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We miss you Bill Leak

It was four years ago today that The Australian published a cartoon by the late great Bill Leak reminding us of the sad state that far too many Aboriginal children are in. It was also four years ago today that some sectors of the public expressed their ‘outrage’ at what they believed was a racist depiction of Aboriginal people. But even a casual follower of current events would know that Bill’s cartoon reflected reality then, as it still does today—Aboriginal children are more likely to suffer neglect and abuse than non-Aboriginal children.

Other than saying that any accusation of Bill being racist is ridiculous, let’s not make this article about Bill, as he would not want us to make it about him. I know this for a fact because Bill and I spent much time talking about the injustices facing Aboriginal people, and he was deeply concerned for their plight.

Nobody is suggesting that all Aboriginal children are neglected or abused. Nor is anyone suggesting that it is only Aboriginal children who suffer. I need to say this, because past experience has shown that whenever the topic of neglect and abuse of Aboriginal children is raised, social justice warriors shout “But it’s in every community, stop singling us out.”

My reply is that diabetes is in every community too, but nobody would deny that it affects Aboriginal people more than it affects the general population. Interestingly, I’ve never had a critic who gets defensive when they are told that Aboriginal people are more likely to have diabetes than non-Aboriginal people. When Bill’s cartoon was published, the twitterverse was full of images of Aboriginal fathers with captions of “I’m Aboriginal, and I care for my kids.” I’ve never see images with captions of “I’m Aboriginal, and I don‘t have diabetes.”

Fast forward four years from Bill’s cartoon, and today we see the winja ninjas, BLM groupies, and keyboard warriors are still uncomfortable discussing the issue of child neglect and abuse in Aboriginal communities. They are far more likely to shout “racist” and hurl other abuse (the type Bill received for his cartoon) at those who do dare to tell us that too many Aboriginal children suffer needlessly.

At the height of the BLM protests a story went viral when an Aboriginal youth was knocked to the ground after threatening a police officer. The copper knocked the youth’s feet out from under him, resulting in a swift fall to the ground. Arguably the copper could have been more subtle, yet the outrage brigade wasted no time making exaggerated claims like: “the policeman smashed his face into the ground”.

Compare that to a more recent story from North Queensland involving the abuse of a young Aboriginal boy at the hands of a group of Aboriginal youth. The details are so shocking that I won’t repeat them here. That story was published in a few different outlets, so it was not hidden from the public, yet there has been no mass outrage, no protests, just silence.

Like my friend Dave Price (husband of Bess and father of Jacinta) said, “A black life lost matters only when there is a white perpetrator”. Dave has told me that in central Australia when an Aboriginal person is murdered, often you only hear about it if you are related to the victim or if the perpetrator is white. Yes, it seems that only some lives matter. Surely such a selective response is a form of racism?

Bill, I wish I could say that since your cartoon, we’ve made huge strides in eradicating the problem you were so deeply concerned about—the wellbeing of Aboriginal people, especially the children. But I can’t tell you that, because very little has changed. Protesters have certainly been more visible, but it’s not the many black lives that are hurt by black hands that they protest about.

Why is it that in a country as resourceful as Australia with almost limitless good will from the public, are we failing to look after our most vulnerable children? The answer is simple: political correctness (PC), which simply means avoiding doing or saying what you think is correct for fear of someone taking offence.

PC is the reason why non-Aboriginal people are reluctant to speak out—they fear being labelled a racist. PC is the reason why Aboriginal people are reluctant to speak out—they fear being labelled a sellout. This reluctance to speak out has allowed the problems that have been facing Aboriginal children for decades to fester.

But these children are Australian children, therefore all of us, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, are entitled to an opinion. Aboriginal affairs is everyone’s business. All Australians are entitled to say “these are our children”.

Viewing Aboriginal people as a separate group to other Australians, as we have been encouraged to do so, has only ever failed. It may generate an income and status for the gatekeepers, but it comes a cost to the people who need the most help.

It’s time to act on the fundamental truth that the commonalities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people far outweigh any differences. Aboriginal people are people first, Aboriginal second. Until we embrace this, far too many Aboriginal people will continue to suffer.


See article in The Australian for the fifth anniversary of the cartoon

After thought

Among those who claimed to be offended by the cartoon was Melissa Dinnison who complained to the Human Rights Commission. In response to the attention she received, she stated "That was just making me feel pretty threatened really and unsafe." Really? Well Bill had the last laugh with this cartoon.

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