The ruinous state of indigenous leadership: Why there may never be an Aboriginal prime minister

By Blake Mooney

There is a tale many Indigenous Australians would know about two fishermen travelling down a river collecting the spoils from their respective crab traps. One dutifully locks his plunder in a large bucket with a sturdy lid, while the other stores his loot in a separate bucket without a lid. When questioned why he wasn’t worried about his night’s dinner escaping, he simply declares: “These are Aboriginal crabs – if one tries to lift itself out, the others will drag it back down pretty quick.”

Of course, some people will take great exception to this story. These same people will realise they’re the object of my article anyway – the contrarian voices of the professionally offended, desperate to destroy Indigenous leadership, while at the same time singing from a song sheet of sovereignty and exceptionalism. I gladly dedicate my ramblings to these fine men and women who, if in possession of nothing else, are flush with passion and free time.

I see a malady within our communities, and its manifestation cheapens our involvement in public discourse. Far-left fetishism of our cultures has convinced us, and the wider Australian public, that Indigenous people must forever be of the same mind. “Splitting the community” is a common accusation of treachery, as if we’re all too fragile to engage in partisan political debate, lest our cultural connections simply cease to be.

Too often we respond to Indigenous opinions with racist contempt, calling Warren Mundine a lap dog for white Australia, and Noel Pearson opportunistic and “haughty” – even Marcia Langton gets a regular spray from the anti-opinion brigade, despite being one of our most respected academics.

Over and over again, provocative ideas from Indigenous leaders are met with a maelstrom of keyboard combat with the aim of discrediting their Aboriginality rather than their opinions. These warriors, often from the utopian left, would sooner evacuate all Indigenous voices from the public sphere than allow someone like Warren Mundine to speak his mind.

Here’s a dangerous idea: Mundine doesn’t need the endorsement of Indigenous Australia every time he opens his mouth. To think otherwise is to insult the wealth of dissenting opinion that exists healthily in our communities. It also completely devalues his public policy experience and intellect as a person.

Another symptom of this obsessive consultative mentality is the bipartisan nature of the mellowed policy we see coming from our governments – policy devoid of enthusiasm, argument and fervour. Destined to never offend; preordained to never work. Bipartisan indifference clearly isn’t working.

So, instead of trashing Mundine or Pearson for their views, let’s set about offering up more. Let’s demolish this fallacy that Indigenous communities only deserve one opinion on every matter. A bit of biff, in a policy sense, won’t destroy our communities – indeed, it may be the only way we’ll ever build them up.

Blake is a former National ATSI Officer for the National Union of Students and is the current Chair of the Indigenous Policy Caucus for NSW Young Labor.