Introducing Stephen Secomb. A guest blogger who I hope will continue to contribute to this blog
In his analysis of the National Party losses to the Greens in Ballina and Lismore, Barnaby Joyce slipped in a barb about the “lifestyle choices” of the people of Byron Bay and Nimbin.
He is, no doubt, correct in his assessment that peoples’ decision to live in these two places is primarily motivated by lifestyle choices. So why is the comment so offensive?
The thing is, it is a political sleight of hand. By pointing to this clear instance of lifestyle choice, Brandis references Tony Abbott’s assessment a couple of weeks ago that Indigenous Australians “have made a lifestyle choice” to live in remote WA communities and by implication gives apparent credence to Abbott’s and Barnett’s decisions to close communities down.
Don’t be fooled, Australia: the two situations are utterly incomparable and the implicit comparison is completely invalid.
To see the difference between them, you need only ponder the relative needs that people are attempting to fulfil by their respective moves into these locations.
To take the Byron and Nimbin folk first, people have decided that living in the mainstream of Australian cities is unhealthy for their minds, bodies and souls. They have taken the “sea change” and “tree change” decision and have used their (often considerable) financial resources to make the move to gentler, less mainstream communities.
This is not even remotely similar to the decisions Indigenous folk made when moving to the remote WA settlements. Much has been made recently of the fact that, far from being long-established traditional sites, the communities were in fact relatively recently settled. In response, Indigenous leaders have pointed out that people have moved from established communities to these new settlements to escape the socially debilitating influences of alcohol and marijuana which are creating such havoc in many remote townships. Thus, their choice to resettle has been motivated by a desire for safety, perhaps even survival. The defunding and demolition of these communities is politically culpable, if not criminal under UN conventions.
But to return to my original argument, where folk in Byron and Nimbin are making a choice between viable lifestyles and opting for the less mainstream, WA indigenous people are making a choice to switch from an unviable “lifestyle” to one which is somewhat less unviable. There is no comparison between the two and Joyce’s barb is a subtle attempt to hoodwink the Australian public into accepting the appalling demolition of the WA communities.