An Australian political party has released a policy proposal calling for the forced DNA testing of anyone claiming Aboriginal ancestry, and large chunks of the media have sat around, nodding their heads, reprinting a press release without criticism.
One Nation, the right-wing brain worm of chip shop owner, turned ‘Dancing With The Stars’ contestant, turned elected senator Pauline Hanson put forward the proposal on Monday.
It was spearheaded by former Labor leader and now One Nation NSW candidate Mark Latham, who glowed under television lights as he sparked into song that “everybody hates a welfare rorter,” while offering no evidence to back up his claims that Australia’s Aboriginal population are actively trying to do just that.
Latham’s statement calls for a new system of Indigenous identification requiring DNA evidence indicating “at least 25 percent” ancestry.
It is Tuesday, the election is coming, and the dog whistles are getting louder.
Few of Australia’s political class criticised the policy from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation – NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge and Western Australian senator Rachel Siewert standing relatively alone in joining a growing chorus on Twitter calling bullshit on the latest One Nation idea.
“Racist garbage,” wrote Shoebridge.
One Nation's latest attention seeking garbage announcement that they want to DNA test First Nations peoples is not policy, it’s blatant racism and it should be called out as such #nswvotes #auspol #racism
— Rachel Siewert (@SenatorSiewert) March 11, 2019
“One Nation’s latest attention seeking garbage announcement that they want to DNA test First Nations peoples is not policy, it’s blatant racism and it should be called out as such,” followed Siewert.
Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers party MLC Robert Borsak also came out against the policy on Tuesday afternoon, calling Latham’s comments “repugnant”.
“Mark Latham should stop dog-whistling the racist vote in an effort to try and sure-up his sinking support across the State .. Our Party is a party of freedoms and we would never support this policy.” Shooters, Fishers and Farmers' Robert Borsak pic.twitter.com/CkVe3dypyq
— Jodan Perry (@Jodan_Perry) March 12, 2019
Doctor Chelsea Bond is a Munanjahli and South Islander woman who is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland.
“Every election year non-white people have to suffer through white lies,” she told PEDESTRIAN.TV. “There is no factual basis to this and I don’t think people think of the everyday consequence of this discourse.”
On Tuesday morning, Bond had to explain the One Nation policy to her three children who had heard reporting on it from their car radio.
“There’s so many things wrong in even the radio script,” she said. “It’s just being reported as an actual thing,”
“But you can’t report shit that’s not true. This is the state of Indigenous affairs when you can’t even count on factual reporting. This is not a subjective thing – there is no way a DNA test can deal with Aboriginality.”
“Now us Blackfellas have to deal with this claim.”
No genetic evidence is required to identify as Indigenous in Australia, however some Indigenous-specific services like grants, Centrelink, and university courses require proof or confirmation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage. Any confirmation of your Aboriginality comes from proving family lineage as well as your place in the community you’re from. This is generally handled by a Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Bond clarifies that the idea of there being a ‘benefit’ to doing so is ridiculous:
Self I.D. is for administration and research purposes. But there’s no specific benefit attached; not unless you’re accessing a program designed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. I’m not sure where the evidence is that blackfellas are “rorting” the system. No blackfellas are hitting the jackpot with Aboriginality. We’re still the poorest population in the country.
Content analytics software BuzzSumo, which measures the impact news stories have across social platforms, shows that stories about One Nation’s policy racked up over 60,000 engagements on Facebook alone. Many of these stories offered very little in the way of critique of the policy, especially in headline and presentation.
National Indigenous Television (NITV) highlighted the deep flaws in testing for “Aboriginality” in 2016, when two of its journalists took tests that returned results telling them they were East Asian, British, Portugese, and Basque.
Andrea Mason OAM, the CEO of Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, told ABC radio the policy was tracking back towards an 18th or 19th century attitude of “excluding people on the base of colour – and in this, not enough colour.”
The most vocal outcry came from Twitter, where activists, indigenous people, and journalists decried the policy.
Perhaps a small patch could be sewn onto their clothing after they are genetically tested so that they may be more easily identified as they walk through the streets. #SuggestAOneNationPolicy pic.twitter.com/H4dqGY2Q6g
— Shaun Micallef (@shaunmicallef) March 11, 2019
Extraordinary article on one of the most extraordinary policy proposals of recent times. Devoid of any independent analysis, it quotes One Nation policy in detail and that’s… it.
What other party gets such a soft touch from most of the media? https://t.co/pqZd2yEXjY
— Osman Faruqi (@oz_f) March 11, 2019
There are lots of logistical problems worth discussing in the One Nation plan to genetically vet us. But, even if there were adequate data & even if we were genetically homogenous, it would still be a eugenicist farce & utterly dehumanising. Why aren't we leading with this line?
— Alison Whittaker (@AJ_Whittaker) March 11, 2019
OneNation only knows how to evoke racism on every level so they’re in spotlight The media must stop giving them oxygen as First Nations ppl deserve respect Stop feeding #PHON attack on First Nations ppl If I’m told someone is First Nations I belive them No #DNA required #auspol
— Debbie Kilroy (@DebKilroy) March 11, 2019
Confirmation of Aboriginality lies in community hands, not government. This is how it should remain. Govt had their go controlling it & it led to Stolen Generations and indentured servitude. I have less concerns about people falsely identifying than I do about racist governments
— Celeste Liddle (@Utopiana) March 11, 2019
On Facebook, the policy – unlikely to ever become a real thing – has achieved what it set out to do: rallying support in One Nation supporter and far-right groups.
As a party, One Nation’s reach across Facebook is quite expansive, with a network of Facebook groups, candidates, and elected reps building hundreds of thousands of followers. On Latham’s own page, the Daily Mail‘s article on the policy – which Latham writes is “a good piece” – has over 500 shares. Latham’s last post on the page to have a similar impact is from February 16, discussing Indigenous NRL players choosing not to sing the national anthem.
Meanwhile, Latham has been referencing the Indigenous population in the US as evidence that DNA testing for welfare entitlements has become a “big thing”.
“The American Indians have become strong, saying ‘respect our identity, do the testing and we will find out who is genuine and who is not’,” he told 9 News.
“That is obviously the best way to run any government employment, land rights or welfare program.”
Doctoral student and geneticist Krystal Tsosie has a Masters in Bioethics studying genetic controversies in American Indian communities. She told PEDESTRIAN.TV that Latham’s claims were not true. “The fact that he called Indigenous people’s access to resources a welfare program is ridiculous… in fact, that’s an extremely racist statement,” she said.
“Native Americans are not asking for DNA tests. No one asks for people to come into our communities to take our DNA samples just to disappear into labs and make claims that are in contrast with our own histories.”
Tsosie explained that many Native American tribes have even prohibited the collection of DNA from individuals.
“It’s not like you can sequence an entire person’s genome and have the result conclude perfectly that they are Native American”
“A lot of the time the stuff collected is a small portion of what someone has in their individual genome. A single biomarker is not reflective of your heritage.”
One Nation NSW did not respond to PEDESTRIAN.TV’s request for comment by deadline, but this story will be updated should it do so.Image: Getty Images