Losing our voice from shouting

Words by Geoff Paine, local councillor

Firstly, I just wanted to clarify; this is not an official council message. I’m writing on behalf of myself.  This is a call for some kind of civil discussion about our past and our future. This year (2023) is going to be big for a lot of us, not just locally, but nationally.  We have to make some big decisions and ask some big questions.

Is January 26 Australia Day, or Invasion Day?  Will we ever hold another citizenship ceremony on that date?  Whatever date is chosen, what are we allowed to feel – pride or shame?  Or somewhere between the two?

Every person, every family, every culture, has things that they don’t like to speak about. We know they happened, we just don’t mention it. If we’re reminded of these awkward truths, it triggers shame and because of that, anger.  People, when pushed, often harden their position and go on the attack. 

A culture war is when one group in any society with a shared set of values seeks dominance. They will try to shut down other groups. They will attack the character of anyone who disagrees, choose their own facts and question the science as we’ve seen with Covid vaccines all over social media.

The Voice to Parliament is our latest culture war. Lines are being drawn along ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There’s not enough detail, the wrong detail or too much detail.

How do we talk about this in good faith, listening to the other side without dismissing them?  How do we share our doubts without being mocked? How can we ask for answers without being told to read a report? 

As councillors, we’re told to stick to ‘roads, rates and rubbish’, but the truth is we are on the council because of our values and they are challenged in a very public way – twice a month we are live-streamed and recorded on YouTube dealing with the different motions brought before us. The same people that demand to know our values at election time then suggest we stick to ‘roads, rates and rubbish’ when they don’t like what they hear.  Council doesn’t have an official position on the Voice to Parliament, but I know that it will make itself heard in the Council chamber at some stage, by a counsellor or resident demanding to know what our position is.  I can’t see how we can avoid it. 

What we can avoid is the shouting or being shouted down.  This referendum, like all others in our history, will change us no matter which way the vote goes.  It will change how we think about ourselves and our past, and because of that, it will change our future.  It’s going to get awkward and clumsy and probably not very rational (remember, we reacted to Covid by panic buying toilet paper).  

Let’s hope we can talk about it in good faith.  We’ll only get one shot at this, so we need to make sure we get it right.