunity in her opening remarks to turn a potential negative into a charming positive. ‘I actually appreciate,’ she told the crowd, ‘the intimacy of the room’.

Blair goes on:

But Melbourne’s Age newspaper didn’t quite see things in such a sunny way. The Age is very much in the Yes camp on the proposed indigenous Voice to parliament. Price is a powerful proponent of the No case.

This may explain why The Age declined to put Price’s picture on the front page, instead running an audience photograph with the caption: ‘Coalition MPs Barnaby Joyce, Michaela Cash and Bridget McKenzie at the National Press Club.’ As for Price herself, she was shoved away to page four or so.

Consider the historical aspect here. In assembling this front page, nobody at The Age apparently recalled another occasion, nearly 70 years ago now, when a black woman was moved backwards so as to make room for white folk. It was a big deal at the time. A suggestion to our Age friends: look up ‘Rosa Parks’, ‘1955’ and the ‘Montgomery Alabama bus boycott’.

Read about, learn about it and you’ll never move a dissenting black woman to the back of a bus, a building or a once-celebrated Melbourne paper’s rubbish news section ever again. Guaranteed.

Now to the speech itself. This is how Paul Kelly spoke of it:

Price is a revisionist, a radical and a conservative, a mix that bends the minds of the political and media establishment. This was apparent in her Press Club performance. She repudiates the entire narrative of invasion trauma and the claims that indigenous peoples today still suffer from colonisation. Indeed, she said colonial settlement had a ‘positive impact’ – nominating running water and readily available food.

Her performance at the National Press Club was astonishing for a politician elected only last year. Price cuts through. Her content is forthright, strident, yet compelling. Price is persuasive. She says things other politicians can’t say or would never dream of saying. She is going to be become popular because she deals in common sense. She wants a united country, Aboriginal people in a broad Australia, not endless demands for separate rules, norms and institutions.

She speaks from the ground up, but she’s smart. Australians look at her face and know who this woman is. Price arrives culturally free. She speaks from the heart. She doesn’t speak the reconciliation vernacular or the culture of dispossession. Other politicians seem reluctant to challenge her. But that will change. The progressive elites will try to destroy her. She’s dangerous. Does she realise how dangerous her message is? She will unleash force that will reverberate through the left and right of politics for years.

Kelly’s right. Price ‘says things other politicians can’t say or would never dream of saying.’ That says a lot about Price – and about other politicians. The theme of Price as a politician who doesn’t act like one was also taken up by James Campbell in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:

To understand the bucketing Jacinta Nampijinpa Price’s speech to the National Press Club has copped from elite opinion-makers, you need to understand her argument about the root causes of what ails much of indigenous Australia.

Price and her left-wing detractors are in furious agreement that things are crook in many indigenous communities. But whereas they would say the root cause of violence and child abuse was the destruction of traditional Aboriginal society after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, Price argues these problems predated its arrival.

So while her critics argue indigenous problems today are a legacy of colonialism, Price would say they are a legacy of the societies that colonialism supplanted. Though we are often told that there needs to be truth-telling about the colonial period, in fact modern Australia is far more squeamish about the nature of pre-contact indigenous life than we are about what occurred afterwards.

[H]er speech was seized upon with…anger by some media, especially her assertion ‘there’s no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation.’ At the risk of adding my name to the list of white people who have offered to explain things to her, there were ways in which this sentiment could have been better expressed.

If Price had said ‘on balance, the colonisation had brought more good than bad’, she would have been on safer ground.

But that would also have been a politician’s answer. Though she is destined for the cabinet if Peter Dutton wins the next election, Price expresses too much moral clarity to be a politician.

With that clarity Campbell wrote about, Price explained that a permanent Voice enshrined in the Australian constitution perpetuates the idea that indigenous Australians will be disadvantaged – forever. And that Australians would be divided – forever. As she has said many times – ‘reconciliation’ eventually must have an end point.

As for the Voice being in Anthony Albanese’s words an ‘advisory committee, with its only power being the ‘power of its ideas’, Price made the point that been all but ignored. The proposed constitutional amendment makes no mention of ‘advice’ or the Voice’s supposedly ‘advisory’ role. The proposed new section 129 (ii) says ‘the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth’ – which is very different from merely offering ‘advice’. As Price went on to say, it would be inconceivable to have a representative body in the constitution for ‘white’ people. The Voice is the worst form of identity politics for it assumes that all indigenous Australians think the same, should be treated the same, and want the same thing from the government.

The issue of what precisely is the Voice and how will it work is like that surrounding the ‘Uluru Statement’ and its length. According to the prime minister it’s just a page. But that’s not what Megan Davis and Patricia Anderson, the co-chairs of the Uluru Dialogue say. Over the last few days I’ve been reading their book ‘Our voices from the heart’, which they’ve described as ‘The authorised story of the community campaign that changed Australia’. This is at page 146:

The Uluru Statement From The Heart is a message written to the Australian people from the First Peoples… The Statement calls for real and lasting change to our current systems of authority and decision making, rather than surface changes to existing systems. It is a path forward for justice and self-determination for First Nations peoples in this country.

That sounds like more than just an advisory committee. And then there’s this:

The Statement was drafted and overwhelmingly endorsed by the Convention’s delegates. It is 15 pages long and includes three elements: the one-page pitch to the Australian people; ‘Our Story’ of the First Nations history of Australia; and the explanation of the legal reform.

When the prime minister spoke of reading the ‘one page’ Uluru Statement it looks suspiciously like the only thing that he’s looked at is the ‘pitch’ document. (Which perhaps sums up how he runs his government.)

The discussion about the Voice is the most significant debate in Australian history since the conscription plebiscites in the First World War. At the level of both principle and practice the question of the Voice is far more important than the 1999 vote on whether Australia should be a republic. But there are a number of similarities between the two projects. The most obvious one being that they’re driven by the elites. Even if the Voice succeeds the elites have got it wrong, just like they got the republic wrong – and the consequences will be far-reaching. So foor example, it will be impossible for big business to ever again claim it speaks on behalf of the majority of Australians. Paul Kelly’s assessment is accurate:

Australia’s mainstream and corporate elites have been taken by surprise in this campaign. They never saw this coming: they never did proper due diligence on the referendum. How serious are these people?

A referendum defeat will repudiate their judgment and their conception of their own country. It will show they misread Australian values, knew nothing of indigenous politics, ventured into territory they didn’t understand and demonstrated that they cannot be trusted on the strategic decisions about the nation’s future identity.

For the time being at least, Australia remains democracy and our nation’s future identity is not yet decided according to the woke whims of the country’s elites. It’s the Australian people who decide Australia’s future.

The final word today goes to Tim Blair:

Although characterised by a rattled Yes media as negative and dangerous, Price was actually optimistic and defiant. She spoke with the strength and confidence of someone who has endured, but not been defeated.

She took aim at tomorrow’s fixable concerns rather than continuing a class conflict that should have been buried in 1883 with Karl Marx.

And she was properly funny, which always deeply wounds the left.

So hurt them some more. Watch the speech or watch it again. Send it around. Bring joy to the land.