The lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer contain the lines "Still a man hears what he wants to hear / And disregards the rest". There's been a lot of that both during and after the referendum. Confirmation bias can affect anyone.
That's no doubt why so called educated commentators are almost, no absolutely, bragging that the seats which voted "yes" have a higher proportion of people with a university degree . They call these "educated people". They announce this as if it's news. It may be to them but it certainly isn't to the rest of Australia.
Educated ... in what ? Not what makes Australia tick. A clearer statement might be ... "seats with the most people who are Hopelessly Out Of Touch with the rest of Australia voted 'yes'." We should all say, often, to these self important, deluded egomaniacs: "You're hilarious. You're such a HOOT".
Why do you imagine these self-nominated gurus choose to mention that the "yes" seats had a higher proportion of people with a higher education? That's not the only thing those seats have in common. It suits "yes" voters to preen themselves with pleasure at the education correlation. It makes them feel more important. People who lack inner strength and confidence frequently resort to reminding you of what they see as their attributes. All it does is highlight their own vulnerability and obsession with themselves. After all if you're a media guru or just a know-all you hardly want to admit that you're out of touch with what Australia generally thinks.
It's a form of shallow identity politics. "I voted for this because I'm a nice, smart person". It sounds so good and requires little or no effort.
It's indicative of the enormous problem we face in a society where many people with a tertiary education try to make those without it feel less smart or of less value. It's rubbish of course. Those who seek to preen themselves as being well educated forget that the many really smart people drop out and go to the university of life - just like all those who don't go to university in the first place. Gates and Zuckerberg are just two examples.
Someone I worked with for a decade or so who had a PhD used to often remind people junior to him that he'd been educated well in a very limited area. After that it was "even stevens" between him and the rest of us. So many think the opposite, that because they have a degree they are smarter and magically have a knowledge base way beyond their degree.
The correlation that has been overlooked is that between material success, which may but does not necessarily come with tertiary education. They wouldn't look so good if they highlighted that the rich seats voted "yes". Wealth brings guilt. The nagging doubt as to whether you really deserve this material success. It's just dumb luck that you were born to your parents and had the opportunities you did, work hard you may have but deep down you know others never had your chances. That guilt that can be assuaged in part by overtly demonstrating how much you care about others. British author Patrick West wrote a book about this entitled Conspicuous Compassion. It's a form of shallow identity politics. "I voted for this because I'm a nice, smart person." It sounds so good and requires little or no effort. Recreational caring or grief is quite cathartic for some.
We need to move past the declarations of caring into actually getting a lot more done. On that presumably we can all agree.
It would be stupid to interpret the "no" vote in the referendum as being anti-Indigenous or not to wanting to help those around Australia who are disadvantaged. It was a rejection of the particular and only model on offer. It just doesn't work to say "this is an offer to walk with us" when you are really saying "it's this or nothing" - or worse, "it's this or you're racist". A take it or leave it ultimatum is rarely a good move.
It would also be a mistake and a very stupid one to interpret the strong "yes" votes in so many Indigenous communities across the north of Australia as being purely a vote for the particular model of recognition offered in the referendum. Rather it should be recognised primarily but not exclusively as a desperate cry for help.
These communities are the most disadvantaged in Australia. People in them have been let down for too long by the Northern Territory and state governments, of all persuasions. How have they got away with it?
The words "The government should do ..." fall too easily off lazy lips. The press gallery in Canberra by sheer numbers out clouts the state political reporting. All media outlets put such a focus on national news, that we almost instinctively think of the federal government as 'the' government. The division between state and federal responsibilities is not something to which people on a day-to-day basis turn their mind. Why would we?
The federal government has considerable power to influence state and territory governments and now is the time to use it. Australians are fed up with excuses and ineptitude. Calls for audits of spending are fine but simple list of expenditures will not do the job.
We need a brutally clear and comprehensive picture of what governments spend the money on, who administers it and the accountability for its expenditure. Every public service needs to take a good hard look at itself.
MORE AMANDA VANSTONE:
Let's look at what we get on the ground for all the money. Start with education and make it clear, community by community what Indigenous kids get by way of infrastructure and teaching. Then compare that with what kids in Red Hill, North Sydney, Malvern and Cottesloe get.
It's a fair bet we're all going to be shocked at the answers.
Then move to health and housing. Tell us which programs are working and where. Cut and redirect the funds from the ones that aren't.
Equally we need a good look at how Indigenous corporations are handling money, whether from government grants or royalties. Is it fair and equitable? Stories of some families getting most of the benefit and others very little are too frequent to be ignored. Governments shouldn't dish out money to those who already have it or don't manage it fairly. It's time for everyone to come together and get on with the job.
- Amanda Vanstone is a former Howard government minister and a regular columnist.