IN the United States Senate, members have their own little desks. In more frugal times, before the first Senate office building was opened for business in 1909 – and long before the Capitol became the plutocratic casino/latrine of insider-trading it is today – the chamber was their only workplace. In the early twentieth century (no earlier examples exist), senators began inscribing their names inside these “writing boxes.” In the ranks of an ascendant ruling class, their misdemeanor vanity was perhaps inspired by the hubris with which Theodore Roosevelt dispatched the White Fleet in 1907. That dazzling flotilla, after all, announced to foreigners the arrival of a new imperium and to Americans their stake in a global destiny. For freshmen, the old signatures make some of the desks treasures to inherit. There is no such tradition in Australia’s Upper House. In a brilliant maiden speech I’m christening the Golden Aims Oration, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price – the star newcomer to Canberra following the Morrison government’s well-earned ouster – did, however, lay claim to the symbolic desk of one famous predecessor: Senator Neville Bonner’s.
The first Aboriginal Australian to become – and be elected – a member of the national Parliament (in 1971-72), the Queenslander’s grandfather was a fully initiated Jagera man. That’s how close he was to the ancient and how far he had to walk to live the modern. But for the fact he was a Liberal (and custom permitting), Bonner’s handsome visage – crowned with possibly the best head of hair in parliamentary history – would have been on a banknote years ago. Northern Territorian Price not only associated herself with his philosophy of society and government, she also told the story of how the condescension of Labor’s Bill Hayden affirmed once and for all Bonner’s determination to stay with Menzies’ mob: “How dare someone come up to me and presume that because I am black I had to support one particular party.” That was more than 50 years ago.
Times may have changed but the left still thinks Aborigines who free themselves from its manacles are dangerous runaways. As Bonner’s incredible life demonstrates, however, that ownership mentality isn’t exclusively a vice of the Labor Party. He crossed the floor to vote against a Liberal government 34 times. When Bolt, Murray and Kroger boost Senator Price as a future prime minister, not only are they getting ahead of themselves, they are also making assumptions about which ‘side’ she will come down on over the course of a long parliamentary career. Moreover, in politics the hype of adulation is as ill-advised as the bigotry of low expectations. She must answer the call of conscience and constituency regardless of what anyone thinks.
Unlike Roger Franklin, I am not dumbfounded at all by David Littleproud benching Price during the biggest Aboriginal rights derby since Kevin Rudd said sorry to the ‘Stolen Generation’ on behalf of rich urban whites in 2008. These days, alas, it makes imperfect, predictable sense. Apropos of the Voice she has steadfastly opposed all along, the ‘Opposition’ is attempting to pull off another spectrum creep con of the Morrison-Joyce kind. Price threatens that modus operandi. She lionised Neville Bonner for a reason. When the Liberals pressured him to back off on this issue or that, he refused. To fool what remains of their base, Littleproud and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton have obviously decided that theatrically quibbling over “the details” of a Voice – rather than fighting for something so indecorous as non-negotiable principle – will protect them from the Labor-stoked ignominy of a referendum’s success or failure.
Yes, that’s the great promise of surrender: you’ll never have to lose or fight again. Matt Canavan – like his new sister-in-arms, Price – won’t give in. Correctly declaring Scott Morrison’s bizarre net zero by 2050 ‘target’ dead during the federal election campaign in April, the Queensland senator (and economist) must have known he’d be sent to Coventry in a Tesla for truth-bombing his own side. “I’m not focused on the Prime Minister or anyone else in Canberra,” he told the Today Show’s Ally Langdon when asked about Morrison’s displeasure. Everything that has gone wrong in energy markets around the world since then has vindicated his stand. Instead of transitioning to reality after losing office, however, a confessional Littleproud assured the Sydney Morning Herald’s Mike Foley in May that the Nationals would never abandon the climate cause again. Maybe you’ve been wondering if a humiliated Coalition will at long last put its John Hancock to a declaration of war against false premises and fashionable lies. Wonder no more.