The breakfast club

At some point, holding bigoted views about Indigenous Australians seems to have become a prerequisite for breakfast television.

Once it was Prue MacSween on Sunrise, calling for the consideration of another Stolen Generation; now it is Kerri-Anne Kennerley on Channel Ten, arguing the protests against Australia Day are invalid if those marching haven’t worked to prevent rape in remote communities.

“Black children aren’t safe in their own homes.” It’s a line that stretches deep into this country’s history, stringing together atrocities to justify paternalism and refuse self-determination. The forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes, the Northern Territory intervention.

That Kennerley seems oblivious to the racism enmeshed in her accusation that January 26 protesters don’t care that “babies and five-year-olds are being raped, their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped”, shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is a familiar straw man, to reach for the worst abuse suffered by First Nations people and then use it to deny action on any other issues.

Kennerley is a woman who still looks back wistfully on miming Charlie Drake’s 1961 hit “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back” with her school friends, a song that originally featured the chorus: “I’ve waved the thing all over the place/practised till I was black in the face/I’m a big disgrace to the Aborigine race/My boomerang won’t come back!” She cautions against drawing lines, but there is a reasonably clear one between this and her inability to answer to Yumi Stynes’ suggestion she was “sounding racist”.

That the old media guard, those whose prime passed even before Hey Hey It’s Saturday stopped running blackface segments, circled in Kennerley’s defence shouldn’t shock anyone. Of Stynes, Studio 10’s creator Rob McKnight said the way she treated Kennerley proves she does not belong on morning television. Clearly no one told her that patronising views about Indigenous people were part of the job. Enticed by the practised back-and-forth of the culture wars, the Murdoch press was blanketed in coverage of the “racism row” between the two women.

Kennerley remained indignant when Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai-Kurnai and Gunditjmara woman, came onto the show to discuss the fallout.

“Learn your history,” the former Victorian Greens MP suggested when asked how white Australians might better contribute to discussions about Indigenous disadvantage, “and let’s start talking about an agreement where we can unite as a nation.”

“So,” Kennerley cut in, eyebrow raised, “rape is third on your list?”

Because the straw man won’t go away. For people like Kennerley, it’s easier to pick the worst thing they can think of and then refuse to talk about anything else. It strips away inconvenient responsibility. It preserves the status quo. And it’s good for ratings.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 2, 2019 as "The breakfast club".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.