Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Avoiding the blame game


The traditional detective story ends in the unveiling of the murderer and his being led off with mingled rage and shame before his now hostile acquaintances. We readers then need to entertain no thought for his family or for the person he so dastardly murdered. We are free to abandon themselves to the cleansing delights of vindication and blame.

Life, of course, is not like that. Or is it? The initial responses to two major events might make us wonder.  Much of the initial comment on the sadly and emphatically rejected Referendum has been focused on who is to blame for conceiving it, calling it, supporting and opposing it, and for making it so acrimonious. In this festival of blame there is much talk about Indigenous Australians and their needs but little reaching out to them. They risk again being made the objects and not the agents of decisions about them, precisely the position that the Referendum was designed to correct. For many they are no more than the back story to the main performance of apportioning praise and blame by self-appointed judges who swell into the role.

Much coverage of the appalling killings of Israelis by Hamas forces and of the response to it by the Israeli military has also focused on laying blame. It has understandably fallen almost exclusively on Hamas. The conflict is depicted as one between saints and devils. In this apocalyptic view any action undertaken by Israel will be seen as justifiable and any resistance by people in Gaza will be categorised as provocation.

This portrayal obscures the humanity of the people harmed by the Hamas offensive and by the Israeli retaliation. They become white-robed martyrs to be painted on battle shields or expendable trash to be dumped in a strategic game. The living reality of their lives and of their intimate relationships with family, friends, with sellers in the markets, and with culture and place, is disregarded. 

The problem and tragedy of this self-focused view is that the persons who are disregarded and their relationships do not disappear. When cut they bleed and their open wounds infect the societies of which they are part. After the Referendum Australia remains a nation with a history that saw its Indigenous inhabitants displaced and dispossessed, their descendants discriminated against and unequal by almost every measure of wellbeing. It remains a nation in which the prosperity of the majority has been made possible by the continuing disadvantage of its First Peoples. The Referendum was proposed as one way of recognizing this history and wound, and of moving towards reconciliation. Whatever its deficiencies, its defeat does no more than leave the national wound untended and visible in the unequal lives of the First Peoples.

Similarly, after the likely destruction of Gaza and the deaths of even more Israeli and Arab people in the fighting, Israel and Palestine will remain territories to which two peoples lay claim, divided between a powerful minority and a dispossessed majority living in penury. They will inherit more intense memories of hatred and violence that will infect surrounding nations. Its inheritance will be deeper wounds and more infection for which healing will be even more urgent.


'The proper response is one of respect and compassion for those to whom the referendum and the violence have brought suffering, and of decent self-restraint in analysis and blame.' 


As in Australia, apportioning blame will be myopic and unhelpful. We should certainly reflect on the international interests involved in the Hamas invasion. We should also condemn the invasion and any disproportionate suffering caused to civilians in Israel and Gaza by acts of war. If this is moral equivalence, as it is sometimes called, it is based on the conviction that the life of each human being is equally unique and precious regardless of race, religion and nationality. That conviction divides human life from savagery.

In responding both to the defeat of the Referendum and to the conflict in Israel and Gaza we should focus first on the persons who are most affected by these events. These are the descendants of the First Peoples in Australia and the people whose lives have been destroyed and those afflicted by the violence in Israel and Gaza. The proper response is one of respect and compassion for those to whom the referendum and the violence have brought suffering, and of decent self-restraint in analysis and blame. Life is more than a detective story. It leaves us with responsibilities to build and rebuild just and peaceful relationships. 




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: A woman reacts during a speech by Campaign Director of Yes 23 Dean Parkin at the Inner West for 'Yes2023' official referendum function at Wests Ashfield Leagues Club on October 14, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Referendum, Australia, Israel, Hamas, Gaza



submit a comment

Existing comments

Andrew, Poll Bludger has done a linear regression analysis of demographic variables which influenced the referendum result. If you don’t know about linear regression try Google. I spend decades teaching the stuff.

For a variable labelled Finished School, “yes did very considerably better in seats with high educational attainment”.

For a second variable Secular, the analysis showed that “seats with a lot of people who identified as having no religious affiliation were significantly stronger for yes”.

Would you interpret these stats as showing that God voted “no”? And that God is very skeptical of education?

I know God did not like my comments on the Voice because Eureka Street censored most of them.

Fosco | 16 October 2023  

The Catholic and Anglican churches should step into the vacuum the loss of the referendum has created. They should foster and fund in the first instance a body that will be a mouthpiece for First People voices. It could be called something like The Uluru Council. It would be staff ed - with indigenous experts - as a think-tank, with goals and activities that would reach to communities but be oriented toward advancing its constituents' well-being through political and society-wide communication. The Churches should commit substantial funding (even the tithing of dioceses) for the operation of the council, though it should also attract government funding.

Brendan Smith | 16 October 2023  

I’m saddened that the referendum was rejected by the majority of voters of Australia. I’m shocked and saddened by the violence which has erupted in Israel and Gaza. The hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who worked so hard for change have been dealt a bitter blow. I hope that time and continued respect will allow us to heal and stay together. For the people of the Middle East I can pray that a solution will be found and build peace where I can.

Pam | 16 October 2023  

In the end, voters rejected the vibe that the Voice was a magic bullet that would close the gap, a gap that had widened notwithstanding 50 years of separatist policies implemented by an "Aboriginal Industry" with massive funding. They were persuaded more by the gracious Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price who offered "a new era of Indigenous policy" not based on separatism and grievance.
Actions speak louder than words. After the barbaric cruelties inflicted on men women and children in Israel, the worst single day for Jews since the Holocaust, the reactions of many people revealed everything you needed to know about their real characters, unless one has "eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear."

