Recently for a University assignment I had to analyse the Closing the Gap Speech from Tony Abbott, I thought I would share what I had to say on such a passionate topic.
Closing the gap, a speech given by Tony Abbott in 2015 in an annual Statement to the House of Representatives was shaped within a liberal democracy with the aims of inclusion and progression for the Aboriginal community within Australia. The speech has many underlying inconsistencies with the intended argument, however these will be discussed and analysed later in the paper. In order to develop a rounded understanding of the key arguments within this speech it is first important to outline and explain them. There are several points made with the overarching concept of furthering Aboriginal people within white society, breaking down barriers, and creating social cohesion.
Within the text Mr Abbott points to the concept that while he has studied the ‘Aboriginal problem’ and attempted to submerge himself within that dialogue, his contact has been, to this point insufficient. He makes the point that in order to understand the issues within Aboriginal society one must immerse themselves within said society for a longer period of time. Despite this argument he still manages however to pose the thought in a way that merely portrays him as a martyr among men, working with the disadvantaged communities that he so bravely seeks to enlighten and include into mainstream Australia.
Mr Abbott continues on arguing that the reason these communities find themselves falling ever behind the average white Australian is through a lack of education, more importantly the lack of attendance to mainstream schools. It is stated in this text that truancy from the Australian school system is a major problem for Aboriginal communities in their quest to find equal footing with people within the white community, and that there needs to be a focus on increasing Aboriginal attendance.
Lastly there is the argument made that the rest of Australia is ready to move forward with pride in their native heritage before the shame from international forces shadows our history. “Australians are now as proud of our indigenous heritage as we are of all our other traditions” (Abbott 2005.) This statement attempts to cloud the judgement of listeners and readers, to have them believe that the crux of his speech is to drive home acceptance and pride in the Aboriginal people. A statement that when looked at on the surface ties in well with the rest of the arguments earlier outlined in the speech, but upon contact with harsher realities does not hold true. While Mr Abbott’s speech may appear to be a pragmatic approach to the ‘Aboriginal problem’ it is still lacking in progressive thought in the very fact that his words still carry the underlying idea that Australia’s native people are a problem to be ‘fixed’ rather than a community awaiting acceptance.
While the speech appears to be arguing for Aboriginal inclusion, and seeks out the closing of a gap in equality between white Australians, and their Aboriginal brethren. When analysed there is an intense lack of understanding of the true Aboriginal cause. While it appears that this speech is an extension of the Olive branch, the growth is still stunted due to a white agenda, rather than a true Aboriginal acceptance. The arguments made push for closing the gap, yes, however, there is merely new clauses added that move to squeeze the Aboriginal people into a box laid out by White Australians. While Mr Abbott appears to attempt to be progressive his thoughts remain trapped within the era of assimilation through consuming Aboriginals into white society.
Nowhere within this speech is there thought towards the desires of connection, to the concepts of land being law for native Australians. There is a repetitive nature within these written words that constantly pushes for Aboriginal’s to reach equality through white means. There is an emphasis on school attendance, truancy programs, education growth, and employment, but a lack of actual bipartisan understanding between the government and the community for which these programs stand to exist.
Australian history is shrouded in an intense cloud of secrecy and shame, and this speech does nothing but add to the illusion that white Australians have been building for themselves for decades. Over the years there is a constant focus on the ‘Aboriginal problem’ yet they’re still seeking so much as recognition within the Australian constitution. The issue with speeches like this is the dialogue with which they are posed, that being a closed variety. There is mention within this text of Mr Abbott’s work with Aboriginal communities, but there is no allusion to the concept of him seeking Aboriginal inputs. There is fleeting comments about dinners with respected members of the Aboriginal community, but there is no appearance of an actual two way relationship. The only concept evident throughout this speech is a charade of comradery to cover inflicting white ideology on the Aboriginal community.
Within this course we have focused on many indigenous writers, to whom it is clear Tony Abbott quite possibly should have sought out. For all of these writers, from Taikae Alfred, to Mary Graham, focus on the one thing that is clearly missing within this text. Instead of focusing on the ‘Aboriginal problem, Mr Abbott needed to be creating an Aboriginal dialogue. Taikae Alfred, in the excerpt First Words conceptualises the idea that while there has, in America, been a call for equality seemingly answered, there has merely been elected American Indian officials pushing the white agenda. Mary Graham talks on the concept of acceptance and inclusion of Aboriginal culture within the Australian view of itself in order for progression of interracial relations. However none of these concepts are evident within Mr Abbott’s speech.
Mr Abbott’s arguments centre on an outdated saviour complex that has plagued white Australian communities for decades, this overwhelming need to ensure that all people are equal by being exactly the same. He says that all Australians are proud to accept their past and the traditions of the Aboriginal people in a way that absolves all of a treacherous history. So what if there are signs of Aboriginality within white communities, they’re still segregated, we teach religion in our schools, but there is no mention of traditional Australian folklore. He argues that the truancy rate among Aboriginal students is high, but that’s because we as Australian’s are separating them from their traditional roots and forcing our engrained systems onto them without even a chance at integration.
Mary Graham talks of the need to have a connection with the land, a spiritual yearning that exists within the Aboriginal community, yet the only opportunity for Aboriginal students to fulfil that need is to be shipped out to desolate schools in the middle of nowhere. This speech, while trying to argue for inclusion and equality highlights the very nature of the Aboriginal problem, and it’s not the Aboriginal’s it is the oppressive white nation that continues to dull their shine and force them to conform. Rather than trying to squeeze Aboriginal’s in a narrow box that seems to conform to Abbott’s view of equality his arguments clarify the need for, as stated previously, a social dialogue. There will be no cohesion and acceptance with continued force and narrow-mindedness.
Abbott needs to be arguing for an equality on the Aboriginal communities terms, not on his own, and until that is done the arguments within this text will fall on closed ears. Closed from the Aboriginal community tired of being silenced, and closed from the white community feeling like all these opportunities are just being handed out to Aboriginal’s without truly understanding that these opportunities aren’t what that community is yearning for. So many people within mainstream white Australian society look at speeches like this and see a ramping up of social inclusion and handouts to the Aboriginal community without thought to the actual needs of the Aboriginal community. While the Aboriginal community cry out for a societal shift that does not include a conformist, money driven plan from the Australian Government. Thus, the point here being, the arguments are there, as a fluffy public relations concept, with no true policy thought and progress, for both parties involved in the ‘Aboriginal problem’ are being misguided.
When told to analyse these texts, we as a class were told to analyse first and foremost, what the Aboriginal problem has been portrayed as, it is clear that the argument within this states that the Aboriginal problem is a self-created lack of willingness to improve social standing. Upon deeper analysis it is clear that the Aboriginal problem is in fact the white community’s inability to come to the table with open hearts and minds ready to accept the true way of life within Aboriginal society. It is time to stop throwing communities into boxes they don’t belong just so they fit within our perceived realities, instead, Australia needs to start altering their perceptions of reality so that they can openly accommodate, integrate, and accept other cultures and ideologies. While there is a continuing presence of dominance, oppression, and hierarchy of power between Aboriginal people and white Australians there will be no change in the ‘Aboriginal problem’ and analysing this speech with an intense microscope has really shown that.
Tony knows what needs to be done, he pointed it out himself at the very beginning of his speech, yet his arguments remained framed in a way that prevents correct action. He is right, Aboriginal people need to be worked with, not for, they are people to be engaged with not problems to solve. But in order to actually act on this there is clearly more work to be done.