Ross Howard | 17 October 2023  

I think the Voice was a dreadful tokenistic gesture which failed because most Australians realized they would be buying a pig in a poke. Some of the demands from the likes of Thomas Mayo and Michael Mansell are absurd. We don't need more committees; more aggrieved activists; more pseudo-experts or anyone else on the public gravy train. Someone like Jacinta Price is already in parliament and doing a wonderful job. We need more like her. Perhaps we might have the sense to preselect and elect Warren Mundine? Hopefully, there is a new generation of indigenous leaders arising who look forward to a shared future. Regarding the situation with Israel and the Palestinians, I think great caution is needed, because a serious Middle Eastern War could break out which could kill and maim hundreds of thousands more innocents.

Edward Fido | 17 October 2023  
Show Responses

Only time will tell, Edward, how effective Jacinta Price will be , or whether she is simply being used by the conservative side of politics, as most of their other Indigenous members have been.

Ginger Meggs | 18 October 2023  

Israelis are not the only victims here, and Hamas is not the only aggressor. What we are seeing are the consequences of Europe's last colonising project.

Ginger Meggs | 18 October 2023  

Several weeks ago a young Indigenous man named Myles Jerrard from the Northwestern Tableland was interviewed on Sky News.
While expressing "the utmost respect" for the Indigenous leaders of the YES campaign, he explained why he would be voting NO. His arguments was based on the need for personal responsibility on the part of the individual and local communities - as distinct from an exclusively self-appropriated victim mentality and its expression in what Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Warren Mundine have called "grievance politics." Myles Jerrard refuses to accept the definition of "inherent" indigenous disadvantage, regarding it as both self-defeating and a denial of the reality of opportunity offered and accepted in his own experience as a recent graduate in politics from Sydney University, and in the experience of highly accomplished Indigenous academics.
His statement strikes me as a strong reminder that without personal responsibility and commitment in our direct sphere of experience, structural or systemic change rings hollow - something that appears to be borne out by the result of the Voice referendum.
Also impressive was Myles' articulation of the need for new vision and indigenous youth involvement - a new generation - in leading reconciliation, which he believes is " . . . not a destination - it's a journey."

John RD | 18 October 2023  

Let’s remember that polls were favourable to the referendum before Dutton adopted a very political No position after the Aston by-election, and that ‘No’ position was helped by the media (the Murdoch media in particular) in spreading demonstrably false and deliberately confusing stories about what the Voice could do in practice. Even the ABC was clearly intimidated during the referendum campaign, arguably defying its charter by presenting false claims in a serious manner.

That provided a rationalisation for the ordinary loyal conservative voters, the many with little knowledge of our proud indigenous history and identity (largely due to the shameful lack of pre and post colonial Australian indigenous history in our school curricula), the few racists, and the many who, often distracted by cost of living issues, were inordinately risk averse.

How did we get to a situation where journalists, even beyond the Murdoch media, felt obliged to report on demonstrably false political positions for ‘balance’ even when a position is supported by lies and gross misrepresentations?

We need a well-developed program of truth-telling regarding the full history of our indigenous people and their treatment post colonisation as a means of cultural development and education as to the real nature of our unique national identity.

Peter Johnstone | 19 October 2023  

We are in the UK having a lovely time. Israel/ Palestine war has kind of overshadowed the referendum in my mind at the moment. To me the situation in the Middle East clearly stems from the same problem as our referendum - not listening to each other, not treating each other like valued and valuable human beings, not seeing each other’s humanity and thus not treating each other fairly. Feel so sad for aboriginal people- they didn’t ask for much- just a voice to parliament in a country that was stolen from them. Not granting them this seems so ungenerous.

Claire Collins | 20 October 2023  

There is a tremendous difference between a legislated voice to parliament, which can be abolished if it goes wrong, like ATSIC and a constitutionally established voice to the executive, which can't. The supposedly 'stupid' punters saw this and voted accordingly.

Edward Fido | 22 October 2023  
Show Responses

That's not the whole truth Edward. A 'constitutionally established voice' could be abolished by the same means, a referendum, as it was established; and everything about a constitutionally established voice, other than the requirement that there be one, would always, necessarily, be shaped by legislation. To suggest otherwise is just not true.

Ginger Meggs | 23 October 2023  

We already have an example of a dysfunctional constitutional body, the US House of Representatives which can't elect a speaker. While the Voice isn't going to have the legislative power of a house of parliament, what it can do is by no means clear, and, as Professor Nicholas Aroney suggests, it may have significant powers.

Saying that X number of constitutional experts say there is no problem doesn't get rid of the uncertainty. All you get are claims and counter claims about how the High Court will decide, which is just crystal-ball gazing. When there are claims and counterclaims, a decision becomes a risk assessment.

A legal opinion isn't gospel truth but a risk assessment about how the law stands now or will be taken to stand in the future. Choosing to accept or not accept the legal opinion is also a risk assessment.

s martin | 24 October 2023  

Similar Articles

Politicians and their words

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 25 October 2023

In a world where every politician has something to say, only a select few wield their words well. As we grapple with the failure of the recent Voice referendum, it's worth drawing from these leaders and questioning what truly guides political decisions - morality or self-interest?


Taking measures

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 25 October 2023

Stray thoughts are ideally as light as leaves drifting in the wind, which land without making a mark. This week, however, thoughts and words drop as heavily as the hearts of Indigenous Australians after the Referendum on the Voice and the families killed in Israel and Gaza. Prose doesn’t cut it.